What's the best clear coat finish for mild steel?

I’m going to try my hand at building some furniture and would prefer not to have to protect it with paint. I understand that I’ll need to clean and prep to white metal before appication.

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I did some chairs for an exterior table and liked the looks of them so I wiped it down with acetone and gave it three good coats of a clear coat. After a year or two of being outside all winter though I noticed rust under the clear coat.

I fixed the problem by giving it a good coat of flat black paint and haven’t noticed it coming back.

Had the same results for some garden art that was clear coated so would love to hear others experiences as just doing a standard clear coat finish didn’t give me the long term result i was looking for.

if you want a clear that will last outside, and don’t want to or can’t powder coat it

Clear Cerakote? That would work. This stuff’s going to live indoors if that matters.

I’m going to answer a totally different question. Because sometimes we don’t know what we don’t yet know, and don’t know what to ask. And in this case the choice of product to apply isn’t the most fundamental aspect to address.
From experience and tests : There is a far greater influence on the success of a coating than what that coating is. Namely how dry the steel part is when it’s coated. I’m talking imperceptible, atmospheric / humidity level water. The way that wood / cooking ingredients like flour / powders like cement, have some water in them. Whether i coat in a ‘lubricant’ or a finish, the underlying factor is surface moisture. Especially in terms of rusting under the coating. This is actually why i finish with lubricant wherever i can get away with it. Purely because i can heat the part to the point that there is zero surface moisture and seal it in that state. Even using the heated state to melt a mineral wax on the surface. So if ‘best’ coating is best by protection against rusting, wax applied while hot is the answer.

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Steel does not absorb water like wood does if that’s what you implying. If you see moisture on steel its only on the surface.

I’m not implying anything.
Please have a look at what you commented and the quote you commented on. You’re going to the effort of specifying surface water on a point that specifies surface water.

I guess I confused when I saw this.

Steel does not have water in it.

For indoor furniture, human sweat is the issue. Some people are just “rusties”; if they touch unprotected steel their fingerprints will be there the next day. This likely has something to do with the pH (acidity) of their sweat.

The traditional blacksmith’s finish for steel was linseed oil, turps & a bit of pine tar, but it certainly yellows the color of the steel. If you’re looking for a high-tech look, the Cerakote someone mentioned is a good bet.

For ease I would look at lacquer which you can get in a spray. This will have a little color and will yellow a little over time. It does require little prep for any touch up work. PolyEurathane will be clearer at the start but will also yellow a little over time. Any touch up. Wax will work and require the most maintenance.

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Thanks for the replies. The pieces will live indoors and it sounds like touching up some wax would be preferable to dealing with a degrading lacquer or urethane finish.

I recently watched a video that recommended heating the metal surface up with a hand torch (or weed torch for larger items) and finishing with beeswax. I will probably try that with some of the furniture I plan to make.

ETI can you elaborate some on the Cerakote? do you have your own set up? how much did it cost toget set up. I’ve been taking ornamental work to the powder coating place. would love to not have to drive to town!

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bare bones you just need a spray gun, $311 if you buy recommended gun from Cerakote web store. Look for coatings that are air cure and don’t require an oven (the clear I recommended above is air cure)

prep parts as you would for paint, spray on Cerakote and let dry.

I have a small spray booth and oven, I prefer powder coating its less expensive on material side and very short cure time, however there are parts that can’t withstand curing temps then I would use Cerakote. (probably not a factor for your use, but Cerakote does not add thickness like powder does, so for close tolerance parts that can be helpful, IE firearms)

if you value your time, the cost saved going to town may justify higher cost of materials for Cerakote.
Call Cerakote, explain your use case and they will give you all the info / help you may need to get started.

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Slightly off topic…your typical rattle can clear spray paint is great on your tools to stop rust instead of the usual WD-40, etc. Less messy and as long as they are out of the weather holds up great.

I make furniture pieces with low carbon steel and wood. I wanted a clear finish too and also tried various waxes. I settled on the following process.

  1. Heat with a torch. I heat until the moisture or petroleum evaporates off. No, I don’t know what exactly the substance is but you can see it “burn” off. It doesn’t take long and the steel isn’t hot enough to be uncomfortable to touch.
  2. Rub on Sculpt Nouveau Black wax. The black is just a tint. It’s not opaque so the character or patina shows through. Buff when cool.

I get away with this because I live in a dry climate and my pieces are indoors. I’d consider trying Everbrite for outdoors because it worked okay for a bathroom vanity I built but suspect it’d fail outside over time.

Look into Permalac from Peacock Labratories. Good stuff, easy to apply.

Great thread. I sweat the metal with a torch and wipe it down with acetone before hand. I have had decent success with a rustoleum automotive clear rattle can. But interested in trying cerekote and the wax method.