The Megaton Lamp is the piece that started Stockpile Designs, and the one that gets the most attention in my home and in my workshop. I start with a 100-lb MK-15 practice bomb from the Korean War, and remove its tail fins on my metal shop’s horizontal bandsaw. Though these bombs are completely empty and inert, I’ve noticed that my shop-mates tend to work a bit further away for this part of the process.
Once the fins are separated, I drill a hole near the base for the power cord and start removing the paint with acetone. It’s a messy process, and I wear gloves, glasses, and a respirator to protect myself. Acetone isn’t the MOST dangerous chemical in the shop, but it dries out your skin and can be carcinogenic – and that’s before it mixes with 60-year-old industrial primer. While the acetone strips the paint, it leaves a gross, thin film of neutralized particles behind. This comes off easily during the sanding and polishing process. But before I start sanding, I TIG weld the steel pipe that holds the socket. TIG welding tends to leave heat marks on steel, so I can sand those off at the same time.
I do three rounds of sanding with 320-, 400-, and 600-grit sandpaper. The 320 is the most aggressive and the most time-intensive, since it is used to remove the paint film and any spots the acetone may have missed. Some paint remains in seams and deep-set areas, but I let it stay. It enhances the appearance of the original welds and keeps the finished piece from looking too sterile. The 400- and 600-grit papers even out the finish left by the first round, and eventually bring the metal up to a shine. (Sanding tip: always sand in a single direction. This minimizes the appearance of scratches, making it possible to create a high shine without using insanely high grits or fine steel wool.)
Once the steel is sanded and polished, it’s time to seal it. Steel is very easy to seal, with hundreds of products that provide some measure of protection against moisture and rust. I use a heavy-duty lacquer on the underside of the lamp, and an oil-wax blend from Sculpt Nouveau on the exterior. The lacquer keeps the rusty interior of the bomb from oxidizing further, but tends to run and pool when applied, making it unsuitable for complex or curvy areas. The oil blend is less durable, but applies much more evenly than the lacquer. It’s also much simpler to repair. If new rust somehow forms on a lacquered steel, the entire finish has to be re-applied. With the oil, spots can be neutralized with WD-40 without compromising the finish. Even in the event of severe damage (e.g. an unnoticed spill, a window left open during a storm) the original finish can be reapplied to the damaged area, rather than the entire piece.