How To: Faux Paint Rust + Reused Wood Shelf.

Monday, July 10, 2017

faux rust
Before we get rolling here, holy crap people, our kitchen drawers are featured on Apartment Therapy.  Apartment.  Therapy.  Jaw ↓ floor.  Seriously, I feel woozy from the excitement!  No, I mean, wow, ooofph....woozy, heh!  Featured!  Apartment Therapy!

(I was so dizzy with elation, I forgot to include the link....doh!!)

And too, this lil' ol' bloggy thang was nominated for an Amara Interior Blog Award again.  Humble nod, thank you.

Sadly our first floor bathroom did not get picked for the Remodelista Considered Design awards which, if you ask me and you are because you're reading this, is a darn ridiculous shame as ours is infinitely better than anything they did pick.  Ah well, their loss.

Holy sh*t folks, that's some serious news though, man.  Wow.  Talk about agog!

But ok......rust?  I know.  Usually all we ever do is try to get rid of rust, right?

Well, today, I am creating faux rust.  And guess what?  You can too!

Back in the day, in my prop and painting scenery days, I would often fake some rust.  And granted, it is waaaaay easier to faux a finish for stage as the audience is typically a healthy distance from said painted object.

Ok, on the other hand, at times it's tricky as everything you do has to be enlarged in order to appear normal for the audience.  Ah, I gave away a theater trick!

Not that this particular faux rust is challenging, not in the least.  Getting it to look right up close and personal is a wee more involved is all.

The thing about faux'ing some rust is at least rust is rust, a forgiving finish to aim for.  Marble?  Yeah, more elaborate.  Wood, yeah, involved too.  Or most any other material really.  Naturally, I have various faux finish painting books upstairs in our spiffy library.

view of library shelf
Spiffy painting books in our spiffy library.
Typically I'd use spray paint:  black, white, a brown or brown primer, orange, yellow, red, gray, whatever I could coax from the flammables cabinet at work.  Spray one, spray another, dapple with a chip brush,* spray, dapple, spray, dapple, sputter the white or gray, bingo, faux rust in an instant.

As I do not have all those cans on hand and already had the acrylics out for the paint-by-numbers-ish dog portrait, I thought eh, stretch myself, try it with acrylics.

Prior though, I did some cursory interwebs trawling, see if anyone had any tips or interesting ideas.  Right off I came across this:  Easiest Faux Rust Tutorial.




I liked the idea in theory, adding color and texture as real rust is textural.  They also used ModPodge* and a heat gun to add yet more texture.  Ok, I thought, maybe I'll incorporate these ideas somehow.  Hm.  Cinnamon?  Really?

To back up, this all came about as ok wait...., too many thoughts in my head, slow down.  I designed for a shelf to go with the schwanky new first floor bathroom cabinets.  Actually two, but Mike nixed one.

After thinking and pondering and switching through oodles of shelf material ideas in my head, stopping at Menards, ReUse Depot (a fascinating place but massively overpriced -- it's a great premise but it's beyond me, their pricing, as it seems high prices would deter reuse.  But hey, I guess people pay it.  More power to 'em.), Chicago ReStore.  Ya know, options.  To no avail.

In our garage, pieces of way weatherworn wood gifted to me by our cool pal Gia have been collecting dust.   Huh.

old cedar porch boards
Thinking these were once porch floorboards.
Which worked out great as a matter of fact.  And I'm glad.  The whole scenario panned out exactly as what was in jammed in my beady head.  Thumbs up for that, right?


So, I thought, huh.  I need to connect two planks together to form a wider shelf, how can I do  Rusty metal straps with bolts?  Yeah.  Yeah!  Yeah, that works!

Relay idea to Mike.  He side-eye's me all screwy like I just waltzed off an alien ship spewing alien gibberish.  Waving my chatter off, "whatever babe, just do it, I'm sure it'll be cool."

Heh.  Cannot beat his votes of confidence.

There was no way was I going to track down nor spurt out real steel straps all rusty-fied.  In the dimensions I needed with holes in the correct spots?  Ha!  Nope.  What was the easiest way to reach my goal?  Wood and paint.

