Unveiling the Mystery of Rust: A Guide to Protecting Your Metal Fabrication Projects

Logo for the series "From Rust to Robust"

Welcome to the first installment of our three-part series aimed at exploring the intricate relationship between rust, metal fabrication, and protective measures against corrosion.

In this article, we delve into the science of rust and corrosion, their impact on metal fabrication projects, and why understanding these phenomena is crucial for anyone involved in the industry.

This series is designed to provide comprehensive insights into the challenges and solutions associated with rust and corrosion in metal fabrication.

Next: “The Art of Metal Fabrication: How the Process Can Influence Corrosion Resistance,” followed by “The Art of Metal Fabrication: Crafting Corrosion-Resistant Creations.” I hope you enjoy the series and share your thoughts or questions.

From Rust to Robust

Metal fabrication projects are a popular way for individuals and businesses to create customized metal structures, equipment, and machinery. Metal fabrication is an essential aspect of modern technology and design, from car parts to bridges, from metal sculptures to electronic circuit boards. However, there is one silent enemy that can threaten the longevity of these projects: rust.

Rust is a common problem in metal fabrication that can cause structural damage, corrosion, and other issues that can be costly to repair or replace. Understanding the root causes of rust formation and how to prevent it is crucial for protecting your metal fabrication projects.

The Silent Enemy

Rust is an insidious foe because it often goes unnoticed until it has already caused significant damage. It forms when moisture reacts with iron in steel or other metals used in fabrication projects. The resulting chemical reaction produces iron oxide, which weakens the metal’s structural integrity and causes unsightly discoloration.

In many cases, rust may form on a surface where it cannot be seen by the naked eye until the damage has already been done, making it essential for anyone involved in metal fabrication projects to be aware of the potential for rust formation so they can take appropriate measures to prevent its occurrence.

Need a dollar amount to see just how much corrosion affects us all?

Here are some recent statistics that you may find interesting

• According to a study by NACE International, corrosion costs the US economy approximately $276 billion annually, which includes direct costs such as repairs, maintenance, and replacements, as well as indirect costs such as lost productivity and environmental impact.

• The transportation sector bears a significant burden of corrosion costs, with an estimated annual cost of $29.7 billion, which is corrosion-related expenses for highways, bridges, airports, and railways.

• The oil and gas industry also experiences substantial corrosion costs, with an estimated annual expense of $9.6 billion. Corrosion in pipelines, storage tanks, and offshore structures contributes to this figure.

• The infrastructure sector, which includes water and wastewater systems, power plants, and buildings, incurs an annual corrosion cost of approximately $22.6 billion.

• The manufacturing industry is not exempt from corrosion expenses, with an estimated annual cost of $17.6 billion, which includes corrosion-related losses in production, equipment, and facilities.

• Corrosion in the military sector is also a significant concern, with an estimated annual cost of $20.1 billion, including corrosion-related equipment, vehicles, and infrastructure expenses.

Importance of Understanding Rust

Understanding how rust forms and how to prevent it is crucial for maintaining project longevity. Metal structures are often subject to harsh environmental conditions such as temperature changes, moisture exposure, or chemicals that contribute significantly to corrosion risk factors.

Without proper prevention methods or maintenance techniques employed regularly, rust will eventually set in, causing severe damage not just on a cosmetic level but potentially affecting functional parts if left unchecked. By being knowledgeable about how rust forms and what preventive actions can be taken against its occurrence, you will be better equipped with the tools necessary should problems arise with your project during its lifespan.

Preventive Maintenance

Preventive maintenance is essential for reducing the risk of rust formation, including regular cleaning and inspection of metal structures to detect any signs of corrosion early.

Additionally, you can use protective coatings such as paint or other barrier solutions to help prevent rust from forming on the metal surface. Other strategies that could be employed include galvanization and anodizing to protect metals against the corrosive effects of UV radiation, moisture, and other environmental factors that contribute to rust formation.

Anyone involved in metal fabrication projects must understand how rust forms and what preventive measures can be taken against its occurrence. Failure to take preventative action could lead to significant damage or even project failure over time. By being aware and knowledgeable about these issues, you can help ensure that your metal fabrication projects last for years without succumbing to the silent enemy – Rust.

What is Rust?

Metal fabrication projects require using various metals like steel, iron, and aluminum. However, metal isn’t immune to the elements, especially rust. Rust is a common problem for metal surfaces exposed to moisture and oxygen.

a rusty barrier overlooking a scenic mountain pass.

