Top off a Table with a Faux Galvanized Finish

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This article is from Issue 84 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Top table. This faux galvanized top is a perfect companion for the Sofa Table on p. 48.

With basic ingredients and a little magic, you can transform MDF into metal.

There’s something appealing about the look of galvanized sheet metal. The mottled gray and silver surface that gives galvanized metal its distinctive appearance is created by a molten zinc coating applied to prevent steel from rusting. Farmers have long relied on the durability of galvanized steel for feed buckets, roofing, gates, hardware, and work surfaces. It’s not surprising that galvanized tabletops have moved out of the barn and into the house, lending their rugged, rustic appearance to “farm-style” décor. 

I wanted to create galvanized tabletops and countertops, without the hassle of bending and fastening sheet metal. Faux finish was the solution. The technique I’ll describe can work on other projects besides tabletops. It can also be fun and effective to try on other objects too –like cake stands, picture frames, and serving trays. 

Finishes get you started. The paints you’ll need include primer, a silver base coat, and contrasting hues that are blended on the surface to mimic the mottled appearance of real galvanizing. (See Buyer’s Guide, p. 62). The High Performance varnish provides protection for your faux finish. The Flat out Flat varnish leaves a true matte finish top coat that enhances the faux effect. 

First steps: primer, nails, and base coat

MDF (medium density fiberboard) is a good tabletop material for this faux finish—it’s flat, dense, and fairly strong. But it does require good protection from moisture. After cutting your panel to size, give corners a slight roundover treatment with some 120-grit sandpaper. Then apply two coats of all-purpose primer to both faces and all edges. If necessary, knock down any fuzzy, raised grain areas with 220-grit sandpaper, so you’re working with a smooth surface. This gets you set for the silver-toned base coat.

Create a realistic edge detail with roofing nails.
To mimic the appearance of tacked-down metal edges, hammer 1" roofing nails into the edge of the MDF about every 6". To make the nail-driving easier and prevent splitting, I like predrilling the nail holes.

A silver base coat for top and edges. Start by coating the edges, then use a roller to coat the top. You can also coat the bottom, if you want to use it as a practice surface.  

Start with stripes

The mottled appearance of galvanized metal occurs when bare steel is coated with molten zinc. To imitate this look, I apply three different colors to the medium gray base coat, then blend and dab them together. To get set, fill three plastic mixing cups with white, dark gray, and medium gray paint. Make the medium gray by blending equal parts of white and dark gray. Start at one end of the panel, and work in sections about 12" wide. Your stripes of color can overlap slightly, but don’t attempt to blend them with your brushes. You’ll get a more realistic effect by spritzing and dabbing in the next step.

Stripes of white, gray, and dark gray. Starting at one end of the panel, brush on stripes of white, gray and dark gray. Work quickly to apply separate swaths of color. Don’t worry about the ratios; you can always add more color as long as your paint stays wet.

Spritz, blend, dab, repeat

After applying the three colors next to each other, it’s time to blend them by dabbing with a paper towel. Keep your composition “molten” by spritzing water from a spray bottle. There are a few “tricks of the trade” you can rely on to get good results. First of all, keep plenty of paper towels on hand, because once a towel becomes saturated with paint, it loses most of its mottling capability. Avoid the common mistake of removing too much paint from the surface; puddling and layering will actually enhance the faux effect. A final tip: Don’t be afraid to redo an area by applying more paint, followed by dabbing and spritzing. 

Once you’ve striped, spritzed, and dabbed one section of the tabletop, repeat this sequence in 12"-wide sections, all the way across the surface. If you see lap marks, blend them in by spritzing and dabbing. You can also apply more paint if necessary.

Mimic molten metal. Create the random dappling, puddling and layering of a real zinc coating by spritzing the stripes of paint, and dabbing the surface with paper towels.

Work your way across the top. When one 12"-wide section is complete, start the next section by applying stripes of three colors again. Then repeat your spritzing and dabbing technique. 

Edges last, then varnish

Once you’re done with the top, the edges will go quickly. Instead of applying stripes,   dab on three colors, then mottle the finish with water and paper towels. Take care to blot away drips along the bottom edge, and give the paint plenty of time to dry. 

For metal-like durability, this faux finish deserves multiple coats of clear finish. I apply two coats of water-based, high-performance flat varnish, to protect the surface. Then, I apply a flat top coat for a true matte finish that enhances the faux effect. 

Metal edges, too. Repeat your technique to finish the edges. 


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