Looking for a Super Steel Sealant 2!

| | | | | | | | | | | | |

I don't know if my previous question went through. I MIG and TIG steel sculptures. I am looking for advice on cleaners and sealers for ferrous metals. I have used cold patinas (I am unable to use a torch right now -- this may change), and Permalac with a wax coating. The result indoors and out has been rust. I can accept a certain amount of rust, but I would rather not.

There could be a problem with my process. I know weather plays a part. If anyone has any advice in terms of a good cleaner, sealant or protective finish that will clear-coat steel I would be grateful to hear it. Has anyone tried Birchwood-Casey products? Metalwork is a highly specified field that takes a lot of knowledge, expertise, patience and trial-and error. Your wisdom will not go unappreciated!


Alexandra Limpert 

Rich Waugh's picture

Alexandra, Unfortunately,


Unfortunately, there is really NO clear coat that will hold up to the elements when applied over raw steel. To protect steel form rust outdoors you need to so what the auto manufacturers do - galvanize, then prime and paint with high-end automotive paints. Bare steel simply will not hole paint tightly enough to prevent air/moisture from creeping in and causing rust.

If you're using cold patinas, I'd suggest starting by sandblasting the surface and priming it with a 90% zinc cold galvanizing paint, followed by a coat of neutral oxide primer and then top coat it with a gray paint that looks like bare steel. From there you can apply various dye patinas and once you have the look you want apply an automotive clear coat. Doing this should give you five to ten years exterior life.

Proper finishing of metal work is as much work as the initial creation.

Sylvain Goulet's picture

For indoor i use gun blue

For indoor i use gun blue with many coat of minwax paste after nearly two years the color of métal as not change. For outdoor i'am still looking for a solution. Now i'am testing a piece of métal that i rub with grease. After a year or two the patina will probable get deeper...

still looking for best result.


QuiQue's picture

I agree with Rich totally.

I agree with Rich totally. For outdoor steel work you either go with the processes as Rich has indicated, or leave a natural rust and seal it with linseed oil and notify the client of frequent maintenance of linseed oil or something like WD-40 which has a fish oil base.

On the other hand, if you are doing this work for indoors AND the home/building is atmospherically controlled for lowered humidity, then the world of patinas and special finishes will work with little maintenance. I love a simple power wire brushing to remove oxides and a light coating of WD-40 over the steel. 

Sylvain Goulet's picture

WD-40 good ideal i will try

WD-40 good ideal i will try this to.

Sylvain Goulet

wolfgang8's picture


Thanks for all your helpful and inspiring advice. I have heard about automotive paints and sealants, but not about applying the 90% zinc cold galvinizing patina first.

Rich, is that highly toxic to use? And when you mention patinas do you mean art or automotive/industrial?

Sylvain, how do you like the gun blue? Is it good to work with? Is that a cold patina? Does it give you consistent results?

QuiQue, does the linseed darken/protect the rust on the outdoor sculptures longer than the WD-40 or is it about the same? Also, do your clients willingly do the upkeep on your outdoor work? That would be another story for my large sculptures... 

Thanks again!



QuiQue's picture

Yes the linseed oil will

Yes the linseed oil will darken the finish, especially when first applied. As to protection, it's a temporary solution which helps keep additional oxides from forming. Temporary is the keyword here.

The WD-40 has a similar effect in that it has a fish oil base, but includes cleaners and other agents which give it the ability to penetrate into nooks and crannies.

I want to put a disclaimer here. These two finishes worked well for me for interior work and prevents heavy rusting on exterior work. Something you need to consider is the thickness of material your art is made of and the type of welds/connections on the artwork. If you are using really thin materials and tack welds, don't expect miracles on outdoor environments.

wolfgang8's picture

I hear you

Thanks, I hear you. I am going to try the WD-40 for some indoor pieces I just stripped. I think it's the perfect simple solution in this case.

I remember another finish that worked better for indoors than a lot of other things I've tried. A metal sculptor once told me to heat a small sculpture with a torch and brush on black shoe polish. I did not even clean the piece first. It looked great.  

Sylvain Goulet's picture

It's difficult to have

It's difficult to have consistence when talking about patina on steel
specially on large surface.
Try and error, will always be the best strategy.


warren's picture

The problem with working

The problem with working with steel is that so much is recycled over and over and little micro particles of rust exist. Any tiny bit of moisture will cause the rust to excite.
While I am working in steel I never quench the piece with water. I also use a penetration oil on the steel if let sitting much. I find a better success rate of the steel not rusting.

Doesn't the WD 40 stink?

www Metalrecipes -- heat and beat to the desired shape, repeat as necessary.

lin's picture


Hi Warren, good to hear from you-long time no post. Someone told me to coat steel with wd-40 and top that with wax when it is dry. Any one tried that? Lin

QuiQue's picture

Gee Warren, I actually like

Gee Warren, I actually like the smell of wd-40. Especially over all the coal and fine steel rust and scale... It even smells better than linseed oil and most paints. I got a feeling the smell has to do with peoples sensitivity. I smoke a pipe so many smells don't bother me.

What I don't like is sharing a tent after eating beans with someone... ;-)

Rich Waugh's picture

Or cabbage with green

Or cabbage with green chiles, either!

wolfgang8's picture

Steel sealants

I think it's interesting that steel is so difficult to seal. None of the metal I work with is spotlessly clean to start with. But it's the raw, non-precious aspect of steel that compels me to sculpt with it. In terms of a finish, I would prefer to work with the material rather than against it. 

