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Fordite, the colorful faux-stone of the Detroit Motor Age
May 27, 2014 4:51 PM   Subscribe

Fordite, also known as Motor Agate or Detroit Agate, is a relic from the old technique for painting cars: spray enamel paint and bake it on, layer after layer, car after car. The resulting overspray on the tracks and skids that carried the cars and parts would build up over time, and eventually need to be removed to allow everything to move smoothly. That enamel waste product is now valued to make colorful jewelry, seen here, here and here. This spray enamel process is outdated, with electro coating (or more formally, electrophoretic deposition) prevailing as a much more efficient process. Sure, it looks modern, but where's the fun in it?
posted by filthy light thief (43 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

*sighs, deletes bookmark*
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:53 PM on May 27 [16 favorites]

Interesting. That's super pretty.

the man... - what bookmark are you deleting and why? /confused
posted by sio42 at 5:01 PM on May 27

I believe the implication was that the man of twists and turns was working on his own FPP about Fordite, and has now been beaten to the punch.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:03 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]

I imagine perhaps TMoTaT was working on their own FPP on this topic, but was beaten to the punch.
posted by CynicalKnight at 5:03 PM on May 27

I think maybe TMoTaT was working on -

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:04 PM on May 27 [27 favorites]

My wife has a couple of pieces of this she got in trade. We knew it was artificial but not exactly where it came from.

It's a very interesting material, because it's quite hard and takes a good polish, very much physically resembling a mid-hardness natural stone. When you cut a cabochon out of it (e.g. a dome-shaped gem) the layers show up on the surface as thin rings which are irregular because the overspray layers vary in thickness.

While there are natural agates that create a similar presentation, the reasons and the internal 3D orientation of the colored layers is very different, usually not nearly so flat. And natural stones do not generally carry the dizzying variety of colors that go through a car paint shop.
posted by localroger at 5:07 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]


/looks overhead at obviousness flying by....
posted by sio42 at 5:08 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]

More like filthy post thief, sounds like.
posted by Etrigan at 5:10 PM on May 27 [8 favorites]

That's pretty cool. It reminds me of ocean glass, where the waste byproduct of production and consumption turns into an object of value given time.
posted by codacorolla at 5:31 PM on May 27

Okay I get that electrophoretic deposition is all fancy and involves high-tech galvanic forces, but it sure looks like just dipping the whole thing in a bucket of paint. Which is how I painted things when I was, like, nine.
posted by agentofselection at 5:36 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]

This reminds me of those fancy candles that they make by dipping into different colored waxes, but much cooler.

filthy light thief: "Fordite, also known as Motor Agate or Detroit Agate..."

the man of twists and turns: "*sighs, deletes bookmark*"

Maybe you two should collude coordinate with each other. You can split things down the middle. One of you can be JP Morgan Chase and the other one can be Bank of America. The rest of us can be the credit unions.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:38 PM on May 27 [3 favorites]

And just last week the pink Mustang with Martha Reeves' elbow print in the fender went for $180K at auction.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:44 PM on May 27

Nice, I recently bought a piece from this Etsy shop for my upcoming anniversary with my girlfriend.
posted by gman at 5:52 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]

We conspired once, on a post about the hidden history of oil in Los Angeles, after I saw twisty turn's list of future post topics on his profile, and he suggested another topic I was working on, but I ended up (slowly) reading the related biography, then got depressed in the reading, so I stopped (even though I made thorough notes on the book). I'm worried that future collaborations will send me into deeper and darker rabbit holes.

(Not really, but it's a fun story to tell.)
posted by filthy light thief at 5:57 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]

And just so it isn't lost at the end of the OP, there are two swell videos embedded in the final link: Martha Reeves & The Vandellas - Nowhere To Run (1965), and Story of the first Ford Mustang video clip at the Ford Rouge plant, about Martha and the Vandellas on the assembly line at the Ford Rouge plant on June 15, 1965.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:03 PM on May 27

Damn. Five minutes ago I had no idea this material existed, now I have a whole lot of relatively pricey jewelry that I really want.
posted by Fig at 6:04 PM on May 27 [7 favorites]

This would be a perfect gift for my dad, who loathes jewelry. Maybe I can get someone to make me a money clip.
posted by ApathyGirl at 6:12 PM on May 27

Sorry for the links to the expensive stuff. Those "here"s are all shops that specialize in Fordite, and thus can charge more because people know what they're getting. Etsy has some more variety in pieces and prices, and of course, there's eBay, where you can get more "raw" Fordite, even some stuff from other (disclosed) sources. I saw one seller offering Motor Agate from an Australian paint shop.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:15 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]

I believe the implication was that the man of twists and turns was working on his own FPP about Fordite, and has now been beaten to the punch.

Just like I had to do yesterday when I was going to post about Go and tmotat beat me to it! I also have a Fordite link I don't need anymore. I should say that both are much better FPPs than I would have made.

I'm not a jewelry person but I've been thinking about getting a long chain with a "thing" on it. I think a large-ish ring would look great. The pieces with metallic layers are my favorites because it looks organic but then you catch the sliver of sparkle.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:36 PM on May 27

Ooh, this one looks like an apprehensive clown.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:57 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]

Wow that oil collaboration looks awesome!

there should be more collab.

filthy twists and turns

man of thieves and light
posted by sio42 at 7:25 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]

My father worked at a Ford assembly plant in the 1960s. People were always bringing cans of this paint home, including our landlord at the time. Who proceeded to paint the back porch with some awful green stuff, which buckled and bubbled and produced the weirdest paint job ever. Eventually it all broke off in long slivers.
posted by etaoin at 7:25 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]

Could one make their own Fordite with a powder coating gun, paint and an old oven? It seems like it would be possible.
posted by humanfont at 7:27 PM on May 27

Metafilter: filthy twists and turns
posted by Hairy Lobster at 7:31 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]

I wonder how hard it would be to set up a facility to make the stuff?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:37 PM on May 27

Could one make their own Fordite with a powder coating gun, paint and an old oven? It seems like it would be possible.

