Sympathetic Restoration of Metal




Introduction: Sympathetic Restoration of Metal

About: artsy nerd | UW KI student | smiling game master and emotional TTRPG player | co-host @ladiesslaying | she/her

Rescuing an item and restoring it is a great way to give an object a new life. While often you would want to restore an object to be like new, sometimes you want to keep the vintage character of an object. Vintage is chic, after all, and it helps tell its own personal history.

This particular set of rollerskates were found in a box the curb, about to be thrown out. While being very rusty and likely the casualty of an attic purge, it was otherwise perfectly functional and was had history. I thought it deserved a second chance, and I wanted to maintain the unique vintage character of it by turning it into a decorative piece.

This Instructable will help to guide how to do sympathetic restoration of a metal object, working with the rust to make it a finished decorative piece.

This Instructable was prepared as a project for the Fall 2018 offering of INTEG 375: Hands-on Sustainability, a third-year course in the Knowledge Integration program at the University of Waterloo.

Step 1: Step 1: Examine the Object

Once you've rescued your item from the trash, it's time to take a better look at it and answer a few questions:

  • What parts of its vintage character do I want to maintain?
  • Are there any features I want to emphasize?
  • How functional do I want the final product to be?

When looking at the rollerskates, I decided that I wanted to maintain the rusted look without constantly getting rust on my hands or on different surfaces. I also wanted to emphasize the writing engraved on the rollerskates. These rollerskates were going to be restored as a decorative piece for a family member who plays roller derby, and so I didn't need it to be functional.

Step 2: Step 2: Gather Supplies

For this project, you will need the following:

  • Sandpaper (medium to fine, 120-180)
  • Brown glaze
  • Paintbrush
  • Newspaper
  • Paper towel

All of these supplies should be fairly easy to get from a home hardware or crafts store.

Step 3: Step 3: Remove the Excess Rust

Once you have all of your supplies, it's time to remove excess rust off of your object.

Because we want to maintain the vintage character of the object, the goal is not to remove all the rust! Instead, you want to remove any loose or excess rust so that the glaze will be able to stick to the metal. Don't spend too much fussing on how much rust is being removed and making sure that every spot is clean, or you'll spend too much time on it like I did.

Tap the object over a trashcan to try to shake off any loose rust and dirt. You may find it helpful like I did to quickly wipe your item down with a damp paper towel and drying it off again.

Set down some newspaper to catch the rust dust as you begin to sand. Use a small piece of sandpaper to get into all of the crevices. Make sure to look at the object at different angles so that you remove excess rust from all of the surfaces. You may find it helpful to switch sanding between different directions to help scrub the rust off.

Periodically remove any rust dust by tapping the object gently on the newspaper. Make sure to dispose of the rust dust once you're finished sanding.

Step 4: Step 4: Apply Glaze

Now that the excess rust has been removed, you can use a glaze. The glaze helps to seal in any remaining rust while also adding back the vintage character that may have been removed in the sanding process.

Aim for very light coats of glaze, as it will help control how much glaze you put on. It's always easier to add more glaze than it is to remove it, as I learned after putting a little too much glaze on the first layer.

First do a very light coat of glaze on the entire surface of the object. This is to seal in the remaining rust.

Note: If you want your object to remain functional and it has moving parts like wheels, cogs, hinges, etc., make sure to avoid or put painter's tape on those areas.

If you want to emphasize any features of the object (like the writing on the rollerskate), dab an excess amount of glaze in the area. Then brush the excess outwards and away from the area with the paintbrush. If there's still too much glaze, dab away at it with a paper towel while the glaze is still wet.

Continue painting on layers of glaze until you achieve the look you want.

Note: Wait for each layer to dry before applying another! This way if you brush out paint or you dab away at excess paint you don't accidentally disturb the layers underneath like I did.

Step 5: Step 5: Find a New Home

Once the glaze has completely dried, it's time for the restored item to go to a new home!

If you have someone who would appreciate your newly restored piece (including yourself), your job is done!

Otherwise, look into local redistributors and resellers who take in vintage items. This could be a store, an auctioning group, a Facebook page, or whatever else. Make sure to check on their website or by phone that they'll take the kinds of objects you're hoping to gift them.

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