Rust is a reddish-brown coating on metal that typically forms when iron or steel comes into contact with water and air. Rust can also form on other metals but typically takes longer.

How Rust Forms

When water (or any other source of moisture) comes in contact with bare metal surfaces, it reacts with iron atoms found in the metal to create iron oxide. This process is called oxidation.

Iron oxide particles become loose because they don’t bond well with the surface of the metal and can easily flake off or be removed from the surface by friction.

The Chemical Process Behind Rust Formation

The rusting process involves an electrochemical reaction between two different metals: one becomes an anode (the negative end). However, the other becomes a cathode (the positive end).

the process of rust

Water, carbon dioxide, and oxygen are required to drive this process. Oxygen combines with the anode’s electrons to form hydroxide ions in water molecules near its surface; these ions react with more oxygen molecules from outside sources until they’ve bonded together as Fe(OH)3 or Fe2O3.

The chemical equation for rust formation can be simplified as follows:

Iron + Oxygen + Water → Iron Oxide

The reaction requires three things: iron, oxygen, and water. Without any one of these components present, rust cannot form.

Why Knowing About Rust is Important

Understanding what rust is helps identify any signs of corrosion early on before it causes significant damage to your project’s materials and structures. It’s essential to remember that rust is a gradual process that can go unnoticed for months or even years.

The damage could be irreversible by then, making replacement the only viable option. Knowing what rust is and how it forms allows you to take preventative measures and minimize the likelihood of rust affecting your metal fabrication project.

The Many Faces of Rust

Rust comes in many forms, and each type can affect metal fabrication projects differently. The three most common types of rust are surface rust, pitting corrosion, and crevice corrosion. Surface rust is the most common type and appears as a reddish-brown coating on the metal surface.

It’s typically caused by exposure to moisture and oxygen. Pitting corrosion is more severe than surface rust and occurs when small pits or holes form in the metal.

This type of rust can be caused by exposure to harsh chemicals or saltwater. Pitting corrosion can seriously compromise the structural integrity of metals, making it important to identify and treat them as soon as possible.

Collage with 3 rust examples: surface rust, crevice corrosion, and pitting corrosion.

Crevice corrosion is similar to pitting corrosion but occurs in areas with limited oxygen flow, such as in joints or under gaskets. This type of rust can be especially difficult to detect because it often occurs in hidden areas that are hard to reach.

Surface Rust

Surface rust is the most common form of rust and appears as a thin layer on top of the metal’s surface. It’s typically caused by exposure to moisture and oxygen, which react with iron atoms on the metal’s surface to form iron oxide (rust). Surface rust may seem harmless at first glance, but if left untreated, it can lead to more serious types of corrosion, like pitting or crevice.

One common example where surface rust can cause major problems is with car bodies. A small patch of surface rust may not seem like much at first, but if left untreated long enough, it can spread throughout the entire car body, causing significant damage that requires expensive repairs.

Pitting Corrosion

Pitting corrosion occurs when small pits or holes form on a metal’s surface due to chemical reactions with moisture and other substances. It typically takes much longer to form than surface rust, but once it starts, it can spread quickly and cause significant damage to the metal.

One real-world example of pitting corrosion is on boats exposed to saltwater. Over time, the saltwater creates small pits in the boat’s metal hull, weakening the structure and leading to leaks.

Crevice Corrosion

Crevice corrosion occurs in areas with limited oxygen flow, such as joints or under gaskets. This type of rust is insidious because it often occurs in hidden or hard-to-reach areas and can be challenging to detect until serious damage has already been done.

An example of crevice corrosion is on metal structures like bridges, where different parts are joined together using bolts or rivets. Over time, moisture can seep into these spaces and cause rust formation that weakens the overall structure.

Understanding the different types of rust is critical for anyone involved in metal fabrication projects; recognizing when each type may occur and its effects, you can take proactive steps to prevent rust from forming or treat existing rust before it becomes a significant problem. With proper maintenance techniques like regular cleaning and inspections for signs of damage or corrosion, you can keep your projects looking their best while ensuring they remain structurally sound for years.

Causes of Rust

The Role of Moisture

Moisture laying on a metal surface.

Moisture is one of the primary causes of rust in metal fabrication projects because moisture allows the oxidation process that forms rust to occur.

When metal comes into contact with water or any other form of moisture, it reacts with oxygen in the air to form rust. The amount of moisture present determines how quickly the oxidation process occurs.

