Paint That Highlights Rather Than Hides

Painting is supposed to be an easy way to finish wood. Just sand the surface to reasonable smoothness, prime and paint. You can use inexpensive wood, too.

Or so you think until you build a large display stand for a friend's sculpture. After building the stand from shop-grade birch plywood, you spray on a quick coat of sanding sealer. Following a light sanding, you spray on several coats of black acrylic enamel, aiming for a sleek, smooth finish. The results look good in your shop. But under the intense lighting of the gallery where the sculpture is displayed, the truth is revealed: Wood grain from the birch ply has telegraphed through the finish in numerous places. One of the show-goers asks, "How did you get that paint to look so much like wood grain?"

The fix: What you should have done is apply and sand a second coat of sanding sealer beneath the enamel finish. To hide the wood grain at this stage, use a different product: Zissner's B-l-N, a shellac-based primer with a high solids content. A two-coat application will cover any remaining grain.

Sanding with 150- or 180-grit sandpaper will create the super-smooth base for another application of enamel. When sanding, it's best to wrap the sandpaper around a hard block to leave a smooth, level surface. A coat of clear finish applied over the enamel will add protection and increase sheen if that's what you're after.

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