ONE OF MY ALL-TIME FAVORITE FINISHES for dark woods is a blend of high-quality oils and varnish—it's very similar to the finish espoused by master furniture maker Sam Maloof. This "hybrid" finish enriches the color of the wood, highlights the grain and gives the surface a beautiful luster without ever looking like built-up film finish. For my taste, however, its rather dark amber color adds too much yellow tone to light woods such as maple, holly and pine. This finish also dries very slowly—but I'm willing to wait for the rich, luxurious appearance it provides.
Premium ingredients are the key to this finish, which consists of equal parts 100% pure tung oil, boiled linseed oil and gloss varnish with a high resin content, such as Behlen Rockhard Table Top Varnish. This finish has a relatively short shelf life—it thickens with exposure to air (even the air inside a closed, half-filled container), and eventually becomes unusable. So mix the three ingredients in small batches (Photo 1).To make this finish easier to use on large surfaces, add small amounts of mineral spirits, naphtha or turpentine to reduce its syrupy consistency.
Finish-sand the workpiece to 220 grit. Then wipe on the finish with a lint-free cloth (Photo 2). As soon as the piece is evenly coated, use a clean cloth to wipe the surface dry. After 30 minutes, wipe down the surface again to make absolutely sure that no residue remains. Move the piece to a dust-free area to dry. Note: The finish-soaked rags are likely to spontaneously combust, so dispose of them immediately and properly.
After two or three days, gently rub the piece with very fine abrasive wool (steel or synthetic) to remove any roughness, dust or residue from the surface. Then apply additional coats of finish, following the same procedure. The first few coats add little sheen—they look pretty much like an oil finish. But eventually the finish will build and the luster will develop. The more coats you apply, the higher the sheen. I normally stop when the finish has a soft, warm glow. Let the finish cure for several weeks before buffing to brighten the sheen, or rubbing to dull it. I usually buff my pieces with a soft towel or rub them with abrasive wool.
Apply an even coat of finish and then wipe the surface dry. The lustrous appearance develops as additional coats are applied.
Mix equal parts pure tung oil, boiled linseed oil and gloss vamish. Premium ingredients are the key to this finish.
¡k Marbled Finish
THE PROCESS OF FLOATING COLORS ON WATER, creating patterns and then capturing those patterns on paper or fabric probably originated somewhere in the Orient. Called "marbling," this process traveled westward through India, Persia and Turkey before arriving in Europe in the 17th century.
Marbling three-dimensional objects is less common, although it has appeared on vases, bowls, boxes and even fishing lures. Learning how to marble flat and rounded surfaces offers unique coloring opportunities for wood.
A variety of variables affects the process and its success, so it's best to learn the basics using sheets of 4" x 6" paper. Chemical contaminants, air pockets, dust, improperly mixed colors, temperature and humidity are all factors that can frustrate the marbling process.
Liquid acrylic paints, carrageenan, alum and other marbling supplies are available at art supply vendors such as www.wetpaintart.com. You'll need a blender to mix the carrageenan solution (it's food-safe, so no worries if you borrow Mom's), distilled water to thin the acrylic paints and glass jars (a pint jar for the alum solution and a gallon jar for the carrageenan solution). You'll also need a palette, a shallow tray, foam brushes, measuring spoons, rubber gloves, eyedroppers (one for each color, plus one for the distilled water), toothpicks, foam board, a bunch of 2" wide newspaper strips and practice paper (65 lb. to 75 lb. weight, and not too slick).
Mix the carrageenan solution the day before you plan to marble (Photo 1). Follow directions on the bag, usually 2 tablespoons per gallon of distilled water. The solution has a two to three day shelf life, so prepare only as much as you'll need. Mix the solution in a blender for at least one minute. Then set it aside.
Finish-sand the pieces you plan to marble to 180 grit and preemptively raise the grain. Dampen the sanded pieces with water, let them dry and then sand lightly with 180 grit to remove the raised fibers.
The next day, mix the alum solution in very hot tap water, according to the package directions (usually 2 teaspoons per pint). Allow this mixture to cool before using it. In fact, make sure that everything you'll use (the solutions, the paints, the water, the pieces you plan to marble, etc.) is at the same (room) temperature. Find a dust-free area for marbling. Pour the carrageenan solution into the marbling tray to within about 1 /4" of the top. Use the foam brush to coat the paper (one side only) or the pieces that you plan to marble (completely) with the alum solution (Photo 2). The alum solution works like a paint primer to help the acrylic colors stick
Coat the piece you plan to marble with a solution of alum to prime it for marbling. Don't touch the primed surface.
