Instructables

Produce a Rich Rust Patina on Iron and Steel, Safely and Quickly, Using Common Household Chemicals

Featured
Picture of Produce a Rich Rust Patina on Iron and Steel, Safely and Quickly, Using Common Household Chemicals
  This instructable will show you a fast, safe method, using common household chemicals that you probably already have, to produce a rich rust patina on iron and steel to give it a weathered, aged appearance.

Background

I've had this Maine 'buoy bell' wind chime for about eight years now. I really like it. It has the haunting melancholy sound of a bell buoy at sea being tossed by wind and waves. It is made of COR-TEN steel which is designed to rust on the surface to create a protective barrier against further rusting. It came painted black on the outside and was supposed to develop this rich rust patina naturally over time. Well, the unpainted inside did rust completely after about a year, but the outside only rusted slightly, near the bottom, even after exposure to the sun, rain, and snow of the northeast for eight years. I wanted it to have a nice rust patina that looked like it had been hanging on the eaves of a lobster shack, at the end of a pier, for many a year, being splashed and buffeted by nor'easters and sudden gales. Seeing it was taking so long, I decided to take things into my own hands and, ah, "help" mother nature along and accelerate the process. I searched the net and found mostly dangerous methods to induce rust on steel using highly caustic or acidic chemical solutions. However I finally did find a simple safe method, using on-hand household chemicals, buried deep within a thread on the subject at a metalworking forum. I got spectacular results which have not only withstood the wind and rain of the southwest but have actually improved with the help of mother nature. I like the results so much, and there is so little practical information on the subject that is accessible to the general public, I thought I'd share this simple method with the instructables community.

Judging by the number of posts on forums asking how to do this, I see I am not the only one who wants to actually promote, rather than prevent, rust on iron and steel objects. I found out the basic information for doing this at the very cool ArtMetal forum: http://www.artmetal.com/blog/bob_turan/2009/04/rust_promoter . I'm guessing that there are more than a few instructables members who have a similar desire to prematurely age some iron/steel artifact, so I encourage people to post pictures of their resuls in the comments and add tips on how they did it so we can all learn. This method is not set in stone. Posts about useful variations on the method are always welcome.
 
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up
1-40 of 85Next »

Can I ask how big this piece is?

Laral (author)  scott.snow.92120 days ago
The bell? It's about 2 ft high.

Is this a one tone or 3? If so, how is it getting different tones? I want to make one, so that's why all the questions...lol I notice it is welded just at the top. Is that the only thing keeping it solid? Is there bracing inside?

Laral (author)  scott.snow.92119 days ago

Oh, so that's what you're up to. ;-) I had such notions myself before I went and bought one from the original makers:

North Country Wind Bells -- Bell Buoys

It was going to be too much trouble to make one and probably more expensive. They have the proven designs and the economy of scale. The bells are really quite reasonable and of high quality. Mine is at least 15 years old now as far as I can remember. But if you really want to try, it consists of 3 equal isosceles triangles, each of different thicknesses to give 3 tones, welded at the top to a ring bolt, with an attached chain having a thick circular polycarbonate puck for the clapper. The puck is drilled in the center and mounted on a rod so it can slide up and down to adjust the volume from "off" (touching all 3 vanes) to really loud (maximum distance from the vanes). The weight of the thickest vane cants the whole bell to one side, so at rest, the clapper disk is touching that vane. I was told that that creates the most life-like emulation of a real bell buoy. Note that the triangles are separated from each other so they can resonate. Good luck. Be sure to publish an Instructable if you decide to make one. I'd love to see/hear that. :)

Wow thank you! Do you have any idea the thickness of the metals? I am guessing 12, 14 and 16 gauge. The only part I am not understanding is the rod through the center. How can it move up and down? I have the triangle part welded, but that was before I knew they were diff. thicknesses. I thought maybe one was a bit longer then the other.Is the top totally closed in with weld to give the whole thing more strength?

Thanks!

Laral (author)  scott.snow.92118 days ago

What!? You have it already cut and welded? No way! :) And you're talking about powder coating and heat treatment? What, do you have a metal shop or something?

Metal thickness? I don't know, it looks like maybe 1/16", 1/8", and 3/16". As long as they differ in that ratio (1:2:3), I think it will be fine.

I was mistaken about a chain inside, it is a metal rod the whole length. The puck slides up and down the rod. The rod has a loop in each end. The upper loop goes through the loop in the hanging assembly which has another loop at the top. The three triangle apexes (apices? :) ) are welded tight to the looped hanging assembly (rod). There are spaces between the sides of the triangle pieces which are slightly angled outward. I'm sure you'll be able to piece it together from the pictures.

