How to Make Metal Yard Art

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Metal yard art comes in so many varieties that it is hard to pick just one type. Found-object yard art takes the least amount of skill to make, but requires a great amount of whimsical, childlike imagination. You have probably seen characteristic figures such as gnomes, birds and other animals welded together from rakes and garden spades, or a turtle made from a shovel with a funnel for the head and gardening hand forks for feet. According to 20-year veteran metal artist and blacksmith Gypsy Wilburn, "There's no limit to what can be made from worn out tools and such. I never found an object that wouldn't turn into something or become a part of something, no matter how creative I had to get."

Things You'll Need

  • Found objects, with extra parts
  • MIG or TIG welder
  • Welding helmet
  • Welders' gloves and leathers
  • ABC chemical fire extinguisher
  • 5 gallon bucket of water
  • 5 gallon bucket of sand
  • 4.5-inch right angle grinder with cut-off wheel, 24 grit abrasive wheel and wire wheel
  • Wrap-around eye protection
  • Alligator and C-clamps of various sizes
  • 16-gauge black annealed steel wire (also called baling wire or rebar tie wire)
  • Brightly colored rust-inhibitive enamel paint, liquid or spray
  • Disposable paintbrushes
  • Masking tape
  • Paint markers
  • Collect your materials and design your pieces. The easiest, cheapest and most fun way of doing this is traveling between your local dollar store, flea market and yard sales, searching for the right objects to create your beast or character. Don't be afraid to change the design as you hold railroad spikes up next to the shovel and lawn mower muffler. Maybe those spikes weren't meant to be the pudgy dwarf's arms.

  • Lay out all the pieces you collected, the way that you think they should go together. Step back and contemplate your piece of metal yard art. The old saying is, "Think twice, cut once." Don't be afraid to take your time, though. Enjoy your favorite beverage and think it through more than twice, as you may find a more pleasing way to assemble your piece.

  • Don wrap-around eye protection. Use your right-angle grinder to cut, grind and wire wheel all the pieces you intend to use, so that they will weld together more easily. The cleaner the metal, the closer the pieces will fit together. This will make a major difference, not only in the ease of welding but in the durability of the finished piece as well.

  • Use clamps or wire to hold the first two pieces together. Don your welding helmet and leathers. Weld the first two pieces of your yard sculpture. Repeat wiring and clamping to weld the next piece into place. Continue until the entire piece is welded together.

  • Once your entire metal yard art piece is welded, clean all the welds with your 24-grit abrasive wheel. Wire wheel any surface that may inhibit paint from adhering to your piece. Paint all the pieces using disposable brushes, masking tape and paint markers to add features and separate colors. Generally, the brighter and more cartoonish, the better. Place your piece in your yard or on your sale table and enjoy the response your creation gets.

Tips & Warnings

  • For pieces with more than two legs and a low center of gravity, such as a turtle, start with the body and add the extremities. For two-legged or high center of gravity pieces it is wise to start with a stake to push into the ground and begin welding the feet and legs to that stake.
  • Keep an ABC chemical fire extinguisher, 5-gallon bucket of water and a 5-gallon bucket of sand handy at all times when cutting, grinding or wire brushing metal. Make sure the area where you intend to weld is free of debris, paper, wood or flammable liquids before you begin.

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