Oxygen element symbol from the Periodic Table.

For example, if a metal surface is damp for an extended period, it will develop rust more rapidly than if it’s only briefly exposed to moisture. To minimize rust formation due to moisture, you must ensure that surfaces stay dry as much as possible.

The Role of Oxygen

Oxygen is another critical factor contributing to rust formation in metal fabrication projects. When oxygen comes into contact with metals, it initiates a chemical reaction that results in corrosion and eventually leads to the formation of rust. Oxygen accelerates the rate at which metal corrodes and forms rust; therefore, the less oxygen that comes into contact with metal surfaces, the slower corrosion and rust formation will occur.

Seasonal cycles for Earth

The Role Temperature Changes Play

Temperature changes can also contribute significantly to the formation of rust on metal surfaces. When temperatures fluctuate frequently or suddenly change, rapid fluctuations in humidity levels impact the metal’s corrosion speed. When temperatures change rapidly or frequently – such as during seasonal transitions – they create fluctuations in humidity levels, leading to rapid corrosion or slowing down oxidation rates depending on how dry or moist conditions are maintained.

Controlling These Factors

Controlling these factors is crucial for minimizing and preventing damage caused by rusting. To prevent moisture from building up on your equipment after use, make sure that you thoroughly dry them off before storing them away.

To reduce exposure to oxygen, consider using protective coatings or sealants. These coatings and sealants can provide an extra layer of protection by creating a barrier between the metal and air.

Storing your equipment in a place with stable temperature conditions is best to control rust formation due to temperature changes. In addition, ensure that you regularly inspect your equipment for any signs of rust formation or corrosion.

Preventing Rust from Forming on New Metal Surfaces

It’s important to note that brand-new metal surfaces are also susceptible to rust formation. If you work with newly fabricated metal surfaces, consider applying a protective coating or paint to protect them from moisture and oxygen exposure.

Galvanization is another technique many industries use to prevent rust formation on new metal surfaces. This process involves coating the metal with a layer of zinc or other metals that act as an effective barrier against moisture and oxygen exposure.

By controlling these factors, preventing rust from forming on new materials or existing projects becomes easier. By slowing down the oxidation process through proper maintenance techniques, you can extend the lifespan of your equipment while minimizing damage caused by rusting.

Prevention Techniques: the Importance of Preventing Rust Formation

We’ll explore these techniques in upcoming articles, but here’s a brief overview of those techniques for now.

Metal fabrication projects are an investment in time, money, and resources. Whether it’s a small DIY project or a large-scale commercial venture, rust formation can have a major impact on the overall success and longevity of the project.

Rust can weaken metal surfaces, cause discoloration or staining, and compromise the project’s structural integrity. By implementing proper prevention techniques, you can reduce the risk of rust formation and protect your investment.


One common prevention technique for metal fabrication projects is to apply coatings to metal surfaces. Coatings are a barrier between the metal surface and external elements that contribute to rust formation, such as moisture and oxygen.

Many different types of coatings are available, including paint, powder coating, epoxy coating, and more.


CWF spraying red powder coat on cotton picker
Powder Coating

One of the most common coatings used in metal fabrication is paint. Paint can be applied using a brush or spray gun, providing excellent protection against rust formation and aesthetic value with several color options.

Powder Coating

Powder coating is another coating that provides superior protection against rust formation compared to traditional paint. Powder coating involves applying electrostatically charged powder particles to metal surfaces that adhere through baking at high temperatures creating a durable bond between the coating and the surface.

Epoxy Coating

Epoxy coatings are typically used for industrial applications where durability is key. Epoxy coatings consist of two parts mixed before application creating an incredibly strong bond between the coating and the surface.


Galvanization is another common technique used in preventing rust formation on metals. Galvanization involves coating metal with a layer of zinc through a process called electroplating. Zinc is highly resistant to rust formation and acts as a sacrificial barrier that corrodes before the underlying metal surface.


Anodizing is a technique commonly used on aluminum surfaces to prevent rust formation. Anodizing involves applying an electric current to create an oxide layer on the metal’s surface, providing excellent protection against rust formation.

Understanding rust and implementing proper prevention techniques is crucial for maintaining the longevity and success of your metal fabrication projects. Whether through coatings, galvanization, or anodizing, many options are available for preventing rust formation, depending on your needs and preferences. By taking proactive measures to prevent rust formation, you can protect your investment and ensure the highest quality for your project.


