You found the inspiration piece among the myriad of shapes and sizes and colors, you’re excited about it, but now what? The foundry patterns at Second Use have a vintage appeal you won’t find elsewhere and turning them into functional pieces of art takes vision, patience and a little know how. Trust me, I broke my fair share of patterns figuring out how they behave. Hopefully this post will save you the hassle so you can be on your way to having a one-of-a-kind conversation starter in your home.
First, don’t be afraid to modify and fabricate. The kinds of wood used in most of these patterns are fir, cedar and plywood. All of these materials are easy to work with and take well to drills, chop saws, miter boxes, sanders, ban saws, table saws, you name it. This soft wood is easy to cut. But safety first! Check the back of the piece. Many of the patterns have a steel bracket screwed into the wood. If you’re doing any cutting, you’ll need to remove it to save your blades and body. There are also small nails throughout, especially where small wooden posts and pieces are attached. A lot of these are small enough to not pose a serious problem on a chop saw, but it could cause damage to your tools and self, so be cautious.
Keep the off cut pieces! Maybe you needed to remove a stamped aluminum plate to push a pattern through a bandsaw, or perhaps you ended up with a really cool chunk of yellow off cut. These little gems can be re-applied once you’ve moved forward with the project to add architectural significance and enhanced detail.
Also, sometimes the components of the pattern are simply glued together. Most of the time this was done with what appears to be some kind of rubber cement. In my latest piece, I was deconstructing a larger mold to make a mirror frame. I did a little discovery and found that I could pull the pieces apart by hand, after getting it started with the help of a junky chisel and flathead screwdriver. The glue joining the pieces was still pliable and had a rubbery texture. I scraped and sanded it down, then re-glued it with Titebond and clamped it overnight.
When you begin modifying the pieces, you may notice that there are some really smooth curves between the individual pieces of wood that make up these industrial sculptures. It’s actually often beveled leather that is glued and formed. It will cut well and generally won’t cause you problems. However, it may separate during fabrication. No worry though, a little bit of clear epoxy does wonders to adhere the leather to the wood. It cures fast, so work quickly and hold it by hand for a couple of minutes.
If you are looking to have cut sides match the colors of the original paint, there are a few tricks. I found Rust-Oleum makes a really great yellow spray paint, which I personally used to make the clock arms of one my pieces compliment the color scheme. I also found a solution in crushing lump charcoal and mixing it with a quality wood glue. I created a paste and then brushed it or spread it by hand to keep the piece’s vintage look, while reinforcing and pigmenting the wood. A quick sand with a fine sandpaper does the trick to blend it with the original finish. For very small touchups on black areas, I have even used Sharpie. Be careful with these though, as on smooth surfaces it has somewhat of a reflective effect.
Finally, what can you do about all the dust and gunk from decades of neglect in a warehouse? Hit it with some glass cleaner and wipe it down. If you want to take it a step further, a light sand with a sandpaper sponge or pad will create a nice distressed look. For finishing touches, try wiping it down with furniture polish, lemon oil or a butcher block conditioner (look for the kind with beeswax and mineral oil). This will really make the finish pop, adding lustre and depth.
If you’re having a hard time envisioning what you can do with these really cool pieces, think outside the box. Look at the item for it’s components. Break it down in your mind and you might find a shelf bracket, flatstock for a frame, housing for a clock, wall shelf, or box for a cabinet. Our own Greg Balducci says “Don’t try to tell the piece what it should be. Instead, let it tell you what it should be.” We’ve also seen Anne Kohl produce some really neat works using them as lamp bases. Sometimes a quick run through the table saw can take an otherwise unusable piece and turn it into twice the usable material.
As always, feel free to ask us questions in the store about how to work with them. An inspired project gets us excited.
Submitted by Lawson Revan, who upcycled foundry patterns into a myriad of things including: