How to Make Practically Anything Steampunk Using Rub 'N Buff Metallic Finish Wax
If you're a Steampunk (or costumer of any variety) and you don't know what Rub 'n Buff is, this tutorial will make your life so much easier. You have no idea.
So, what is Rub 'n Buff? Well, it's a product made of wax and very, very fine metal grit. You can rub it on any smooth surface, and that surface will then look like metal. It's a miracle product, and no Steampunk should be without it. This is what it looks like:
As you can see, it comes in a tube, and I paid $5.15 for it. This particular color is Gold Leaf, and one tube of Rub 'n Buff is supposed to be able to cover an area of 20 square feet, which is far more than you would use on any prop that I can imagine.
For this project, I'll be using it on a Nerf Rough Cut, which originally looks like this:
When I got mine, I went ahead and sanded off the Nerf logos and whatnot (like I did in with Nerf Dart Tag), and then painted it black. I highly recommend that you use black as a base color for anything you plan to use Rub 'n Buff on, as that way, if the wax wears off, or doesn't get into all the cracks, it just looks dirty or weathered.
So here's my painted and prepared Rough Cut:
Obviously you need to decide what colors you want to use on your prop, so I decided to use these four:
In case you can't read them, that's silver leaf, antique gold, ebony, and gold leaf. One thing to note before getting started is that sometimes Rub 'n Buff will separate into wax and oil, so if you open a tube and find that it's too watery, you may need to close it back up and massage the tube a bit until it mixes up.
Once you have a paste of suitable thickness, it's time to apply it to your prop. I recommend starting with any intricate areas first, as it will be hardest to do those later without getting Rub 'n Buff on the areas you've already done. So I chose to do the inset parts of the gun.
As far as application goes, I find that it's best to just start with your finger, and do any detail work with a Q-tip, or something similar. Below, you can see my very dirty finger. If you don't like getting your hands dirty, this may not be the style for you.
But what I do is to just put a tiny, tiny bit on my finger, and then apply it from there onto the gun. Use a rubbing motion, because you want to spread the paste out as thinly and as evenly as possible. The less you apply at a time, the better it will look, so try to refrain from just dumping a bunch onto your prop and rubbing it around. I'll admit that my patience was wearing thin, and I used a little too much from time to time, so you'll be able to see some mottling in my finished product.
Once you have the general motion down, all you have to do is just rub it all over the prop with your finger. Because it's wax-based, I didn't have any trouble cleaning my finger afterward with just soap and water.
If I had to estimate, I'd say that this took me under an hour.
Here's a close-up where you can see that I applied too much at a time. Rather than getting a smooth, shiny sheen, you get streaks:
I mean, it still looks pretty good, I think, but you can see the streaks I'm talking about.
After you've finished applying your Rub 'n Buff, what you need to do is to take a soft cloth and buff it. Buffing is basically just rubbing vigorously back and forth, to bring out the shine. You don't want to push against the prop too hard, as you can move the wax around and create holes in the finish, but you still want solid pressure on it.
Once you have a good shine, you're done!
Here are a few things to be aware of.
- Due to its waxy consistency and rubbing application, Rub 'n Buff is really hard to do any detail work with. The exception is raised areas, which provide natural boundaries, such as the two silver screws near the trigger in the photo above.
- If you get Rub 'n Buff on an area you don't want it on, don't worry! You can take it off with acetone if you want, but alternately, you can just apply a different color of Rub 'n Buff right over it! That's why it's easier to start with the intricate bits.
- DO NOT USE A SEALANT. There might be special Rub 'n Buff sealants out there, but if so, I don't know them. Any regular sealant products will dry out the wax and ruin the finish.
- Since you can't seal Rub 'n Buff, it's best to avoid using it places that will be near your skin, as the heat from your body over the course of a day may cause it to soften. It's fine if you're only using it for short periods, but for example, I used it on the grip of the gun above. Totally fine if the gun will spend most of it's time in a holster, but if I plan to carry in my hand, that might have been a bad design decision.
- In place of a sealant, what will usually work just fine is buffing it pretty hard right after you apply it, and then leaving it alone for a week or two. After that time, the wax will have dried and hardened, making it safe to handle, or rub against things, or whatever. Just be careful about heat, and you should be okay!
- If your Rub 'n Buff dries out and gets too hard, or starts flaking, I have it on good authority that using a little WD-40 on it will bring it back to life. I haven't used that technique myself, but I got that tidbit from a good source!
Nerf Rough Cut photo from UK Nerf.