Saturday, November 17, 2012

Rusty Metal Plant Stand

My daughter Rhetta has been my right hand since the beginning of this blog back in April. We talk about every post and she is the main reason that people can understand what I'm trying to say, using her amazing editing and writing skills to keep me on the straight and narrow. When we saw how well the rusty wainscot story was being received we started thinking about other ways to use the techniques I practiced to get that wainscot project up and running successfully.

"Let's make a plant stand. It's small, many people might be interested and we can work together on it. You know, the father daughter project we often talk about but don't find the time for." I made most of that up but hopefully you get the point; a fairly simple undertaking and a great opportunity to work together on something. In our case we even had the perfect base to start off on: an underused stool that was just the right size to hold the plant we had in mind.

I first went by my favorite metal workers shop ( The Slag Works in Winthrop, Washington) and asked Barry if I could buy a piece of cold rolled steel from him. The stool we wanted to work with had a 14" square by 1" thick top so I needed a piece at least 16" square so that when we bent the metal at 90 degrees on each of the 4 sides the thickness of the stool top would be covered.

Tools of The Trade

With a tool called a nibbler, the cutting of the basic square was fairly simple. We then used an old framing square to mark out the perimeter of the stool top including the tabs we would leave to help seal the outside corners of the finished pan that we were fabricating. With a couple of lengths of steel angle iron and the two vise grips that live in my tool box we made a primitive 'brake'. This is the tool used by professional metal workers to create the sharp edge we hoped to get.

Corner sealing Tab

So far so good. The newly formed inverted pan fit snugly over the stool seat. Next we needed to abrade the steel so that the acid we planned to use for our "we want it rusty, and we want it now" procedure, would 'bite' into the smooth surface of our metal. I first used a diluted muriatic acid (with gloves and protective eye wear, of course) which did a great job of cleaning the metal and removing the existing partly rusty look from our piece. Thinking we were good to go, I mixed up a small amount of Ferric nitrate to give us the quick rust patina we were after. I chose to use this material because of its subtle golden rust tone, but there are many other ways to produce rust quickly including vinegar & salt.

'Washable' Patina
It looked great after a few minutes, but when I went to rinse it and stop the rusting action, all the beautiful rust color washed away. This was not what I was expecting. I've done this ONCE before so now I'm an expert. This should have worked! Back to the drawing board. This time I tried sanding the metal surface with my orbital sander, which looked like a good answer. You want rough, I'll give you rough.

Old Hand Sanding

Again the Ferric nitrate, again the beautiful patina in just a few minutes, again the whole thing washed away when rinsed. Now what? In a twisted sort of 'Smarter than the Wood' manner we added the rust enhancer one more time but didn't wash the piece. Instead we decided to let nature in on the deal and left it outside for a couple of days, even letting it be rained on one night. As a final step to preserve the finish, we coated the rusted metal top with a matte spray sealant. You be the judge. Rhetta and I think it came out great, even if it didn't go completely as planned.

Smarter than the metal? 
A note from the editor: When my Dad suggested we do a project together using rusty metal, I was all for it. I love the mix of wood and metal elements used in industrial style design and I have a passion for anything old. I am drawn to the fantastic imperfections found in barn wood planks, folk art, flaking paint, antique hardware, wavy glass and of course: rusty metal.
Working with my Dad is always an opportunity to learn. He brings extensive knowledge and his overall "can do" approach to everything he does. Not only does he have ideas, but he has the constructive thinking skills to figure out a way to make them happen.
Everything went smoothly with the bending of the metal top, which is where I expected us to have difficulties. So it surprised me when we had issues with the rusting which I had assumed was going to be the fail-safe, "easy" part. After our second try, I told my Dad that "we might be smarter than the wood, but it didn't look like we were smarter than the metal."