By on May 2, 2014

fordite 1

Imagine Detroit at its height, enormous factories and mile-long production lines running day and night, a roiling, churning symphony of man and machine where thousands of workers joined together parts, large and small, from a myriad of sources into single, working vehicle. Although I have toured modern factories in Japan, meticulously clean facilities where technicians in spotless coveralls only complete the tasks that robots cannot, I view the old factories, places like Rouge River that were built in in the first part of the last century, with a special sort of awe. The entirety of what went on there is, to me, unknowable and, like the great pyramids, all that is left of the human toil is the end product. That’s why, when some small piece of history, some bi-product of that mysterious past, catches my attention, I stop and look.

Yesterday, Reddit user “FissurePrice” posted several images in that website’s photographic sub-forum, r/pics, of something he referred to as “Fordite.” I had never heard of the material, but I was instantly captivated by its bright colors and by the way that skilled hands had taken the raw product and shaped it into jewelry. When I found out that the material, also called “Detroit Agate,” is a bi-product of the automotive manufacturing process it got my full attention.

Fordite, it turns out, is actually countless layers of baked together paint. It is created during the painting process when paint overspray falls upon the various racks and trollies that carry car bodies through a car factory’s paint booth. When the vehicles or their parts are moved into the oven to cure, they remain on the racks and so the overspray hardens and cures in exactly the same way it does on the car body. Once the car moves on, the trollies and racks return to the starting point and repeat the process again and again until the overspray builds up to the point where it must be removed. The result then, are the many layered, oven hardened, chunks of paint you see here.

fordite 2

In the century since cars entered mass production, particular colors have come to the fore, lived in the limelight as the height of fashion and the retreated back into nothingness. Each block of Fordite, then, is like the rings of a petrified tree, capable of telling the story of the environment in which it was originally formed. Different eras have produced different color combinations, the somber colors of the early years, the bright pastels of the ‘50s, the bolder colors of the 60s and 70s, etc and, as a result, different varieties of the material attract different kinds of people.

Not being the kind of person who wears much jewelry, I don’t believe I will ever end up purchasing any Fordite of my own but, because of my interest in both autos and history, I’m happy to see people putting the material to such a creative use. In the same way that people have worked to form natural products into beautiful art, it’s nice to see something man made, something that is technically a waste bi-product, be used in such a way. It just goes to show that beauty and art is all around us, we just need to know where to look.

fordite 3

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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36 Comments on “Beauty All Around Us: Artists Use Industrial Bi-Product To Make Jewelry...”


  • avatar
    Xeranar

    Beautiful stuff, makes me wonder if I can get a few cuff links from it. Off to search Etsy I guess…

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      I have a pair. There are a few people on Etsy that make them. I bought mine from an artist’s market in the Detroit area.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Excuse you, we are NOT here to talk about fashion. Cars only, never nothing else, ok mayne!?

        • 0 avatar
          Xeranar

          Never! I have very few fashion choices as a gentleman, I keep my ties to a minimum and prefer ascots and bowties. So forgive me for wanting something cool! I’m going to run off to my room now and cry because nobody understands me! BOOOOOOOOO!

          But really…Seems nice, little expensive, but nice. Certainly something I’ll have to comb through to find a nice piece. I may even have one custom made. Perhaps a stick pin for my ascots…

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Pop on your ascot and I’ll swing by and pick you up – in my Stutz Diplomatica.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Ascots? Being 30, the only time I remember seing an ascot is on Scooby-Doo or Navy dress-uniforms. To Google I go…

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Boy Scouts wear em! At least I did. Or is that called something else?

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Corey-

            I went to Tiger Cubs for one neverending Saturday. After that day, my father and I got in the truck, and both decided that Boy Scouts was not for us. The trade off was that I ended up being able to saw cut concrete better than most union masons by 11 years old.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            What the heck is Tiger Cubs?

            Was your dad a concrete cutter?

            I went to Boy Scouts until my troop leader died, then things fell apart. I hated it anyway, my parents just wanted me to have something to do besides school.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Tiger cubs was the boy scout level before wolf pack, I think. My father and I own a concrete finishing company that he started in the late 80s/early 90s. Its not my primary employment, but he’s retiring soon.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            I was a Webelos once…never got any merit badges, but I was a good kid and I didn’t go around causing trouble.

            I made a pretty bitchin’ Pinewood Derby car too, wonder if I still have that thing.

          • 0 avatar
            Xeranar

            I found I really hated wearing ties because I have a long torso so most ties don’t fit me and even the extra-long aren’t terribly good at matching my size. So an extra-large Bowtie & Ascots is how I got around that. I tend to wear it tucked, not like Fred on Scooby doo….Most of the students seem to dig it. So it’s become my trademark.