Thin acrylic paint with distilled water so it will float on the surface of the carrageenan solution.
Clean the surface of the carrageenan solution just before adding the paint by skimming it with newspaper strips.
Use a patterning tool to comb the layers of paint into interesting patterns. This tool is made from toothpicks and foam board.
to the surface. It's a good idea to wear rubber gloves for this step because you should never touch the alum-treated surfaces with your bare hands—touching may affect the adhesion of the paint. Set the primed pieces aside to dry for about an hour.
Choose the acrylic colors you plan to use and thin them with distilled water to the consistency of whole milk so they'll float on the surface of the carrageenan solution. It's best to limit the number of colors for your first marbling attempts. One of my favorite combinations is is simply black and white. An inexpensive plastic palette is great for mixing the paints (Photo 3). Shake the bottles to mix the paint and squeeze some of each color that you've chosen onto the palette. Then use eyedroppers to add the distilled water. Mix the thinned paint by stirring with a clean toothpick. Just before you drop the paint onto the carrageenan solution, skim its surface with a strip of newspaper (Photo 4). Skimming removes dust and other floating imperfections that can cause "bald spots" on the marbled surface.
Dropping the paint onto the carrageenan solution is one of the most critical—and unpredictable—steps in marbling. Using an eyedropper, gently squeeze a drop of color onto the center of the solution. Avoid creating bubbles when you squeeze. The drop should immediately disperse across the surface. If it sinks to the bottom of the tray, the paint is too thick—thin it further and try again. (Paint drops on the bottom will cause no harm, as marbling occurs on the surface.)
Using a different eyedropper, gently squeeze a drop of the next color onto the dispersed color. As each drop disperses, it creates a ring where it meets the previous drop. Alternate squeezing drops of different colors until the surface is covered with rings (Photo 5). You'll learn that some colors disperse more aggressively than others—experimenting with different colors is one good reason to practice on sheets of paper.
Creating patterns in the floating colors is, perhaps, the most mesmerizing step in the process. You simply pull patterning tools slowly and gently through the paint (Photo 6). Effective patterning tools can be made from nothing more than toothpicks and foam board. Varying the spacing between toothpicks is one simple way to modify the patterns you create.
Pull the tool straight across or move in waves, loops or zig-zags. Make separate passes that overlap. Use a stylus such as a cat's whisker or a hatpin to create delicate patterns and swirls that are more spontaneous and free-form. Once again, experimenting is important because you'll learn how to make and recognize patterns in the paint that will create interesting marbled effects on your projects.
Transferring a pattern that you like onto the
workpiece is the pivotal step (Photos 7-10). Starting at one corner (or edge), barely dip the piece into the paint pattern. Then gently and continuously roll it across the painted surface to transfer the pattern. This sounds easy, but it's tricky, because it's easy to miss an area or submerge the piece too far. The goals are to stay on the surface and move fluidly. A two-dimensional object (paper or a flat board) is often much easier to successfully dip and roll than a three-dimensional one.
Pull the marbled piece from the tray and examine it to see what you've achieved. This is the moment of truth, when you learn if everything came together. I can say from experience that each success is thrilling—when I teach marbling wood to my friends, there's always lots of celebratory yelping at each "reveal."
Immediately dunk the marbled surface in a clean pail of water to rinse off any carrageenan and paint that didn't adhere. You can also hold the piece under a trickling faucet—just don't smack the surface with a high-pressure water stream.
What you see now is the permanent pattern. Don't touch the marbled surface at this point—it's far too tender. Set the piece aside to dry for at least an hour. If you intend to put a finish on top of the marbled surface, wait at least a week to allow the paint to cure. I've successfully used a variety of topcoats, including wax, shellac, water-based polyurethane and epoxy.
You can usually marble several items from the same batch of colors, but eventually the patterns will start to start to break down. When this happens, simply skim the surface three or four times with newspaper strips to remove the paint (use a fresh strip for each pass), and the carrageenan solution is ready for another round of marbling. When you're done for the day, thoroughly clean all of your equipment. I use only hot water for cleaning, as soap residue may cause problems in future marbling sessions.
0 To see marbling, visit AmericanWoodworker.com/WebExtras
Wood turnings and mponcnts from Osborne Wood Products, Inc.
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