Don't worry about the steel. I think any kind would do. Please don't powder coat it. By patina, you mean rust patina (I hope)? Followed by heat treatment? Wouldn't that ruin the patina? Heat treatment would increase the hardness and improve the resonant qualities I suspect but it should be done BEFORE the patina.

You better publish a detailed Instructable after all this help I'm giving you or I will be very disappointed… ;-)

IMG_7392.JPGIMG_7393.JPGIMG_7396_cr.jpg

Lol ...Yes I do own a metal art company. This one I did powdercoat a metallic green. It's hard to say how well it works because we live by a river kind of in a valley surrounded by forest, so hard to get a lot of wind here. I do a lot of copper patina stuff, and lately I have been using a torch to get different colors, followed by a clearcoat like the 3 leaf wall hang. (A very popular piece) When I do a natural rust, I let my pieces soak in muriatic acid overnight.

This one I used a masonry nail on top with 2 holes drilled. I then attached the chain to the bottom hole and welded it all solid to the top. I used 14 gauge metal for the "dinger" at 3" round where I welded a small washer to the top, and one on the bottom and then attached the rest of the chain. I can see why they would use a rod, to get it more like bell type thing.

BTW mine is only 12" x 6"

Check out my website!

www.michigninmetal.com.

DSC_0001_edited-1.jpgDSC_0010_edited-3.jpg
Laral (author)  scott.snow.92117 days ago

BTW I like the medallion you made much better than the one that came with my bell. Is there any way I can get one?

Yeah sure! I can get you one for $5 and I will pay shipping...for all your help and pictures. You want it bare metal I would imagine.

Laral (author)  scott.snow.92117 days ago

OK, though I thought it would be free for all the work I had to do. ;)

I can do that. What is your address? Would you rather e-mail it to me?

michiganinmetal@hotmail.com

Laral (author)  scott.snow.92117 days ago

Oh so you DO own a metal company. You are a PRO. The bell looks great as do all your products. In fact it LOOKS better than the original product. Are you going to remake it using the information that I went to all the trouble of gathering for you? The rigid rod is better than a flexible chain because it rings with the slightest breeze. The chain will follow the heaviest triangle a long distance before it separates from it and rings, and it won't ring as loudly. They worked out every detail. The rod also allows for volume adjustment. I would highly recommend a thick non-metallic clapper disk. It gives a deep clanging sound like the real thing. Thin metal is too 'tinny'. Like I said, they worked out every detail. The sound of their bells is really authentic and soothing.

So I hope you will redo this, giving it a nice rust patina, and publish a detailed Instructable of your work with lots of photos! No excuses… ;-)

Yes, I am going to use a rod.next time. What is the disk made of?

When I make another, I will post more pictures along with how I do it. I used a thick metal for the "dinger" and it actually sounds really close to the ones that you can listen to on their site. If I could download a video on here I could show you.

Laral (author)  scott.snow.92117 days ago

Like I said, it looks like polycarbonate, about 3/8". Acrylic would shatter on impact.

You can upload a video to Youtube and post the link.

Sorry

www.michiganinmetal.com

BTW....allthough mine is not made fro Cor-ten steel, it sounds really cool! I will either powder coat it, or do a patina with a heat treatment.

DavidG81 month ago

I tried the technique on corten steel planters for a house that is at the final stages of construction, worked like charm. However we didn't realize how sensitive the surface was and we had some workers that somehow managed to kick the steel with their feet. hit it with equipment, etc.....now it looks scuffed up and awful. Any recommendations?

Laral (author)  DavidG81 month ago
If the powdered rust came off, you can just redo it and put it in a protected space to let the rust 'set'.
DavidG8 Laral1 month ago

Many thanks for responding so quickly.

1. When you say redo the process, do you mean start from the degrease forward or just spray the mix (hydro, vin, salt)? I ask this because the rust is pretty thick and there are two large planters.

2.How long do you think the "setting" process will take? Days, weeks, months? Does constant watering/drying cycles help?

3.BTW, the
rust is so thick that the non-scuffed parts are darker red and when you
brush your finger it becomes orange. Any thoughts on using scotch brite pad or steel wool to even out the rust instead of redoing everything? This would make everything look more orange but wouldn't that darken over time?

