Museumquality Finishes

In a "museum-quality" finish, the effect—the antique look —is more important than the materials you use. The final finish must protect the surface of the wood, but you can use am material, traditional or modern, that cor-

w rectly simulates the effects of age.

To achieve the right effect, you must lirst understand the natural aging process. The wood, finish. and hardware all show their age in different ways. The wood's surface changes color and collects chips and dings. Traditional finishes dry out, shrink, and become discolored and scratched. Hardware rusts or tarnishes.

Think about each detail of your project. It it had been built long ago. what would have happened to it over the centuries? It you want, make up a history—to whom it belonged, how it was used, where it was kept. Create 150 to 200 years of fictional use and abuse. This fantasy will help you build a believ able "surface history."

Although there are a lot of processes that age a piece of furniture, none of them is complex. They can all be duplicated simply, using a few special techniques and a lot of horse sense. There are only two tricks: First, come up with a finishing plan that includes all the details. Second, arrange the various steps of this plan in the proper chronological order.

This chronology is extremely important! For the aging to appear authentic, you must carry out the simulation just as it might have happened in his-torv. For instance, w hen vou distress the wood, do w ' •

so after you have applied a finish. If you're applying several layers of finish to build up a paint history, do a little distressing after each layer. This is the way it would have happened in real life.

There are many different processes that affect the appearance of every antique. For each process, there arc one or more ways to simulate its effects on a reproduction. These include rounding, distressing. chipping and other stresses applied by hand to simulate the accumulated wear and tear that a piece of furniture experiences over many years.

Accumulated layers of finish—Many antiques are finished several limes during their lifetimes. A typical earlv nineteenth-century Windsor chair, for example, might have been finished with a green paint when it was first made. Later in the century, it could have been covered with the black lacquer that was so popular in Victorian decor. In the 1920s or 1930s, it might have been painted once more with colored enamel. Each of these layers would have worn away partially, revealing bare wood or the colors underneath them.

To simulate this history, you must apply successive layers ol paint. Sand and chip away a layer in the areas prone to wear, then wipe with a glaze (a thick, dark slain) to discolor it. Repeat for each layer. This is a painstaking process, but there are no good short cuts for simulating this type of aging. You can simulate an old. cracked finish by applying a base coat of ordinary lacquer. then spray ing this with special "crackle lacquer" (mtd. by Mohawk Finishing Products. Amsterdam, NY 12012; minimum order $40). The crackle lacquer is a chemical agent which cracks the lacquer coat directly underneath it. showing the wood, stain or paint beneath that. Note: Crackle lacquer must be applied over a coat of clear lacquer, tinted lacquer or colored lacquer.

The following procedure is an outline ot a finishing plan that is commonly used at the Workshops to produce a painted finish. The steps are arranged so the work flows easily, but they add the effects of age in the same order that history would have done so.

Museum-quality painted finish—This finish is best suited for informal projects made from utilitarian woods such as poplar or for folk designs that are meant to be painted. You can also use it to disguise the grain ol projects made Irom several different wood species.

1. Caretullv remove all mill marks and e\ idence

of power tools. Finish sand the surface to 150 grit.

2. Apply a base coat ol latex paint or milk paint. If you desire a crackle finish, apply a base coat of colored lacquer instead. (Crackle lacquer can only be applied over a lacquer base.)

3. Seal the base coat with clear shellac, varnish or lacquer. Use lacquer as the sealer coat if you're going to make a crackle f inish.

4. For a crackle finish, appl\ a second coat ol colored lacquer that contrasts with the base coat. Then spray crackle lacquer over that. This second coat will crack, letting the base coat show through the cracks. Be sure to follow the instructions on the can of crackle lacquer; these may vary slightly from brand to brand.

5. If you want artificial grain on the project, apply the graining at this time. Let the graining dry thoroughly and seal it with a clear finish. (If you want to crack the grain painting, do the graining with colored lacquer, apply a clear lacquer coat, then apply crackle lacquer.)

6. Allow the prev ious finish or sealer to dr> completely. Then do the rounding and distressing, and re-create any other wear and tear that might have happened to the wood or paint over time. Be care-lul not to overdo.

7. If you want to build up multiple layers of paint, repeat steps 2 through 6 as desired (except in the case of crackle finish.)

8. Applv glazing (a thick, dark stain) to the surface. allow it to set for a few minutes, then wipe it off. Let it dry for at least 6 hours.

9. Apply a final coat of clear lacquer, shellac or varnish.

10. Fasten the hardware in place, then rub out the finish with #0000 steel wool and oil soap. Substitute dark paste wax for the soap, it desired. Bull the surface. —N.F..

Simon Watts is a contributing editor o/ AMERICAN WOODWORKER and teaches courses in wooden boatbuilding. When not trawling, he lives in California.

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