The secret is to keep it looking great – or learn to love ‘Rusty Patina’ |

The secret is to keep it looking great – or learn to love ‘Rusty Patina’

Mike Drummond, Columnist
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

“If you are looking for something unique, I’ve found it,” our realtor said as we bumped up the dirt road. “I have to warn you, though. It’s very rustic.”

The road rumble made it hard for me to hear. “Did you say rusty?”

“That, too,” she nodded.

We pulled into a clearing and beheld our future home: it was unique all right, and both rustic and rusted. Our realtor pointed to the sturdy steel roof with a burnt red finish.

“It’s engineered to develop a rusty patina,” she said.

“Rusty Patina, didn’t he play shortstop for . . . .”

A wifely elbow to my ribs reminded me that not everyone shared my sense of humor. Besides, we had no humor to spare. The house needed a few finishing touches. A bargain. We bought it for cash, “As Is.”

No doors, plastic sheeting for windows, and an incomplete bathroom. The exterior was thick, custom-milled cedar siding. Since the house languished unoccupied and unfinished for several years, the siding had been bleached grey and sunburned black by the elements.

Rainstorms had washed bits of “patina” from the roof where they splashed on the deck, staining the lower portions of the walls black. Most of the cedar had lost the rosy pink and yellow charm of its fresh-cut youth.

I knew the wood’s warm natural colors lurked beneath the surface, but wasn’t sure where to begin. My new neighbor, the one with lot of spare advice, suggested sandblasting. He knew just the man, the Sandblasting Guy. I later learned this was my neighbor’s son-in-law and debtor, who was several payments behind on his sandblasting equipment.

Sandblaster’s equipment is mostly sand. He spent hours taping cardboard to protect our windows, and cramming articles of his own clothing into vents and flues. When he was down to his skivvies, the Sandblasting Guy pronounced the place sufficiently corked-up.

Even so, we are still discovering tiny sand-drifts around the house from small cracks in the construction. The Sandblasting Guy donned a deep-sea diving suit and aimed a fire hose arrangement at the house. In less than two hours, the siding looked great. But I had no time to enjoy life as Mike, the Patina Turner.

“The secret is to keep it looking great,” my neighbor warned, and I braced myself for another “relative” sales pitch. If I left the wood unprotected, he told me, I’d have to sandblast every few years and I couldn’t do that indefinitely. The siding was already thinner. I figured we’d loose 15 points of R-value with every blast.

Since I wanted to see the natural color of the wood, I went to the Clear Wood Preserver Guy’s store. He sold me a dozen barrels of stuff that looked and smelled a lot like gasoline. Which I mixed with equal parts of linseed oil and proceeded to spread it liberally over the walls and myself. It works; I haven’t chipped, cracked, or faded yet.

But the BIG problem was that the stuff has to be applied annually, which I did religiously for two whole years. The third year I backslid a bit, just did the walls that show when visitors drive up. The fifth year it was only the walls that took the worst beating from the elements.

And now . . . now I am paying the price. We are suffering major patina-creep again. And visits from my neighbor. He has a cousin known as the Aluminum Siding Guy.

Mike Drummond is a Nevada County writer whose column appears on Tuesday. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or e-mail him at

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