Laral (author)  DavidG81 month ago

1. I meant just spray on the solution again. There shouldn't be any need to degrease unless somehow it got grease on it. But I don't understand. You say the rust is thick? I thought you just rusted the metal and the rust was still thin and powdery.

2. It will take weeks, maybe months, before you get a deep 'permanent' rust. Weathering cycles is exactly what you want to accelerate the process. You COULD spray the items with water or even rusting solution and let them dry to artificially recreate the weathering process. I just let mother nature take over after initiating the oxidation process.

3. If you use some abrasive material, you will remove rust rather than spread it out. You could do that before applying solution if it is really bad. But actually, those scuff marks may make it look more natural. Please post some photos so I can see exactly what you are talking about. The rust does darken over time:

http://cdn.instructables.com/FTV/YAHO/HNT4323I/FTVYAHOHNT4323I.LARGE.jpg

IMG_1951_cr.jpg
Karen155062 months ago

Does anyone know what chemicals I can use to turn a rusted iron sculpture bluish green? I bought one and it is now reverting back to full brown rust. I am hoping I can brush something on it to bring back the blue green oxidized color.

Laral (author)  Karen155062 months ago
Hi Karen, I never heard of blue/green rust but I found the following:

Iron Corrosion Products

They produced just what you are looking for by placing a nail in a solution of 12% acetic acid (you can use vinegar which typically contains 3% acetic acid) and sodium hydroxide (dollar store drain cleaner). Not that I can recommend this but, if you try it, be really careful because this will produce an acid/base reaction, probably a fairly violent one. Wear chemical resistant gloves (Home Depot/Lowes) and sealed eye protectors, not the open type. Do it outside, if at all possible, away from anything or any one that could be harmed by it, including especially pets and children. They point out that you have to seal the object during the reaction in order to prevent oxidation from the air--maybe a garbage bag. So it is an anaerobic reaction. I also found out that this compound is stable only in the absence of oxygen so you will have to seal it with acrylic or some other sealer to prevent it from turning brown again.

Interestingly enough, I also found out during my search that there is a book called The Green Rust by Edgar Wallace free from Project Gutenberg. There is also a free audiobook The Green Rust from LibriVox. I think I'll download both and read and listen at the same time. It looks like a good book. :)

Please post some pictures of your results if you attempt this! And be careful…

Karen15506 Laral2 months ago
Thank you SO much for your detailed and very informative reply. The technique sounds more than a bit above my pay grade. ;-) The sculptures are replicas of 2 ft high Agave plants and the guy who makes them green before selling them to the garden shop does not speak english and doesn't seem interested in revealing his techique. Whatever it is , it's not sophisticated because he sprays or brushes it on and sells them by the truck lload. They just revert back to rust after being in the yard a year or two. I will check out your info. Muchas Gracias! Karen
Laral (author)  Karen155062 months ago

OK, I know exactly the ones you are talking about. Very sharp pointed and lethal looking. Then the guy is probably not sophisticated enough to know how to do that chemically. The cheapest way for him to do it would be to make a wash with some greenish paint and paint thinner and brush that on. That would be cheap and easy for him and would eventually rust out just as you describe. You could touch it up with the right color spray paint. That's what I would recommend doing.

Laral (author)  Laral2 months ago

Here's the image from the site that I couldn't upload before because of server maintenance of this site.

rust-blue.jpg
Laral (author)  Laral2 months ago

Update

I tried this formula out on a nail I rusted, using my original formula to imitate your situation. It did not turn it green. When I went to reapply the mixture, it flaked off pretty large pieces of rust so I would not recommend this in your case.


ehall195 months ago
Hi, I know this post is a few years old but I just found it yesterday and tried it out on my box bike frame and it worked great but the rust wipes right off. Will the rust adhere itself to the metal over time and stop doing this, or will it just stay on the surface? Hopefully I hear back from you. And thanks for this post, I used the exact same ratio you posted and it turned out great! Only prob is that at this point it wipes right off.
Laral (author)  ehall195 months ago

If you can avoid touching it for a while, the rust will penetrate deeper and become permanent. Or you can seal it with acrylic or polyurethane spray.

