Jefferson Swivel and Secretary

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Painting/Aging a Windsor Chair

For several years, I did a very (extremely) labor intensive paint finish using latex paint and lacquer to get a chipped paint effect and age, I have to say it looked good but the time spent was way to much and sometimes took longer to paint than to make the project. Once I began using Real Milk Paint, it cut way down on the labor portion of my finishing. While it's not what most would consider an easy to apply method I use, it's still much easier than the lacquer method and I can have a 3 color paint finish done in 3 days per chair. Here's how I go about it...
         First I use a base coat, in this case Mustard. This first coat basically serves as a primer and gives the foundation of this process.

         Once the first coat completely dries in 1-2 hours, I use a scotch brite pad to burnish the entire chair. All the turnings, spindles, seat, and bows, get burnished. It takes elbow grease but you get this shiny appearance letting you know you've done it right.

         Here you can see the difference between the unburnished chair (left) and the burnished one (right). That shine helps the next coats go on much smoother and silkier and results in a completely smooth and inviting finish.

The legs show the same, left side unburnished, and right side burnished.  
After this burnished coat, I'll apply a second color in this case Terra Cotta Red
following the same steps. If you strain your paint you can skip the burnishing step and apply the black over the red, otherwise you'll have to burnish the red as well.
 I thin down the top color (black) to make it easier to burnish and get the wear I'm looking for. After the paint dries, use a subtle approach to add age and wear.

 I'll use a dull card scarper to simulate the chips a dings, worn out 400 grit wet/dry paper to do the blending, and if it's not blending fast enough, I use worn out 180 grit to get where I want to go.

 I try to focus on wear normal areas the get natural and the most common looking wear. The front legs, the seat edge and saddled area, the hand holds a little on the bows and spindles etc. You can go to far quick, it's better to do a little and step back to see how it looks. You can use Denatured Alcohol to simulate what it'll look like with a finish on. It will show more than you think once the finish is applied. So be cautious.
 Work thoughtfully, make up a story as you do this and imagine what this chair was mostly used for. I sometimes want a heavy wear and think a chair might have been used at a tavern and got used heavily, such as Bar brawls, spilled tankards of ale and the like. Other chairs were in a home at a table and over a 225 year period got used, but nothing like that in a tavern, these kind of made up stories sound corny, but they work and make you think about the finish more than just going randomly. Once you make these stories up tone it back a little because if you make it too worn, in 30 or 40 years it'll just look like it needs to be refinished. You want to give an aged appearance now but let the chair develop it's own character in time.

After I'm happy with the amount of aging, it's ready for the finish, I use an oil/varnish mix 1:1:1 ratio of Boiled Linseed Oil, Spar Varnish, and turpentine. The oil penetrates into the wood, the spar varnish builds up and produces a faster shine and the turpentine is simply a thinner that speeds the dry time. After usually 2 or 3 coats, the chair is ready for use. I usually like it to set for a few days before any use. The picture above shows a chair with one coat of oil next to an un-oiled one. After another  coat or two, the chair starts taking on a nice dull satiny sheen. The more coats you put on the more shine you'll get. If you don't like the artificial age on your pieces, this process is still a good way to go, just don't do the scraping and sanding and you'll get a great paint job and finish that will last longer than you may want.
Thie pics below are with only 2 coats of finish on. The shine is a little dull but I made these for a client and want to make sure it doesn't go to shiny till they give their approval. Getting that balance between what you think is the age and shine someone wants and what they think is right, is one of the hardest parts in furniture making. I look at it as I can always fix it either way and make it to their taste, which is the important thing.