Tell me about powder coating
July 20, 2021 7:19 AM   Subscribe

I have an old metal library cart I want to have restored. Does powder coating seem like the way to go?

The cart is old and pretty rusty. A friend of mine who does metalwork thinks powder coating is overkill and I should contact a body shop, but I'm picturing calling a bunch of body shops and having men laugh at me (I had a bad experience with one years ago, including an abusive tirade and being called the c word when I changed my mind about selling an employee my car).
The owner of the powder coating shop I called says they can make it look nice, but I'd like to know just how much I can expect from a process like this. It's hard to tell from looking at pictures online just how well it works. Can it make something old look new?
Any and all thoughts welcome.
posted by FencingGal to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Both sound like overkill to me, TBH. If the metal only has surface rust you could probably just hit it with a coat or two of Tremclad. Knock any flaking paint or rust off with a light sanding beforehand.
posted by kate4914 at 7:28 AM on July 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We had an old metal table powder coated and it looks phenomenal. We've been using it for years and loving it. In my (big) city, powder-coated old metal stuff sells for a lot of $ in vintage stores, so getting it done on our own feels like a win to us.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:36 AM on July 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Disassembling the cart, sandblasting, and a powder coat will make it look and feel like new, and powdercoating is a very strong durable layer -- but it's a lot of work and may be expensive, but if you want that done then do it, the results should be (without me seeing the original) better than you'd expect.

However, $5 of sandpaper and a $8 can of spraypaint looks pretty darn good too, it won't have quite the same look and feel and will be more likely to show damage. Car paint shops are a bit better than a can of spraypaint -- they have better tools and skills, but the material put onto the object is essentially sprayed-on fingernail polish. This option isn't *bad*, just not as good as powder coating.

So, you're just looking at a cost-versus-quality decision, there's no technical reason not to powder coat.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:03 AM on July 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

The powder coat will look very, very good and there are a huge variety of color options. We have a couple powder coating shops in our area (e.g.) who also clean off any rust beforehand, and they don’t specialize in automotive work.
posted by migurski at 8:03 AM on July 20, 2021

Best answer: I had a vintage filing cabinet powder coated - it looked amazing. Results were immaculate, finish was extremely durable and I don’t remember it being crazy expensive. I did have to haul a very heavy piece of metal furniture to and from the outer suburban powdercoat workshop though. Also bring a blanket or something to protect your refurbished piece on the way home. I managed to scrape my newly-painted cabinet, ouch.
posted by t0astie at 8:15 AM on July 20, 2021

Best answer: 90% of your result will be the preparation. Removal of rust and old finishes, sanding and smoothing the surface and preparing it for the new coating is most of the labor involved. If that is done well, powder coating should look at least as good as new. Auto paint could look spectacular as well and would perhaps offer more options in color/gloss. Simply home spray paint would look nice, but not have nearly the durability.

If I wanted it to look new I'd go with the powder coat and ask some questions to make sure I understood just how much cleaning and prepping they plan to do. Will all surfaces by blasted down to raw metal, will any dings or divots be left in place or filled, and how will they protect or remove/reinstall non-coated elements such as the wheels.
posted by meinvt at 8:51 AM on July 20, 2021

Yes the good news about powder coating is that they will sandblast the piece which to meinvt's point is really the important part! I would pick powder coating over an alternative finish for this reason alone.
posted by goingonit at 9:08 AM on July 20, 2021

One can get anything media blasted (the general term for which sand blasting is just one of many options and probably not the best choice for your cart) in the same neighbourhood you'd take your cart to get powdercoated. Depending on the condition of your cart it is a decent choice for prep before paint.

If you go the paint route a hammered finish product (no hammering involved) will hide minor imperfections in prep and IMO looks the best. A plain solid colour to me says elementary school and a hammered finish says commercial/industrial use.
posted by Mitheral at 9:21 AM on July 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

My custom steel bike is powder-coated. Zero complaints! It's almost a decade old and still looks amazing despite the wear and tear bikes go through.

A bike shop might actually be someplace to inquire about places that do powder coating, come to think.
posted by humbug at 10:07 AM on July 20, 2021

I had an old sewing machine base powder coated. It is spectacular and well worth the big bux.
posted by Raybun at 11:28 AM on July 20, 2021

If you find a chill powder coating shop, you can ask them to hold the item (or let you know when to bring it in) for when they're doing a batch of stuff with the color you want; this can save you a few bucks on setup costs if you're wanting to get it powder coated a more common color. I've done this with smaller pieces for bikes, motorcycles, house-related hardware, stuff like that, and it nukes the shops setup fee and it ends up being really cheap (which, powder coating is pretty inexpensive as far as 'nicer' finishes go on metal). This might not be an option with something that size, but it's nice to have it in your back pocket if they do.

Granted, not all shops are down for this, but their setup and teardown for each color are A Thing, so smaller shops or autobody shops that do powder coating in addition to their other services may be willing to bend on price for timing.
posted by furnace.heart at 5:27 PM on July 20, 2021

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