            I can teach in a polo and jeans..but that’s just not my thing AT ALL.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Oh, Tiger Cubs before Wolf Pack, I wasn’t thinking of the age levels, etc. That’s cool about your dad’s company. I won’t be taking over my dad’s business (contractor).

            Ascot wearing teacher you need to purchase a blocky Volvo wagon, XC wagon optional.

            I LOST the Pinewood Derby because the scale wasn’t calibrated correctly, and all the sudden between rounds my car no longer met weight requirements. I would’ve won, that thing was quick.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I have no desire to be in the concrete. Its probably taken years off my dad’s life, or at least reduced the quality of those years.

            The other problem is we have no desire to hire bargain basement or illeagal employees. I’m not going to subcontract something to a US citizen that runs a crew of 8 illegals. At first, only residential customers would put up with that practice, now we are losing commercial work because of it. I can’t beat the price of bids figuring labor for finishers at $8.25/hr, but I can sure as hell beat them on quality.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            @bball40dtw

            Concrete finishing? What’s that?

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            28-

            Concrete pouring/finishing. Whenever I say “concrete company” someone assumes I own a cement plant. I wish I owned a cement plant. We do mostly floors and foundations for commercial customers.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Thx for the reply. I like all of that contractor/handyman kind of thing but I then imagine myself doing it and its quite laughable. Think Costanza when he rented the jackhammer.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I try the best I can to stick to my trade and not do anything else. I even subcontract excavation and demolition because there are plenty of companies that do it quicker and cheaper than I could ever hope to. Plus, I’d rather have my guys pouring concrete at another job. The opportunity cost is a big factor.

            F electrical and plumbing too. I just had to replace the buried wire between that brings power from my house to the garage, and my wife wanted me to do it. I told her that if she wanted to save money, she could do it. After digging in the clay soil for 15 minutes, she had me call the electrician.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Sometimes is better to bring in the specialist. I have a friend who literally believes he can do anything so unlike us he will follow through such a project to completion or abject failure. He actually bought a small backhoe for like 12K in order to dig for french drains because he calculate it was cheaper than renting at 200 or 400 a day (I can’t remember which). Personally anything that I need to survive or could destroy my home I’m calling the expert.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I rent some equipment and just fugure the cost into the quote. It tends to be cheaper for me, and in turn the customer. Plus, mini-backhoes are more fun when they aren’t yours.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          @CoreyDL – and motor vehicles are NOT a fashion statement?

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            My comment was /sarc referring to some other comments when people got huffy on the post about the new CEO of Ford.

        • 0 avatar
          slow kills

          You don’t read the Baruth columns, I take it.

          Also, fashion is commoditized and obsolescent style.

          Jack Baruth used to be a poster over at Ask Andy About Clothes, and I wish we could find him back there, or maybe on http://www.dressedwell.net

  • avatar
    imag

    I am not usually a metallic paint fan, but the large-flake sample is a fantastic great representation of that era.

    Very cool post.

  • avatar
    RHD

    Interesting! Where do you find these varied and obscure subjects?
    (And do you mean “by-product”)?

  • avatar
    imag

    Just had to jump in again to say that the cores remind me a bit of the Visual Human project.

    Video of human body cross sections here:

    Edit – can we not post youtube links?

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    My father did a few art pieces (he has a bachelor’s in sculpture) with paint from the boat factory he worked at. It’s interesting stuff.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Kudos to the artists who had the vision to turn what is essentially industrial waste into beautiful objects.

    I assume that, if a large enough chunk is found, it can be machined into a larger piece, like a vase or something.

    Edit:
    I’ve seen some of the robot images from Chernobyl’s “lava flows”. Perhaps someone could make glow-in-the-dark jewelry?

  • avatar
    IHateCars

    “Fordite”…lol! There’s tons of that stuff buried in northern New Jersey poisoning the water supply. At least they gave it a catchy name!

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I get all my Detroit Agate from Chrysler. It peels off constantly and is always revealing new colors.

  • avatar
    LeMansteve

    Very cool!

    Another interesting automotive waste fact: back when the Model T was made, it had wooden wheels. The scrap wood from the wheel-making process was used to make charcoal, and Kingsford charcoal was born.

  • avatar
    TheMossBoss

    Very neat, Thom!

  • avatar
    bills79jeep

    Unfortunately, all the Fordite from today is alternating layers of graphite, gunmetal, silver, and aluminum. Just a few layers of red and blue here and there.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Acuraite is about 80% gray.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    What is that fuzzy, carpet-remnanty dark grey stuff running through the middle of that block?

    I love the stratigraphy of this material. Would love to have some blocks of ’50s pastels. Make one into a bowling ball!

  • avatar
    tonycd

    A minor quibble, but I think you mean “by-product.” Fascinating stuff, though.


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