Or layers and layers of spray paint?
posted by Room 641-A at 7:40 PM on May 27

I think that Fordite is special because it's enamel, baked and rebaked, to the point of being something you could shape and polish like a mid-hardness stone, as mentioned by localranger. I don't think spray paint would get that hard, and would be more likely to chip off in layers, but you could give it a try. Make sure to be in a well-ventilated area.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:45 PM on May 27

I wonder if this is the same kind of paint that Ford used in New York and caused illnesses among the Ramapough Mountain Indians.
posted by keli at 7:56 PM on May 27

This is fantastic. I had no idea this existed as a thing, and now I want it all. Wow.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:05 PM on May 27 [1 favorite]

Be careful of lead. Old paints can be dangerous.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:23 PM on May 27 [2 favorites]

I wonder how hard it would be to set up a facility to make the stuff?

Yeah, while it wouldn't be impossible to set up a Fordite factory, this isn't something to undertake on the amateur/hobbyist level as the paints and solvents involved are major sources of VOC emissions with significant health and environmental effects.

Maybe there's a way to make something similar using less toxic materials? Or else maybe only try this at a micro level where you're just trying to make a single paperweight of the stuff, in a very well ventilated area, while taking care to dispose of the waste paint at a household hazardous waste facility instead of pouring it into the sewer system.
posted by ceribus peribus at 8:26 PM on May 27

Would body shops generate this stuff in their repaint bays? Or do they also use more modern painting techniques?
posted by jacquilynne at 8:27 PM on May 27

If fordite was still being produced in the car factories, it would be only gray, white, and some black, with a few thin bands of red, and occasional other colors.

See the Traffic sorted by color video.
posted by jjj606 at 10:09 PM on May 27 [3 favorites]

See the Traffic sorted by color video.
posted by ceribus peribus at 11:34 PM on May 27

I see in the not-too-distant post-oil future, mines of landfill-compressed polyethylene being prospected for nuggets of multi-hued jemstones to adorn the skins of all the pretty meta-people...
posted by arzakh at 5:12 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]

It's true, jjj606. I went car shopping last month, and for all the five different car models I looked at, you had the choice of the monochrome spectrum (including silvers) and one blue and one red option. So, so boring! And most of the time the red wasn't even a proper red but a dark maroon.
posted by tavella at 10:48 AM on May 28 [1 favorite]

Okay, so having just bought this, I assume I can forward the bill directly to Filthy Light Thief?

You'll have to scroll down past the ads for things I didn't buy to see the actual listing.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:10 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]

Damn, now I need to include disclaimers in my profile.

"filthy light thief, herein referred to as 'he,' 'him,' or 'his,' is not responsible to a loss in time and/or finances due to extensive time spent going down rabbit holes, viewing of internet videos, and/or purchase of attractive items and/or intriguing creations, as a result of viewing his MetaFilter posts and/or comments. Any bills, lawsuits, and/or requests for return of lost time will summarily be logged, disregarded and shredded. He will not refer to such documents in public or online, unless there are repeated attempts to submit such documents to him."
posted by filthy light thief at 2:07 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]

The "it looks modern" link says the dipped electro-coating is an anti-corrosion layer, sort of a primer or undercoating, not the color of the car. I became curious and looked around.

Here's a video of BMWs being dipped and then "sprayed" with colored paint. The spray heads are surrounded with weird fingers that look like pneumatic nozzles or antennas. And the paint does seem to defy the laws of physics, doing a sharp turn in midair.

Here's a more amateurish yet more informative video about painting Corvettes that explains that what looks something like a simple spray is actually electrically charged and attracted to the parts being painted.
posted by Western Infidels at 2:41 PM on May 28 [1 favorite]

Were you as deeply freaked out as I was by the sight of the robots opening the doors, all casually as you please?
posted by sparklemotion at 3:07 PM on May 29

It could be totally do-able at the hobbyist level if you were to explore other processes. Perhaps a sacrificial crucible, ceramics enamel, and then running the thing through a kiln several times. Given the value of this stuff, you could probably convince a local ceramics studio to sneak in a small vessel each time they run a load of stuff through the kiln, so you're not wasting a lot of money in electricity.

Hand pour a layer of enamel on top each round, you might be able to get creative with it, paint over a small shaped object or combine with investment casting techniques to come up with custom shapes for gemstones. As an added bonus you'd know exactly what paints are in there, and not have to deal with possible lead issues (really more of an issue of you have children around as they tend to sponge up a lot more lead than adults do.)
posted by mcrandello at 7:31 AM on May 31 [1 favorite]

Also, my favorite examples of this stuff are the metallics. There's just something so wild and retro about the bright colors and alum flakes all polished up like that and looking like multicolored woodgrain.
posted by mcrandello at 7:34 AM on May 31 [1 favorite]

A toaster oven, a few sheets of tin cut to fit the toaster oven and a variety of enamel spray paint in rattle cans would be all you would need to recreate this and it wouldn't be any less enviromentally damaging than cans of spray paint. Dimpling the sheet slightly would help to give the wild patterns when you cut and polish the pieces.

I've got a dedicated older toaster oven in my shop for just these sorts of things. An hour in the toaster oven at about 150F greatly speeds the drying time of small painted parts.
posted by Mitheral at 7:13 PM on June 3

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