Wood and paint it was then.

My supplies:
cinnamon and acrylic paint supplies

Heh, cinnamon.

Ok fine, yep sure, I coulda zipped off some 1/4" plywood I had laying around but the craft plywood pieces were straight and true and the perfect size and yeah.  So four a' those for this particular project.

Start out by sealing up the plywood with the latex paint.  You're miles ahead if your paint is a shade of brown, any brown, or related to rust in any fashion.  Dab the paint onto the hardware you're using as well.  I should have etched or sanded or scuffed or something'ed the metal first but didn't.

painting prep with brown
Ah, the paint I used in the hall bedroom.  How handy.  And it photographs so poorly.  Boo.  Further boo?  Bought the wrong size washers I found out later.  Boo.
Once everything is dry, it's fun time.

Now.  It's rust.  There's no real rhyme nor reason nor hard and fast rule about how to faux it.

I did do some rust research, in that I looked at rusty things online.  Mainly though, my reference for the entire rust project was found in the park.  Always keep those eyes open, people.

images of rusty parts in Humboldt Park with Finn paw
Heh, Finn's foot stance...looks like he's a bipedal.  Goofball.
To begin, I squirted and dribbled all the colors on the wood.

dropping blobs of paint on wood
Yep, spurted and dripped the paint randomly.
Using the chip brush and the natural sponge, I dabbed and dabbled and mixed and dotted everything together until it became a general mess.

paint blobs dabbed together
As a matter of routine, I panicked as it was looking pretty uh, faux-y.  Cheese ball.  Spongy and fake.  The more I worked it, the more bleeeh one note brown it became.  Of course.

Shaking my head, I reached for the cinnamon, how can this possibly work?  Well guess what.  It did.  A big fat sprinkle here, a light one there, dabbing with the sponge, more cinnamon and huh.  Weird!  That's crazy.

adding cinnamon to acrylic paint on wood
Huh.  Wouldja look at that.  The cinnamon improving the mess.
But hey, they were right.

By the way, if squirting all the paint on there at once freaks you out, feel free to squirt mounds of individual colors on a plate or whatever, dip from there, then dab onto the wood.

As each strip of wood was nearing dry, I sprinkled yet more cinnamon on.  I know, a lot of cinnamon.  Which pained me a bit as I am quite fond of consuming cinnamon.

dappling the paint and cinnamon with chip brush
All that nifty texture!  Cool!
A few judicious dips and dabs of paint here and there followed but I left the spice mostly on top.  Lastly, a spatter of gray using the toothbrush.  Dip the brush directly in the paint, or water then paint, and pull your thumb over it, ya know, like you did when you were a kid.

spraying wood with paint on toothbrush
Spattering on a bit of gray here.
After everything dried, I spurted on white glue.  The white glue, as opposed to the Mod Podge I have in my possession, is not glossy.  Which is perfect as rust is generally not glossy.

using white glue to add more texture
Duh nuh, duh nuh...the chip brush coming for the glue.
A little minor spreading of the glue with the chip brush (but not evenly as variation is inherent in rust), I took my hairdryer to it.  Granted, ok, it is nowhere near a heat gun.*  I should just get a heat gun.

using heat gun on glue to bubble

Happily, the glue bubbled a tiny bit leaving the finished piece more textured and ultimately, more textured was my goal.

And tada!  Rust!

finished faux paint rust
Faux rust!  Although I think this shot was pre-glue.
While stuff was drying over in rustville, I gave the old wood planks a trim to size then a healthy vacuum with my majorly sucking vac, holy cow, I need to nail everything down when I turn that thing on, wow.

Onto the wood went a generous coat of that spiffy paste wax.*  See?  Told ya it'd be my go-to now.  Rather than leaving the wood bare, I opted for the paste wax mostly so that dusting will be less of a hassle, to give a sorta-seal in case anything spills on it, and to soothe the craggly weatherworn roughness.

using wax paste to seal shelves
Mmmmm, niiiiice.
Soooo, while all that was drying, heh, lots of drying, I grabbed a couple strips of plywood scrap, painted them black.  Why?  You'll see, hang on.

