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How to Distress Metal

Updated February 21, 2017

After putting in hours of work on your metal sculpture, sign or plaque, you're ready to put it on display. However, the pristine shine of the new sheet metal you used seems to lack character. To add vintage appeal to your metalwork, you can distress it using fine abrasives like sandpaper and steel wool. Depending on the desired effect, patina, or artificial tarnish, can also be applied to the surface of the metal.

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  1. Wash the metal piece thoroughly using dish soap and a scrub brush. This will remove any metal fragments or debris which may gouge the surface too deeply during the distressing process.

  2. Attach a piece of fine grit sandpaper to your sanding block. For greater effect, use a piece of medium or coarse grit paper.

  3. Rub the entire metal piece with your sanding block, paying special attention to corners and edges. For an even look, use a firm back an forth motion. For a more erratic, random look, use a circular or diagonal motion.

  4. Smooth sharp corners and scuff up the surface of the piece with a metal file. If desired, pound the metal piece with a hammer to create the look of rugged use.

  5. Finish by rubbing the metal thoroughly with steel wool pads. Pads are available in a number of different coarseness ratings, so choose the one that best suits your desired results.

  6. Wash the metal piece under a cool stream of water. Dry it completely with a towel.

  7. Apply a coat of patina solution to the piece with a paintbrush. Patina is available at most craft stores in a variety of colours, including black, dark brown, amber and deep red. For a darker tarnish, spread on the patina thickly. For a lighter tarnish, spread it thinly over the entire piece.

  8. Allow the patina to dry for the time suggested on the container. If desired, you can partially sand the patina off for an even more distressed look.

  9. Warning

    Use caution when handling your metal piece, especially if it is freshly cut or engraved.

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Things You'll Need

  • Dish soap
  • Scrub brush
  • Towel
  • Fine grit sandpaper
  • Sanding block
  • Metal file
  • Hammer (optional)
  • Steel wool
  • Patina solution
  • Paint brushes

About the Author

Brandon Getty began writing professionally in 2008, with columns appearing in "Thrasher" magazine. He received a Bachelor of Arts in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and lives in Stockton, Calif.

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