Finishing bare metal

Question: What finish do you recommend over clean, brushed, bare metal? Will a two part Automotive Clear be sufficient, will polyurethane yellow over time or get cloudy when exposed to UV. Should I powder coat it? Not sure what is the most durable while maintaining the look of the metal.Bird bathBird bath
Hmmm... what to do, what to do?

Rich Waugh's picture

Personally, I've never found

Personally, I've never found a clear coat that truly withstands outdoor exposure form more than a year at best. Almost any coating is permeable to some degree and over time rust will form beneath the coating. Since rust molecules are four times larger that iron molecules they soon make a blister in the coating and it all goes downhill from there.

If you want the look of bare steel and want that look to last outdoors, you have to do what Hollywood does. Paint it to look like bare metal. Apply a coat of 95% zinc cold galvanizing, then a neutral primer followed by a couple coats of quality automotive acrylic enamel with urethane hardener additive. By carefully selecting your colors and the use of thin, transparent "glazes", you can create the look of bare metal. You probably won't be able to get the "brushed" look very easily, though.

For exterior work that has to withstand the elements, you are best off to use stainless steel or bronze, so you can leave them bare and they will age gracefully.

For interior work, clear coating can often hold up for some time if you use high quality paints or powder coating.

scrapironmatron's picture

Thanks for your reply

That's what I was afraid of... I knew I was trying to take the easy way out! I've done a little research into paint effects and came across a series of products from Sculpt Nouveau. I may give it a try...

I'm certainly going to take your advice and go with a painted effect... There isn't much point in creating something if its doomed to deteriorate prematurely. scrapironmaiden

visitor's picture


I have access to a clear that carries a 10 year guarantee.
I have had results up to 5 years no oxidation.
100% UV stable.

Out performs galvanization, powder coating, chroming or plating.
Testing to prove it.

Give me a call for details 415-517-2073

crquack's picture

Given that no coating is

Given that no coating is perfect there are some compromise solutions used by many:

1) Penetrol
2) Permalac (no personal experience - I use Eastwood Diamond Clear)
3) Future Acrylic Floor Finish - an unorthodox but rather effective coating on steel. Do not use on brass/copper.



eligius1427's picture

Rich is pretty much right.

Rich is pretty much right. You can however keep up a bare metal finish with maintenance though depending on the climate. If you use some sort of lacquer then top it with metal oil from sculpt nouveau you can keep reapplying the metal oil as a maintenance routine, thus ensuring the finish doesn't fail. Biggest draw back is if you don't keep it up, it takes a lot of effort to get it back the way it started.


Jake Balcom
Mettle Design
Lincoln, NE

visitor's picture

Worst part of doing a bare

Worst part of doing a bare steel clear coat is that the steel has been recycled and there are micro pieces of rust all ready in the metal. Not as bad as a few years ago but still there, that is why the auto companys now use a electro plating of galvanized to seal that micro piece of rust. There is not any clear paint to seal in the micros.

Stephen Fitz-Gerald's picture


Stephen Fitz-Gerald
Forgive me but...this is a birdbath?
Remember a good rule of thumb,"Form Follows Function",that is; all aesthetic considerations take a backseat to it's intended use.A birdbath outside with extended exposure to water and the elements should be made from non-ferrous material.As Neil Young taught us"Rust never sleeps".A silly remark I know but an effective descriptor none-the-less.Not only will the birds not like rusty water ,but it will eventually foul your pump if there is one.Stainless steel is the ideal material for such a functional piece of yard art.Not only is it stable in any weather ,but it is also easy to clean,which the birds and bees who drink from the pool will appreciate...

visitor's picture

well u can get a tourch heat

well u can get a tourch heat up the whole pice till red hot
allowing the metal to exspand then dump it in a 55gal barrowl of 50w oil. the oil will get trap in the metal . becase of captraction and this will help a great deal. but most yard art should be made of copper brass bronze alum. or stainless. but not cheap 304 stainless 308 or better

Rich Waugh's picture

Steel does not trap oil in

Steel does not trap oil in itself. It is not a porous substance and any oil will only be on the surface, subject to the same degradation as paint, only more so since oil is not intended as a surface coating.

There's no question that bronze, copper and/or stainless steel are the better materials for outdoor work, but they are all much more expensive than steel and some people simply want the look of steel, rust and all. There is nothing wrong with 304 stainless steel - properly used, it has a near-infinite outdoor life. If contaminated with plain steel through grinding, buffing, welding etc, it will rust, but so will 308 or even 316. Stainless steel needs to be passivated to remain stainless in exterior exposure.

Josjor's picture

I would beg to

I would beg to differ.........but only a little bit. : )

Check out my avatar. It's a birdbath made entirely out of recycled steel. Yes, someday it will rust away to nothing, but the look is what I wanted. The bowl of the bath is a farm disc that has a 1/2" lip welded around the edge. That is the only piece I painted and yes, it does need a paint re-do every year.

So, yes, stainless may be the ideal material, but only if that is the look that you want.

Neutiquam erro.

Stephen Fitz-Gerald's picture

Farm implements

Stephen Fitz-Gerald
A farm disc itself is not regular mild steel,but a high tensile form called BORON STEEL.It has a higher resistance to rust and corrosion but will go eventually,especially at the welds if you've attached it to something else...

Josjor's picture

The body is made out of

The body is made out of standard farm-issue (if there is such a thing) diesel storage tank.

Neutiquam erro.