You just got home with your brand new Deva! She’s cute and whimsical in all of her natural steel glory and you are super excited to display her outside on your porch. As you set her down, a bolt of lightning flashes against the sky and a peal of thunder shakes the ground. You scramble back inside before the downpour starts, leaving your piece out there to welcome in the storm. A week or so later, you notice a coppery spot growing on her otherwise flawless finish. In a panic, you reach for the phone and start to dial 918…
Story sound familiar? In my time here at Garden Deva Sculpture Company, I think the most common question I have received from customers is “How do I prevent my piece from rusting?” While there isn’t a sure fast way to completely prevent rust (since steel naturally oxidizes) there are a few precautions you can take, as well as few things you can do once you notice a patina starting.
Let’s Start With the Basics: What is Rust?
Rust is the product of a chemical reaction between iron and oxygen. Things such as the moisture content in the air, the acidity of the environment, and the presence of electrolytes (such as those found in salt) can affect the rate at which this reaction occurs. For example, think of how the exhaust system of a car is more likely to show evidence of rust after the roads have been heavily salted, or how a fence might display a stronger patina in a humid climate versus a dry one.
Steel is an alloy or metal mixture composed mainly of carbon and iron. Hence, steel is prone to experience iron oxidation. Other types of metal, such as copper and aluminum, will not rust in the traditional sense as they do not contain iron. However, their components are still susceptible to oxidation, as shown by copper turning green and aluminum white over time.
Okay, okay, so you get all this science stuff, but how does that help you protect your deva piece? Good question. A key part of preventing rust on your sculpture is knowing what can accelerate rust formation and making sure to limit its exposure to those factors. Common things to avoid are:
Essentially the best way to prevent rust is to keep your sculpture dry! I know, this is easier said than done, especially if your piece is displayed outside. Luckily there are a few solutions to help make your life easier and keep your sculpture rust free!
Digging a Little Deeper: Finishes and Rust Prevention
A surface finish is a treatment applied to the surface of a material to obtain certain properties, such as altering the material's appearance or increasing its durability. We utilize many different finishes at Garden Deva, however, the two main ones we use to prevent rust are painting and powder coating. Painting involves the use of common lacquers or spray paint that you can find at your hardware store, while powder coating uses a dry powder that is baked to form a hard “skin” over the metal. Both of these processes work by applying a coating over the surface of the metal piece. This layer serves as protection in that it stops reactions from occurring between the metal and any water molecules in the air. The molecules are unable to reach the surface of the metal, averting any potential oxidation. As this coating erodes over time, the metal and atmosphere come back into contact, allowing rust to begin to form. It is important to note that a powder coat takes longer to wear away than a basic paint coating and is recommended if your piece will be outside. Stay tuned for a more in depth post on the processes of painting, powder coating, and other metal finishes!
Everything at Garden Deva comes with a protective coating, even the pieces that appear to be plain metal. All of our natural pieces have a coat of clear lacquer applied to them before they are moved into the gallery for display. Pieces that are colorful are protected either by colored spray paint or a powder coat. If you touch up this coating every so often, you can prevent it from completely wearing away, thus keeping your piece from rusting.
I See Rust: What Do I Do?
All of this talk about preventing rust is great, but what do you do once your piece begins to patina? If you start to see some rust on your sculpture, I recommend hitting it with some steel wool. Rust forms primarily on the surface of the material, so when caught early it can easily be knocked off by an abrasive pad. After you rub off the rust, re-coat the section of the piece that you scrubbed with clear or colored paint. The scrubbing knocks off the protective coating as well, so this step is very important to prevent the rust from reoccurring almost immediately.
If the rust damage to your piece cannot be taken off at home, or if your piece was powder coated, you can always bring the sculpture to us at Garden Deva. We can then sandblast and refinish your piece for you. Or you can let the rust continue and enjoy a natural copper patina!
Rust is a natural process that will occur over time. To lengthen the lifespan of your piece remember these few key points:
Reader Response: We would love to hear any stories of how our customers have handled their Devas rusting. Comment below with anything you have done to preserve your piece!