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Creating "Old" Metal Tins For The Farmhouse Ceilings

Finished antiqued metal ceiling tins for our farmhouse.

When the remodel of our old farmhouse started, there was one thing in particular that I had my heart set on… the ceilings would be old metal ceiling tins. I fell in love with them 18 years ago when my brother brought me a pickup load that he had gathered out of an old school house he was helping to renovate out in the Texas Panhandle. They were full of nail holes, some still had paint peelings on them , they all had rusty spots and some were even rusted all the way thru. There were 3 or 4 different patterns and even a few of the curved cornice pieces.

I spent weeks looking at them stacked in my garage before I finally figured out what I could do with them.

I had cans of latex paint on hand from “other” craft projects, so I grabbed one and started playing with different ways to paint them. After several tries, I came up with a look that added some color without completely covering up the rust and old paint that was already on them.

Framing them like a picture was completely out of the question, so my husband made a 1 inch wood frame the same size as the tin, stained it dark, and stapled the frame to the back side of the tin, so that it didn’t show.

Ceiling tin with rust and green highlights
The tin was rusted all the way, so we made a mirror
Ceiling tin with red highlights was a favorite.

They turned out pretty good, and before long I was selling them to gift shops in Fort Smith. As a matter of fact, they did so well that I was going to be needing more pretty quickly. I got online and started digging to see if there was any place that was still making them.

I found a company, just a few hours away from where we lived, that had been in business since 1898 and had the identical patterns that my brother had brought me. I called and asked if I could place an order and pick them up rather than pay shipping. The gentleman said that would be fine and he would even give me a tour of the plant.

When we turned the corner and saw the building, it definitely looked like it had been there for a 100 years, and once inside… was like stepping back in time.

The building looks the same as it did in the 30's
Everything is still done by hand.
Tins are stamped one at a time

The Norman Company story is amazing and the plant tour was unbelievable. The owner’s son told us that their production methods are the same as the early days with panels stamped one at a time on antique rope drop hammers, which definitely makes a better quality tin than using hydraulic presses.

He also told us that in order for the company to survive between the 30’s and the 80’s when the tins became popular again, they made and still do, other things… one of which is the little metal markers that funeral homes put on graves until a headstone can be placed.

Their current catalog is the exact catalog they used in the 30’s.

Catalog is same as used in the 30's

I explained to him what I wanted them to look like after they were finished. He said I should wash them down with hot soapy water before I painted them. We loaded our purchase and on the way home, I decided that I could take them to a car wash which would be easier than trying to wash them one at a time in the bathtub . The car wash idea worked great and when I got back home, I stacked them 4-5 deep and laid the stacks out in the yard to dry. After a couple of weeks, I checked and they were beginning to rust… which was exactly what I wanted. So, I re-stacked them differently, wet them down with a hose and left them for another couple of weeks.

They were beautiful and rusty… and I loved painting them.

As I said earlier, I wanted the ceilings in the farmhouse to be tins, so I called them and placed my order. I took the tins to the carwash, same as before, but this time, I didn’t bother to “rust” them since I was just going to paint and highlight them.

I used Valspar paint… below are the labels off the cans. It took 2 gallons of paint (2 coats) and 1 quart of the “highlight” to paint all 130 of them. They are easy to hang and if you need to make cuts, you can use tin snips or a Dremel.

If you have a sheetrock ceiling or 24″ centers, you can hang them directly up. Unfortunately, our ceilings were plastic siding… yes, you read that correctly… so we hung 1/4″ OSB and then attached the tiles to the OSB with a bradnailer.

Antiqued Ceiling tins work great with my barnwood cabinets

If you’re interested in using ceiling tins in your decor… I encourage you to give the Norman Company a call. Be sure to ask if they have any “seconds”… they work just as well and are about half the price.

There are other companies out there who make tins and I’ve ordered from them, but I will tell you right up front, the quality is NOT the same.  Their metal is flimsy, the stamps are not as crisp… and they “look” cheap. As a matter of fact, they look about the same as what you can buy at Lowes’s or Home Depot.

And forget comparing the quality of your finished product to something you can buy at Walmart or Hobby Lobby… it AIN’T the same.

Here’s the way I finished my tins…

  1.  I washed them at the car wash and let them dry.
Give each tin 2 coats of your base color.

2.  Gave each tin 2 coats of the flat latex Valspar paint.

Dip the brush in the paint about an inch.
Wipe the majority of the paint off the brush.
Clean the brush until there is very little paint left.

3. Using a cheap, short bristle brush, dip the brush about 1″ in the “highlight” paint. Start wiping the paint off the brush onto some newspaper until you have very little paint left on the brush.

Highlight a ceiling tin until you're satisfied

4.  Holding the brush FLAT in your hand, slowly and lightly rub the brush over the parts of the tin that are the high spots.   Continue until you get the look you want.  (Unless you are wanting a heavy highlight, you should be able to do a complete tin before having to “reload” your brush.)

A closeup of our living room ceiling

NOTE:  If you mess one up… repaint it with the base color and start again.

There is no right or wrong… it’s YOUR tin, make it look the way you want it.  Remember, every tin will be different.  After all, no two snowflakes are alike.

I hope you enjoy this post and are encouraged to try it for yourself.  If you have questions, comment below.

This Post Has 11 Comments
    1. Lisa, the tiles in the pictures are 24″x 24″. That’s the most common size. There are patterns that are 24X48

    1. Mary, you would love them… there are so many patterns to choose from. You could even do them in other colors, similar to the individual pics in the article.

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