Our master craftsman shares his finishing expertise so you can duplicate the look of antiques
Through paint, there are a number of "looks" you can create on wood furniture. Most of the painting methods are relatively simple but, all of them do require some practice to ensure successful results. The following lists those the finishes that the author found were of the most help to those students in his woodworking class who wanted to learn how to duplicate a country paint finish.
Antique Paint Finish
This is the finish to use when you are trying to create a faithful replica of a museum or other very old piece. Generally, this is the kind of finish you will find on primitive or early pieces commonly found in old village restorations and the like. The look is that of well worn furniture having its own "patina" of the ages. On a painted finish thelatter refers to a finish that has been exposed to lots of use, and it shows. Those who cherish American Country furniture also cherish the look of this finish as well.
When you stop to think about it you realize that our cabinetmaking ancestors basically started with a tree then, using simple and often crude tools, fashioned the furniture they lived with. And, much of that furniture is quite remarkable.
For many, including the author, no furniture created before or since, quite comes up to the level of excellence --- in both design and construction --- established by the furniture makers of the Shaker sect. They like the earlier colonial craftsman frequently painted their furniture because this permitted them to use, rather than waste, lesserexamples of wood.
Basically, there are two ways to obtain a good-looking antique-painted finish:
1) With a commercial a kit; these are okay for small projects but costly if used on larger pieces.
2) Paint the piece from scratch, utilizing the expertise we have developed over hundreds of finishing jobs.
For environmental reasons, the most popular kits these days are those comprised of latex or acrylic products. With one of these kits you can finish a project in very little time and with a minimum of effort. Both of these advantages are strong lures for many do-it-yourselfers.
The majority of these commercial kits are two-step applications. Make certain you read and follow the maker's instructions on the can, no matter which brand you buy: application techniques can and do vary from one maker to the next.
Hammermark's Painted Country Finish For openers, know that antique painting is almost always done with two colors: for example, a gray-green (olive) over a blue; Federal blue over a black, and so on. The color selection is up to you or, it may be dictated by an original piece you admire and wish to replicate. The following steps tell how to do it.
To avoid confusion here, we refer to the color first applied as the base color and the following coat as the top color.
1. Sand the raw wood smooth. In most cases on softwood, you can stop sanding after the 120-grit session. On hardwood you can take the sanding a step further and go up to 150 grit. For this finish, the trick is to avoid oversanding; remember, you want to create a somewhat rough, antique looking finish. In fact, I generally do some with-the-grain rubbing with a steelwire brush, at this stage, so as to cause striations in thesoftwood. This rubbing creates a very worn look to effectively simulate weathering.
2. Dust off carefully and wipe all surfaces with a tack rag.
3. Apply a coat of stand of you choice to the entire piece. The stain's sole function is to make the new wood look old when some paint is rubbed off later ( to expose wood). Tip: Since this is the stain's only purpose, it is usually best to select either a relatively dark pine or light walnut stain for this task. Allow stain to dry ovenight.
4. Next, pour both colors into separate vessels. A good stunt is to make a small "bowl" from aluminum foil for each color to be used. These save leanup time later because they can simply be thrown out at job's end. If you plan to use more than two colors, or white, gray or black, each must be kept separate; that is, poured into its own vessel. Finally, also have some stain on hand so you can spatter with a toothbrush, if desired, to get instant aging.
5. Using either rags or brush, apply the base coat to the piece working small, logical areas at a time.
6. Let the paint rest for several minutes then, before it gets tacky, lay on the top color. Then, carefully drag a lint-free, clean rag across the surface to blend the colors. Note: A prewashed, worn Turkish towel is perfect for this task The object is to marry the colors to obtain a perfect blend--which does not look manmade.
Note: Though this is not a particularly difficult technique to master, do take the time to practice this step on scrap wood, you will be glad you did.
7. While the top color is still wet, use an old toothbrush, and either black paint or stain, to spatter here and there --- to get those "age" spots mentioned above. Don't overdo it; here, less is more.
8. To get that well worn look, you must rub through the paint in various areas to expose the stained wood beneath. You can do this now while the paint is wet using Turkish toweling; or, if preferred, you can wait until the paint has dried then carefully rub the selected edges with a wad of 3/0 steel wool. The first technique requires more skill but, it is less work than the latter.
9. If desired, you can thin some dark brown or black paint to a wash consistency using mineral spirits and apply the wash to simulate the look of years of accumulated dirt. Apply wash to a small area at a time with either soft cloth or brush. Wait about five minutes, then wipe lightly with a clean, lint-free cloth. Make sure you leave some paint deposited in crevices, comers, etc. --in other words, where dirt would haveaccumulated over the years.
10. After the wash coat has dried the surface will have a flat look. This may or may not be desirable. If that's the look you want, the job is finished. But, if you want a slightly wax-like finish, you can apply one coat of a satin-finish varnish.