Controlled Rusting Steel

I want to do some experiments with steel - controlled rusting to
create patterns. I basically want to start with a highly polished
surface and as the end result have some high polish and then
different extents of rust in areas right through to some very rusted
areas and then seal the whole thing. I am after some hints as to what
would be the best type of steel to use for this, what kind of
solution I could rust the steel in, what I could use as a clear mask
that would hold up to the rusting solution, and what to seal the
final result with.

R.R. Jackson

try salt water

(now the most caustic substance on earth I know of is cat pee but
getting them to pee on the items is a bit difficult unless of course
you firmly say now Sylvester no peeing on that metal ! OR perhaps
attach a Apple Mac symbol or HP insignia to the container then for
sure it will be peed on within 15 minutes)

An American Cameo Artist

R.R. Jackson,

Here is a way that you can quickly rust cast iron and steel. First,
please be sure to do this in a well ventilated area and protect your
lungs, eyes and skin from overspray and fumes.

First spray the steel object with Muriatic Acid from the hardware
store. Let this dry overnight. The next day spray the steel object
with hydrogen peroxide, the weak kind from the drug store. Let this
dry overnight. Finally, rinse the steel object with large amounts of
clear water and let dry. Some of the superficial rust will brush off,
but underneath will be dark mature rust that sticks to the steel
object very well. I would practice on a scrap piece before I tried it
on the final object.

David Luck
627 Center Street
Iowa City, IA 52245-3008


I would look at mild steel for your experiments - you can get quite
a high polish to it. I’d use a varnish or clear lacquer as a resist,
making absolutely sure the steel is clean before applying the
resist. Did you have a particular rusting solution in mind? When you
you want to stop the reaction, rinse the entire piece in water then
apply tannic acid. Tannic acid is obtainable as a powder that you can
dissolve in methylated spirits or water (meths is easier though). It
will convert the iron oxides to a stable tannate form. This is
important as you do not want to seal active corrosion. Seal with a
microcrystalline wax (such as Renaissance wax). I have not given you
names of places to obtain these things as I am from Australia and am
assuming you’re in America :slight_smile:


To get a high polish on steel it is necessary to use a tool steel
such as ‘silver steel’ which has been hardened and tempered, however,
such a highly polished surface will resist rusting more than an
unpolished surface would. To cause the surface to rust it must be
chemically clean and free from grease - then exposure to normal damp
air will cause it to rust very quickly. Any of the resists previously
mentioned on this site for etching copper or silver will work OK and
I would suggest that the piece be cleaned by washing with a brush in
soapy water followed by an etch in Hydrochloric or Sulphuric acid
(maybe battery acid…). It may be necessary to give a final degrease
with acetone but I doubt it. Then just hang the piece over a
container of water and wait. The process of rusting is one of
oxidation and so it is the air that does the work, the moisture just
helps to catalyse the reaction.

Best Wishes

Ian W. Wright
Sheffield UK