Fordite: also known as motorcity agate, motor agate, Detroit agate but how did it become so widely known as Fordite? There is much debate in the industry over the name of this automotive paint by-product. Many believe that the material should not be referred to as an agate because it is man-made but others believe the paint should be referred to as something more specific to its origin. Fordite is the most common name for this Michigan-made product but you may hear it referred to as something different. There are no known direct ties to the Ford Motor Company or any of the other large automotive manufacturers but the name,
Fordite, is much easier to pronounce than 'General Motorsite' or 'Chrystlerite'.
One of the arguments for referring to this material as an agate is the origin of the term agate, which are rocks that contain naturally formed rings of color where each ring tells a story of the formation of the stone, much like the rings of colored paint found in the Fordite pieces. This material's history is filled with information on the automotive industry and understanding this material can be used for educational purposes and to pay tribute to the automotive industry. Like the layers of an agate stone with years of history, the Fordite tells the history of the automotive industry and the changes of colors can help in defining the origin of the material.
The history of Fordite is directly related to the paint and enamel process for the automobiles. At the start of the automotive industry the vehicles were hand painted with products from the "varnish" category; this process created a nice finish but was time consuming, the colors were considered bland, and led to uneven coating of the vehicle bodies. The change to even these bland colors was major since early automotive pioneer Henry Ford said, "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black." In the 1930's the automotive companies started using stoving enamels because they had a high gloss finish and applied thicker and faster.
The beginnings of Fordite started with the invention of the "spray gun" in the 1930's. The spray gun application was much faster than the brush method and what used to take over a month, could be done in a third of the time. Around 1955 General Motors started applying re-flow acrylic paints to vehicle bodies. These acrylics had a gloss finish, this material had to be baked at 360 degrees for an hour to cure the paint. The re-flow acrylics were much more cost efficient and led to a smoother finish.
With General Motors pioneering the use of re-flow acrylics, Ford Motor Company sought out a way to increase the gloss. Since the earlier stoving enamels had a higher sheen and consumers purchased vehicles based on their appearance, they looked into the application of a new supplier for an acrylic stoving enamel. Finding a new supplier, Ford quickly moved to add this to their assembly line process. The automotive components were guided on tracks and skids from the paint booths to the ovens to bake on the layers. Colors were switched often to fill different orders and the tracks and skids remained the same which allowed various colors and layers of paint to build up and become baked on to these assembly line components. The paint continued to build up until it obstructed the production process at which point the tracks and skids would be removed and replaced. This baking process allowed the paint to become a stable product suitable for cutting and polishing in to Fordite.
The paint slag was often tossed aside and disposed of until some of the workers discovered what occurred with you sliced through the material vertically. The assembly line workers would knock off pieces to take home to their families and soon the word was out about this unique paint byproduct also known as a slag.
Factories like the River Rouge plant in Detroit began to see rock and mineral enthusiasts arriving at the plants to help remove paint slag. The material produced great variations of color and unique color patterns. It was in demand from car enthusiasts.
Fordite is a uniquely Michigan-made product and was still produced in abundance until the late 1970's when new techniques of applying the automotive paint were developed, including the electrostatic process. The electrostatic process magnetizes the metal parts of the cars to accept the enamels with little or no overspray. The electrostatic process increased the efficiency of the automotive assembly production but ended the mass production of Fordite rough available. There are limited quantities of this unique piece of history! Stay tuned with Jewelry Set In Stone to see some of the custom designed Fordite pieces to come.
Fordite comes in many different colors. The colors often tell a story of the origin and time period it came from.
Learn how to care for your new Fordite jewelry. Each layer of Fordite is individually baked so it is a very stable material.
Here you will find some examples of the custom jewelry created by Jewelry Set in Stone. Get some ideas for your own creation using Fordite.