Metal Substrate Being E-Coated.
Metal Substrate Being E-Coated.

E-coating, also known as electrocoating or electrophoretic deposition (EPD), is a highly efficient and environmentally friendly process used to apply a protective and decorative coating to metal and non-metal surfaces. The process involves immersing the object in an electrodeposition bath containing a paint or coating material dispersed in water. A direct current (DC) voltage is applied between the object and an array of electrodes in the bath, creating an electric field that drives the coating material particles toward the object’s surface. The particles deposit onto the surface, forming a uniform and adherent film.

E-coating offers numerous advantages over traditional coating methods. It provides excellent coverage on complex shapes, ensuring protection even in recessed areas and edges. The resulting uniform coating film provides outstanding corrosion resistance against moisture, chemicals, and environmental factors. Furthermore, e-coating is environmentally friendly, producing minimal waste and reducing volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions compared to solvent-based coatings.

The e-coating process is widely used in various industries, including automotive, appliances, agriculture, and aerospace. It is commonly applied to automotive parts, metal furniture, electrical enclosures, and lighting fixtures. Overall, e-coating is a reliable and effective coating method that delivers superior corrosion protection and a visually appealing finish, making it a preferred choice for many industrial applications.

Maintenance Tips

Cleaning and Inspection

Maintaining metal fabrication projects is essential to prevent or remedy any existing rust. One of the most important maintenance tips is regular cleaning. Keeping the surface of metal fabrication projects clean and dry can go a long way in preventing the formation of rust using simple soap and water solutions or with specialized cleaning products designed for metal surfaces.

illustration of a young lady examing components.

In addition to cleaning, it’s also important to regularly inspect metal fabrication projects for any signs of damage or corrosion, which includes checking for discoloration, pitting, or any other irregularities on the surface of the metal. Catching these issues early on can prevent them from developing into serious problems.

Protective Coatings

Another effective maintenance tip is to apply protective coatings to metal fabrication projects. Coatings such as paint, epoxy, or polyurethane can protect against moisture and other elements contributing to rust formation.

Before applying any coating, it’s important to properly prepare the surface by removing any existing rust and applying a primer, ensuring the coating adheres properly and provides maximum protection.


Galvanization is another popular method for preventing rust formation in metal fabrication projects. The process involves coating steel or iron with a layer of zinc, which acts as a barrier against moisture and other corrosive elements.

Galvanized steel is commonly used in outdoor structures such as fences, handrails, and bridges due to its durability and resistance to rusting. However, galvanization does not last forever, so regular maintenance should still be performed.


Anodizing is another protective coating process often used in aluminum fabrication projects. The process involves applying an oxide layer on top of the aluminum, which provides added protection against corrosion and wear.

Like galvanization, anodizing does require regular maintenance to ensure the coating remains intact. Scratches or other damage to the surface of the anodized aluminum can expose the underlying metal to moisture and other corrosive elements.


Understanding rust and how to prevent it is essential for maintaining metal fabrication projects. Regular cleaning, inspections, and protective coatings such as galvanization or anodizing can go a long way in preventing rust formation and extending the lifespan of metal fabrication projects. Considering these maintenance tips, you can ensure your project stays rust-free for years.

In Sum

Metal fabrication projects are not immune to rust, the silent enemy that can wreak havoc on them. We have learned that rust is formed from a chemical process caused by oxygen and moisture reacting with metal surfaces. It comes in different forms, such as surface rust, pitting corrosion, and crevice corrosion.

Factors such as temperature changes and salt exposure can accelerate rust formation. Understanding how rust forms and its types are crucial for preventing it from damaging metal fabrication projects.

Prevention techniques like coating, galvanization, and anodizing can reduce or delay the formation of rust. Maintenance tips like regular cleaning and inspection help identify early signs of corrosion before they worsen.

Rust is a persistent problem in metal fabrication projects that needs proper attention to prevent damage and ensure longevity. The importance of taking preventive measures cannot be overstated enough because once rust sets in, it can compromise structural integrity and shorten the lifespan of any project.

Proper prevention techniques such as coatings, galvanization, or anodizing help protect metal surfaces against moisture and oxygen exposure which causes rust formation. Regular cleaning and inspection are also critical to identifying early signs of decay before they worsen.

Understanding the chemical process behind rust formation on metal surfaces will help you mitigate its impact on your projects’ longevity. Use the preventive measures mentioned above so your projects can withstand harsh environmental conditions without compromising structural integrity or shortening their lifespan.

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