Introduction: Protect (and Blacken) Steel With Beeswax
I recently set about building a desk for my new "office" space and ended up fabricating a set of steel legs (you can learn how I went about forming them HERE). One of the cons of using steel is it's susceptibility to corrosion, and while the indoor humidity in most places isn't going to be high enough to cause any immediate issues, it's still worth considering some sort of protection on the finished pieces.
If you're looking to protect your DIY steel projects there are a number of processes and products out there (painting, clear coat, black oxide, plating, etc.) and the best choice will depend on your specific project and aesthetic goals. I chose a method I was not even aware of before I started this project: beeswax.
Beeswax serves as a durable, moisture-repellent coating while also blackening the steel which was something I was looking for aesthetically. My wife also occasionally makes candles so we have a big bag of it sitting around already (you don't need too much though). The only downside (so far, I can't report on long-term durability first hand yet) is it's pretty labor and time intensive to apply, particularly to large pieces.
- Solvent/De-greaser - Any of your typical organic solvents will work well here (isopropyl alcohol, acetone, mineral spirits/white spirit).
- Pure Beeswax - You can find, and use, commercial wax-based metal coating products if you'd like but generally the only benefit is that you can get them with dyes if you're looking to get a specific color finish.
- Heat Source - If you can fit your pieces into an oven then that's the simplest and most controlled way to go but handheld or welding gas torches are a good second option. I used a handheld MAPP gas torch.
- Lint-Free Rags - 100% cotton, in-case of heat contact, is also a good quality.
- Heat-Resistant Gloves - If you're really careful you can use the torch heating method and you won't have to touch hot metal but better to be safe than burned. An absolute requirement for the oven heating method.
Step 1: Surface Prep & Cleaning
I included surface prep (etching, dyeing, brushing, polishing, etc) in the title of this step because, while I don't have anything to show for it as I wanted the surface to retain most of its raw look, it should be done before you clean if it is something you want to do.
As with any surface finishing job proper cleaning is a simple step that will have a big impact on the final quality. Just give the entire piece a quick rub down with a solvent, paying close attention to any stubborn oils and loose hammerscale, and you should be good to go.
Step 2: Hot Coat
Most of this step is written following the torch method, it's what I used after all. If you are using an oven simply heat the piece from 150 - 200F and then follow the coating steps.
Start with the piece on a work surface that can survive if you accidently hit it with the torch. Working from top to bottom (so excess wax will run onto unfinished areas) heat 6-8" sections of the piece until running a chunk of wax across the surface leaves a glossy, melted, even coating. To make your life easier in the next step you're looking to wet the entire surface with the thinnest coat of melted wax as possible. Repeat the heat and coat process for all sides of the piece, all the way down.
At this point I waited until the top, where I started, cooled and hardened enough for me to flip it over onto that surface and coat the bottom and undersides that I couldn't reach from the top.
NOTE: If you don't have an oven or torch that will work, another option would be to melt the wax in a pot and paint the melted wax onto the room temp piece. This is not ideal as you won't get as much surface "penetration" when the metal isn't hot, and maybe less blackening as well, but as long as the wax goes on liquid it will be sufficient for most applications, particularly indoor ones.
Step 3: 1st Buff
Once the piece has cooled and the wax has dried take a new rag, not the one you used for cleaning, and buff all of the waxed surfaces. You'll want to apply a lot of pressure and keep the rag moving for the best results. If there are spots where excess wax has built up you can use a plastic scraper or other flat blade to carefully scrape it first.
You're done when every waxed surface has gone from dull and tacky to polished and smooth.
Step 4: Cold Coat
Now apply a second coat to the cold piece using solid wax. Again you're looking for a fairly thin coat, but this time it won't go on completely evenly. This is fine and if you do try and get an even coat you'll definitely end up applying too much making your life harder later.
Step 5: 2nd Buff
With a second rag repeat the buffing process as before, although this time your initial passes will first serve to spread the cold wax before subsequently polishing and smoothing it to the final finish.
Initially the piece will feel a little tacky and like it's leaving wax on your hands but don't worry. After letting the pieces sit for a while, and washing your hands, they will just feel nice and smooth.
And with that your pieces are done! Thank you for reading and as always please feel free to leave any questions or tips in the comments and I strongly encourage anyone who follows this guide to add pictures of their completed project as well!
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