ehall19 Laral5 months ago
Ok awesome! As long as it will eventually adhere to the metal that's fine. Hopefully it won't take that long. Once it does I'm gonna spray it with some matte clear coat(I hoping/assuming that's what you mean by acrylic or polyurethane spray) to seal it. I bought the frame in bare metal(no clear coat) and as soon as I got it(when it was still all nice and shiny) I put some die cut stickers on it so that once it rusted I would peal the stickers off and the logos would be "unrusted" in to the frame while the rest of the frame would have a nice rusted patina. But it was taking forever for it to rust and when it did start to rust it was really uneven. But your formula worked great!! I'd like to post a pic in this comment to show you how it turned out but can't figure out how to do it. Anyway, thanks a bunch!
Laral (author)  ehall195 months ago

It could take some time to develop a thick layer of natural rust. Wet it often and leave it in the weather. You could just clear coat it right after you rusted it but a thicker natural layer of rust would be more resistant to scratches. Please post photos, this sounds really cool. Isn't there an 'Add Images' button below the edit box? You need to enable javascript.

ehall19 Laral5 months ago

finally figured out how to upload the pics hahaha!! I haven't taken the stickers off yet cause I'm waiting for the rust to adhere itself to the metal a little better.

image.jpgimage.jpgimage.jpg
Laral (author)  ehall195 months ago

What's on there, one application of rusting solution? Did you clear coat
it? Why not go all the way and rust the handlebars, clamp, and fork, and maybe the pedal cranks? It would look
great. You'd have to strip the paint to bare metal and sand and degrease
it thoroughly, which I assume you did for the frame.

ehall19 ehall195 months ago
*bmx bike frame not box bike frame hahaha!
ecanod1 year ago
The receipe works and will produce a rust patina. However, when applied on weathering steel (aka cor-ten, which is a brand name) the resulting patina will not have the protective properties of a real long-time natural patina. The protective properties of the rust formed on weathering steel depends on the microstructure of the patina. The composition is basically the same as in plain carbon steel, but not the morphology.

In order to form , a protective patina on weathering steel needs to be formed naturally, by exposure to humidity/dryness cycles and to a mildly polluted environment. Too much pollution (which is basically what you are adding to the surface with chlorides -salt- and acetic acid -vinegar-) and the patina will not form properly to be protective.

So, accelerate the corrosion if you like the appearance, but don't expect it to be protective. And don't waste your money buying cor-ten stell if you are going to artificially produce the patina: buy cheaper plain carbon steel, the result will be the same.
Laral (author)  ecanod11 months ago
This all may be true but it is largely irrelevant to this application, which is to produce a beautiful rust finish, not a protective seal. Note that I did mention that the rust is a dry powder that might require a fixative if it will be handled by any one. Someone in the comments did just that. Even if you were to rub off all the surface rust, there would still remain a fine rust patina. In any case, this accelerates the production of a protective finish as well by initiating the process. It would take years to accomplish what this method does in minutes. Once started, the process will continue naturally by exposure to the elements. As far as wasting money buying cor-ten steel, first, that happens to be what the manufacturer of this particular bell chose because of its aesthetic qualities and its durability, second, it's not that much more expensive, and third, it will have a long-lasting fine patina.

BTW, I've included a shot of the bell 4 years later. Note the fine-grained texture of the PERMANENT patina that is the result of natural oxidation.
IMG_1951_cr.jpg
Hi again. I wondered if you had any advice about if i can 'water down' the mix in the spray bottle. I am working on a mirror which is not just a flat piece of steel. It has a patten welded on with leaves etc. When i spray the chemical on, it collects at the corners and under the leaves. This then leaves an uneven colour and slightly flaky rust in places. If i put more vinegar into the mix would this 'water down' the mixture and make it easier to spray??? Or will the colour even out when i spray it with polyurethane? Any other suggestions would be appreciated.
Laral (author)  wroughtirondesigns11 months ago
You could dilute it with water I suppose but the unevenness adds to the natural look of it. If you look at natural rust, it is uneven like you describe. I wouldn't add more vinegar. Polyurethane is just a fixative to protect the final finish.
asafweis1 year ago
I'd like to use this method to rust a steel fence made from round rod poles 12mm in diameter. Can anyone tell me if the rust will come of on your hands if you touch it?
Laral (author)  asafweis11 months ago
As I mentioned, initially the rust is a fine powder that will come off on your hands. If you leave it alone, the rust will continue to build up on its own. This process initiates and accelerates the natural process considerably. You could spray it with polyurethane but that would retard the natural oxidation process.
Knyman11 year ago
I have been thinking of ways to used the bi metal food cans and wondering if a patina process can work on them. Also, what if I don't want a completely rusted look - some color on them...like your pickling process picture where there is some rust and some blue. Any thoughts?
1-40 of 85Next »