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topic 4640

Acid washed zinc or sheet metal covering for fireplace & wood box


Q. Hello,

I came across your website while researching treatment of rust on artifacts... I hope you wouldn't mind providing some advice. I have a steel trunk from around the early 1900s. This is Australian made, and is all steel with brass fittings, no wood. The top surface of the lid has some powdery surface rust, and also (most of) the name of the owner painted on it. I'd like to treat the rust to prevent further deterioration, and to keep it "clean" and "cleanable" for use indoors.

Could you please tell me the best way to stop the rusting process, and then seal it, without altering its appearance too much? Through my research so far on the internet, it seems I could either:

1. Rub back with steel wool, treat with phosphoric acid and seal it with furniture or auto wax; or
2. Rub back lightly with steel wool, and seal with polyurethane.

I'd like to retain as much an original look to the trunk as I can, i.e., not change the color too much. I also don't wish to remove any more of the painted name. Thank you for any advice you can provide.


Evan Tate
Hobbyist - Sydney, NSW, Australia


A. Mr. Tate,

You have done your research well. I have refinished many antique items in prior metal finishing shops including base metals of copper, brass, pewter, silver, steel and cast iron. I own a few copper items with steel trim parts that were cleaned with glass bead blasting. We then polished and buffed the items as necessary and applied a final lacquer coating to prevent tarnishing. I have an antique copper wash boiler with steel handles that is tarnish and rust free after 15 years. I think a similar cleaning process with either a lacquer or polyurethane coating would work just fine.

Daryl Spindler
Daryl Spindler, CEF
decorative nickel-chrome plating - Greenbrier, Tennessee


thumbs up signHi Daryl,

Thanks very much for your reply! I'm heartened to read that you use lacquer on steel - I had been told that lacquer should only be used on copper and brass, for some reason...

I'll give it a go, cleaning up the loose rust with 0000 steel wool [affil. link to Rockler] /wet and dry, clean up with turps and then spray lacquer it. I hope this will do it - I presume that after lacquering something, if you want to redo it later, you need to strip all the existing lacquer off first?

Thanx again, and regards,

Evan Tate [returning]

Hobbyist - Sydney, NSW, Australia


RFQ: I have recently seen sheets of acid washed zinc and wondered if anyone had a source in the USA for purchasing such materials.

Sandra M [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Anaheim Hills, California, USA


Q. We are wanting to cover a brick fireplace with metal and do an acid wash to create various abstract color designs.
We need to know what is the best product to use to get the effect and also what to use to neutralize the process. Also is a seal coating required?
We have seen this done, but do not have a clue how to do it.
Any help and advice the readers can give will be greatly appreciated.

Darlene Massoni
re-modeling do it yourselfer - Cheyenne, Wyoming

March 20, 2008
Q. Darlene,
Have you had any response to this technique. We are thinking about doing this in our youth room in our new church. Please let me know any thing you might have found out.
Beth Barber-Hansen
- Mequon, Wisconsin

March 30, 2008
Q. I am also interested in acid washing some tin for cupboard panels. Does anyone know how to do this. Thanks.
Greg Losinski
- Miles City, Montana

January 5, 2010
Q. Any answer on this? I would like to cover a large wall with sheet metal for a giant magnetic board, but would like the patina look of a acid wash - any suggestions?
Missy Hodgdon
- Springfield, Illinois

January 7, 2010

A. Hi, folks. I think the reason this particular thread remains unanswered might be semantics regarding what effect this "acid wash" is supposed to produce, with some people expecting an acid to turn the metal into beautiful abstract color designs and others simply expecting a rust color :-)

We have many threads about how to rust and seal steel sheet metal with simple materials like vinegar, salt, bleach, muriatic acid etc.; the best are probably letters --

11295, "How to produce a rust finish on custom iron furniture",
17478, "How to rust steel on purpose" and
25532, "How to rust corrugated steel".

You can also "paint" the metal with a patinating chemical to give it that blue copper look -- but I don't see how you will get "colorful designs" on steel except by perhaps splashing different patina chemicals in different areas?

If you go with copper panels, brass or bronze panels, they can probably be "flame colorized" as discussed in letter --

2662, "Preserving heat coloring of copper when clear coating"
. . . or there are a host of chemical treatments for different colors as discussed in our FAQ "Patinas on Copper, Brass & Bronze". Good luck.


Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. - Pine Beach, New Jersey
Striving to live Aloha

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