St. Louis Black Oxide Coating

The St. Louis Art Museum’s extensive expansion project included fine work from Foreman Fabricators. Working as a subcontractor for Gravois Planing Mill, Foreman was responsible for cladding their millwork with hot rolled steel sheet with a black oxide finish and a polane clear coat finish. Items included for this specialized cladding included desks, trash receptacles, coat racks, shelves and display counters.

There were several challenges for this project. The main issue was the material itself; it’s difficult to get hot rolled steel sheet that doesn’t have any rust marks on it, and the steel had to be clean and free from all rust for the black oxide finish to look like the architect envisioned. The architect also specified that all bent corners needed to be quite sharp, with a minimal radius. This radius spec required Foreman to put a v-groove into the back of the sheet every place there was a bend, which allowed the bend to come out sharp as the architect envisioned.


Another challenge was the incredibly tight tolerances required on the various cladding panels. The architect didn’t want any gap at all between panels, so every piece had to be cut and formed, then fit-up to the woodwork to ensure each panel would work prior to application of the black oxide and clear coat finish. To add to the difficulty, the panels were sensitive to shipping damage, so extra precautions had to be employed to ensure none of the finished panels would be scratched or damaged during shipping. This required building large crates with extra padding and insulation to protect the panels, and the use of dedicated trucks instead of the usual LTL option, where the panels were more susceptible to damage from other cargo in the trucks.

Finally, the finished panels had to be installed using a specialized 3M epoxy glue, and great care had to be taken so absolutely no glue contacted the outside, finished surface of the panels, and no scratches or damage occurred during installation. Foreman and Gravois Planing Mill also had to devise a temporary wooden basketry-like support system to help support the panels while the epoxy set up on the cabinet work.

In the end, Foreman Fabricators and Gravois Planing Mill worked very well together, and delivered the finished product in compliance with architectural specifications and the needs of the construction project all together.

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