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Best Clear Coat for Complicated Sculptures?

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Hey everyone, it’s been a while!

So I’m entering a welding sculpture contest, and looking for your recommendations for the best gloss clear coat for a steel sculpture with nooks and crannies that are hard to spray (clear coat is the only finish we’re allowed to use).  

It’s an 18” sculpture of a man sitting on a stool with a guitar, mostly a grey/smooth scale texture with polished steel in places. Unfortunately I can’t post pics until after the contest...

Curious if I should stick to a spray finish, or try a thin brushed clear.

So what type/brand do y’all recommend?

Thanks in advance!


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I've never used Penetrol, no help there. I like Rustoleum or Krylon semi gloss or flat clear, depends on what the customer likes. If I'm applying a solid color I like acid etch primer and epoxy paint. If you don't want the hassle of priming, epoxy appliance paint is tough stuff and covers well.

The downside to using flat or semi gloss paint on outdoor items is it's not impermeable and will weather more quickly. Moisture can penetrate and eventually cause rust under the finish. I get around that by painting with clear gloss and muting the shine with a top coat of semi or flat. It's not perfect but lasts considerably longer in the weather. 

If there are too many or too small nooks and crannies to fill/cover with spray, thinning brush on Rustoleum for the first coat works well, use a toluol thinner to thin epoxy brush on. It's a NASTY solvent, minimize any contact, it's a transdermal and does damage. The manufacturer of what you buy may recommend a different thinner so go with it. Clean up wants a toluol solvent so using disposables is a good thing. Let the unused paint dry for safe disposal.

Frosty The Lucky.

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As Dave suggested Rustoleum Auto Body Clear comes in brush-on quarts if you can't use spray, sounds like the best option for metal.

While not recommended for metal, my go to clear-coat finish for wood is MinWax Polycrylic, it is water based and comes in gloss, semi, and flat. I have used that on many wood projects. I can't tell you how it would fair on your sculpture and maybe durability is not an issue for this contest, so maybe it's worth a test run? One thing I like about working with it, is that it brushes on semi-opaque white. So if you start to pool too heavy in an area it will show easily and for me it helps me apply evenly. It dries crystal clear. Again, it's recommended as an interior wood finish but it is a glossy clear coat brush-on. I have a 10 year old wooden workbench finished in polycrylic that has held up well.

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It's a bit of a side trip but you might take a tip from the various restorers of old stuff--cars, gas pumps, etc that they want to stay looking old while still proving new protection.  Auto clear-coat tends to go bad after a year or so on such things and is virtually impossible to renew without destroying the piece and ruining the original patina.  What they use is actually old school "Future Floor Polish".  It lasts 1 to 2 years, doesn't affect the actual piece, and can be renewed easily.  You just spray it on lightly in a couple of coats.  It doesn't leave an obvious goopy finish like some other coatings.  I have a friend with a dozen collector vehicles with original patina (he grabs the weird stuff--old moving vans and delivery vehicles) and this is what he uses...also on his gas pumps tin signs etc.

There is some online referencing to this which might be worth a little digging.

Not sure what the actual coating goal is but if it's just getting through a shorter period of outdoor exposure, this might be an option.

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I realize it's been almost exactly  2 years however I am in a situation almost similar to yours and I would like to know if anyone has any more info on this penetrol stuff? I am actually looking to try and dip or submerge a sculpture and then hang dry.


Also, love the guitar man sculpture, looks great

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