Wednesday, March 7

Finishes

My preference is to keep it traditional. I use beeswax on almost all of my metalwork. I apply it after briefly reheating each piece either in the forge or with a propane torch. The heat melts the beeswax, coating the piece. This alone achieves a darker, "black" finish.

To get a deep black finish, have a fire fueled with green material (coal, twigs, unseasoned wood) going. This creates sooty smoke that coats a piece as you move it in and out of the fire. Wipe off the piece carefully (it will still be hot) and you'll reveal a beautiful, black surface.

The above method has been used for centuries. It's simple and the results are great. You can pick up beeswax at your local farmer's market, hardware store, or order it in bulk through Amazon. A quick web search should turn up some local results. I prefer all-natural, yellow beeswax due to its nice fragrance. Processed white beeswax will do a great job, but smells a bit toxic to me. 


*Something to keep in mind when using this method: Don't get the metal super hot. Your best bet is to get it just hot enough to melt the wax. Otherwise, you'll end up with a flaming piece of metal. The wax won't bind as well since most of it is being used to fuel the flames. 

This video from Brown County Forge shows the process:


An excellent review of natural finishes can be found here: Hold the Paint. In it, Mr. Bracken explains various combinations of finishes for achieving beautiful and functional results.


The Protective Properties of Paint

On the other end of the spectrum, there are those metalworkers who utilize spray-on or brush-applied paint finishes. The benefit is a consistent, rust-proof finish in just about any color. The downside is the loss of the metal's natural beauty and the possibility of cheapening the look of your work. Colors can make anything "pop", but I rarely find this necessary in blacksmithing. Shaping something out of steel is inherently cool and an unpainted piece is much more interesting, in my opinion.

There are many techniques out there for achieving different patinas and textures. The author of this page, Magic Hammer - Metal Finishes, details quite a few including "pitting" using hydrogen peroxide and salt. 

*Before heading into any sort of chemical finish, do some research. Knowledge is your best tool and with it you can protect yourself from some nasty stuff.

Damascus

This is a more advanced technique, but the results are amazing. The traditional damascus-layered finish is achieved by forge welding a piece of high carbon steel to itself over and over. The end result looks like this blank sold on Amazon (which is a great place to buy raw steel to work with): 





This is traditional "ladder pattern" damascus. There are a variety of ways to forge weld the steel to create different patterns. 

Have a Method You Like To Use?

Please share some finishing methods you've used in the comments box below.

16 comments:

  1. So I tried putting some beeswax on the hot metal, let it dry, but it didn't darken the metal at all. Put a nice coating, but no darkening. Is there a way get some level of darkening?n Tx.

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    1. Howdy! Thanks for your note. Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. While the method that Frederick proposes is correct in its results, the proper and traditional way to darken with beeswax is to:

      1. Build a small, smoky fire with green twigs or fresh coal.
      2. Heat your metal piece.
      3. Apply the beeswax.
      4. While the beeswax is still hot and fluid, pass it through your dirty fire.
      5. Wipe clean with a rag.

      The result will be a darker finish.

      I think what Frederick is getting at is that, over time, the finish will get a hand-rubbed patina that isn't as dark black. If you're handling the piece a lot, you will have to repeat the process.

      Or, as Frederick suggests, use linseed oil.

      I hope that helps!

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  2. The bees wax provides a clear finish, by running the metal through a dirty fire you allow a layer of soot to coat your work, when you then apply the wax you are trapping the soot in. This is bad because the soot can detach at any time and your finish will come off with it. if you want a dark finish use linseed oil.

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  3. I was wondering what metal finishing would look like on a pencil? I think that would be pretty cool if it's possible.

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    1. That's an interesting idea Jayden. The main issue I see with it is that most pencils are made out of plastic or wood. Metal finishing is usually reserved for items that are, unsurprisingly, made out of metal. A much softer substance like wood wouldn't withstand the processes involved in metal finishing.

      I guess you could coat a pencil in liquified beeswax. Or do you mean giving a pencil a metallic finish? The Vaughan company you linked to focuses on finishing and texturizing metal products rather than putting metallic finishes on non-metal objects.

      I dig the imaginative thinking. Cheers.

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  4. I learned how to make metal black when I use to boil my animal traps in the fall for the winter season. I put local tree bark (spruce or hemlock) in a metal washtub and boiled them for about 20 minutes and then left to sit overnight. The next day they were very dark black and it will not rub off.

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    1. This is a great traditional method. Inexpensive if you have pitchy trees nearby. Thanks for sharing it!

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  5. A blacksmith demonstrating at the royal cornwall show this year said he uses black shoe polish instead of beeswax to get a dark sheen.

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    1. Excellent. Did he say whether he heated the metal first or did it cold?

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  6. i want to use a forged rod to display a rug, and I dont want to use beeswax in contact with the wool. Or shoepolish :) Any other ideas to keep it rust free?

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    1. Hi Kassis-

      Thanks for your question. For a finish that won't potentially rub off on the wool, I would go with a spray-on finish.

      Clear satin or matte finish Rustoleum will protect the metal and once it dries it won't transfer to the material.

      I hope that helps!

      -Terran

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  7. How about seasoning the metal with oil like a cast iron skillet/pot?

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    1. Hello!

      That method is along the same lines as heating the metal and coating it with beeswax. Heat + coating = rust protection. Give it a try and let me know how it turns out!

      -Terran

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  8. What about a linseed oil quench, I've heard of doing that but I am not sure.

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    Replies
    1. Depending on the piece and what result you want, quenching in linseed oil would work just fine. Thicker liquids will generally quench more slowly than thin. Warm oils will quench more slowly than cold. The slower and warmer the quenching medium is, the less stressful it is on the metal being quenched.

      When in doubt, test a small piece to see what happens.

      Best of luck!

      Terran

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