Patinas were mentioned, but I suppose rust could form anyway. Has anyone painted metal with oil-based enamel and left it outside? 

lsw's picture


Try sculpt-nouveau they have all kinds of patina products.  I use a y2-k product from them for clear sealing outdoor bronze pieces would probably work just as well on steel.  I use to use a product i used in drawing class, its the fixative used to hold down charcoal drawings and it works great but can be expensive on big pieces.  As with all outdoor pieces you need to maintain them though wax and clean every few years.

eligius1427's picture

Hi Alexandra, I too like

Hi Alexandra, I too like working with steel and absolutely love that way it evolves when it interacts with its environment. I agree with everybody's post above and will add just a few things.

First, the strength of a finish is all about the prep. The surface has to be very clean and have a tooth for the clear coat, paint, wax, etc to adhere to and you have to follow the cure times. Rich is right, your best best is Galvanize(hot dip is best), primer, topcoat.

Second, you have to design/build/weld your piece so water is shed and doesn't get trapped in nooks and crannies where it can sit and be awnry. If you do have those areas, they probably won't have much clear coat/finish protection due to the reduced access to those spots, so it would probably best to go in and hit those tight spots with whatever sealer your using with a small brush first, then clear coat the whole thing.

Third, no matter what, there is ALWAYS maintenance that needs to be done on a finish. On steel the more you try to keep the look of clean raw steel, the more maintenance that is required, but maintenance is the key. You can have an outdoor piece that has a simple wax finish never rust at all if your willing to rewax it everyday. That kind of self discipline is pretty tough for most of us though. With the Lacquers that are out today, this maintenance isn't necessary so frequently, but it is still necessary.

Fourth, the rate that steel rusts is different based on it's composition, the environment its in, and the surface finish/texture it has. The first two you may not have much control, but the last element you do. A sandblasted finish will rust almost immediately, where as a piece that has been polished to a mirror finish will take a lot longer to rust in the same environment. The more you "smear" the the surface of the steel, the tougher it is for rust to get started(note that it's also difficult for finished to stick to very smooth surfaces). Burnished steel is also more resistant to rust.

The perfect finish for a piece is a balance between the look you want, the location the piece is going to sit in, and the amount of maintenance the owner is willing to perform. If your up front about this information to the customer, you shouldn't have a problem down the road. If your building custom pieces for someone, discuss this before you make the piece. Depending on the amount of work they are willing to put in the maintenance will help determine the material that will produce the most satisfactory results.

I've ended up with the same mindset that most of the above people have. I've gone to focusing on a minimal maintenance approach, using natural finishes like a rust patina or materials that don't oxidize with huge color change like aluminum/stainless, especially outside.

Hope this helps


Jake Balcom
Mettle Design
Lincoln, NE

wolfgang8's picture


Thanks Jake and all,

This is very helpful. I am trying Lin's advice with Wd-40 and wax on a medium-sized indoor steel piece. I will be sure to look into the other methods also for the larger sculptures. I will research their price ranges and feasibility, and see how it goes here in NYC. 

Does anyone know how Jean Tinguely sealed his pieces? Some are also fountains.   

Thanks, Alexandra 

Sylvain Goulet's picture

Jean Tinguely

I do not think Jean Tinguely worried about rust.

Sylvain Goulet

wolfgang8's picture

Jean Tinguely

I guess he didn't have to! I am worrying for nothing.



Sylvain Goulet's picture

You're right we worried

You're right we worried unnecessarily.

It depends of the work, rust can eventually make a interresting patina.


Rich Waugh's picture

Rust will eventually make a

Rust will eventually leave a pile of dust and a stain on the ground and nothing else - just have to wait long enough. The thinner the steel, the shorter the wait. (grin)

Will Jones's picture

Somewhere here there's a

Somewhere here there's a recipe for linseed oil/white spirit/Briwax formula that I've found remarkably good at stabilising a natural rust finish, I've also used this on a sample of bare, wire brushed mild steel I've hung outside my workshop....a couple of years later there's no significant sign of oxidisation. Best applied to warm metal.Like Warren I try to avoid quenching after the last forging operation on a piece if it's having a clear finish.

I've not tried it yet but I've heard good things abourt a product available here (u.k.) called Owatrol. It's an air drying fish oil with more substance than WD40 that penetrates very well....also used to stabilise rotting wood as it gets right into the porosity then hardens.

I galvanize almost everything I do commercially for external use. Have recently had a few things blasted, hot zinc sprayed and powder coated...have been pleasantly surprised both at the variety of finishes and cost of "one off" powder coating. The people near me do both a passable rust effect and a metallic steel finish. Blasting, hot zinc spraying and powdercoating comes in about the same cost as just galvanizing...and I don't have the grief of painting.

I think the ultimate would be to galvanize, denib, then powder coat, but getting more and more expensive....and on a forged piece you lose some surface detail.

Having said all that I have a garden gate I've made, allowed to rust, then linseed oiled /waxed and I find it the most wonderful mellow, natural finish in the world. But It's a hard sell to customers, and not actually a particularly easy option if you need to accelerate then stabilize the rust to get the job finished and paid for in a reasonable timescale.
(Iron)Will Jones

thatmakes1's picture

John Crew

John Crew