Then it was just all around drying wait time, tapping my toes, pacing, dancing in circles, waiting, whistling if I could, no I can't whistle, waiting waiting waiting.  You just whistled, didn't you?  Dammit.

Ok, once the black paint dried, upstairs I went and attached the strips to the cabinet side and the wall.  Lots of measuring, remeasuring, checking, are-you-kidding-better-remeasure-five-more-times, and leveling happened, yes.

gathering tools for installation
Tellin' ya, these DeWalt totes* are so darn handy.  Screw gun, drill bits, wall anchors*....Handy.
But ah ha, see, shelf brackets!  And ah ha, this gave the shelf the floating look I sought.  Yesssss.

adding wood strip support for floating shelf
Yes it was very very very hard to drill through the wallpaper knowing it can't be patched.  Very.
Home stretch here!

Butting the wood pieces together, clamps hugging tightly, I sandwiched the shelf between the faux rust painted wood slats, more clamps, then drilled the appropriate sized holes for the bolts.

adding the faux paint rust wood pieces to shelves
Clampy clampy.
Push the bolts through, tighten on the nuts and yes, paint was peeling right off the nuts despite protection from a rag as of course, acrylic paint does not stick to metal.  So either use spray paint for the metal bits or etch/scratch/sand/scuff the metal first.  Or just be really really really careful threading things together.

assembling the shelves with faux painted rust

Then ok!  Done!

I stepped back and thought huh, all right.  Right on.

Back upstairs to the bathroom I trundled, toting my lil' shelf under me' arm.  Delicately resting it atop my floating supports, a little skootch here, skootch there, put my feet in reverse.....

reused wood shelf with faux paint rust brackets
Faux rust finish and wood shelf complete!
I was pretty surprised, honestly.  It came out better than I anticipated.  I did do a butt wiggle dance and two fist pumps here.

So heh, cinnamon.  Not just for buns.  Who knew?!

That evening I a'says to Mike, "hey babe, did you see the shelf?"

M:  Yeah, it's cool.  Where did you find the rusty metal?


M:  What?

B:  You forgot our conversation?


B:  Did you or are you yanking my chain?  Because I painted that.  Remember?

M:  I'll never tell.

close up of faux painted rust

Days later he told; he had forgotten our conversation and thought it was real rusty steel so he was embarrassed.  But mwah, thanks babe!  Cha-ching!

finished painted rust and shelf installed

Ok, next time:  a final final wrap up of the whole entire first floor bathroom!  That's DONE!  Who woulda ever thought....Poof, mind still blown.  Wow.

reclaimed wood shelf with faux rust painted wood

Happy birthday to my favorite hot stuff, Mike!  And Finn too, happy fourth birthday bud!

Until August 28 or so, please come vote for this project over in the Instructables Home Improvement contest!  Yay!  Thank you thank you!

*The ModPodge, craft plywood, acrylic paints, sponge, chip brushes, white glue, bolts, cinnamon, heat gun, paste wax, DeWalt Tough System totes, and wall anchors are Amazon affiliate links.  Mwah, thanks!  Please see the "boring stuff" tab for more info.


  1. Very nice, I love it, Ill try to make it :) THX for tips :)

  2. Those shelves are holy-crap COOL, and I love your faux rust. You are MAGICAL, Bec. I absolutely adore your style.

    1. AW! You flatter me so, I'm blushing and so humbled! Thank you thank you! xoxo

  3. Thank you for sharing this interesting and informative article, painting with airless spray gun will be faster and more interesting!

  4. El resultado es espectacular!!! Pero no no veo los colores que usaste y vendrían bien mas fotos, para los torpes, ja ja!!!

    1. ¡Muchas gracias! Apolgogies si no estaba claro. Hice una lista de los colores que usé, pero siempre que uses tonos de marrón y naranja con un poco de negro y blanco apagado, estarás listo. ¡Gracias!


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