Sunday, September 6, 2015

First you build the chair, then you build the finish

Recently a client asked me to take process shots of his chair being finished, so here they are.
Painting chairs has long been a sore spot as a maker and teacher. Yes, I agree wood is pretty on it's own, but in the service of furniture, sometimes there can be more done with it than swooning at the "figure". Part of what forms the aversion to painting chairs among new makers is the fear that the extra process will lead into unknown territory and problems, which is a legitimate concern, especially because the process is yet another that requires real effort to master.

Here you can see the stained chair in all of it's dull glory.
This chair needs paint!
 I covered this in my book, but it is worth restating, you can't expect a finish to look right until it's done. Just like a single spindle doesn't look like a finished chair. But you can learn to recognize when each step is complete and looks "right" even when "right" is truly homely.
yes, the pine stains terribly
Here are the steps to completing the finish, first the stain, a mix of alcohol soluble dyes from Lockwoods. I change the mix depending on the topcoat of color. For more bluish colors I shift the stain to a complimentary orange and for black over red I keep it relatively brownish.
first coat of red

The first coat of red is knocked back with burlap, steel wool and sandpaper, each used where called for. I want to keep the paint layer thin and smooth but still fully covering, so if the smoothing process makes it too translucent, I paint and smooth it again, usually just using burlap or mirka mirlon gold pads.
The red burnished

Then the black coats, smoothing inbetween again and then finally multiple coats of oil. I start with a penetrating thin oil and then subsequent coats of thicker oil to build the finish.
First coat of black paint
Smoothing the first coat of black with burlap
Oil on the seat after the second coat of paint and burnishing
The warmth of the red helps draw attention to the lower parts that are usually in shadow

Now here's where I might go too far for some gentle readers. Lately, I've been making chairs with butternut seats intended for paint. Now hear me out. I know it is beautiful, somewhat rare and certainly expensive, but it has some qualities that I want in some chairs for strength and scratch resistance. The seats below are destined for continuous armchairs that will live in the Lie-Nielsen showroom and, as public seating they will take a beating from the every joker who carries their keys in their back pockets, you know who you are....
That's right, a butternut c arm
I've used poplar in the past for this role, but it is a dull homely wood even under the paint. I really like  the lovely grain pattern visible when using the white pine, and was concerned that the subtle grain of the butternut as well as the rich color wouldn't shine through. But after making some samples I can see that it does! So no, I have no problem painting butternut and if I wasn't allergic to working with walnut, I'd paint it too.
Maybe paint could even make me want to use some of that horrendous curly maple that I've been meaning to get rid of.


Anonymous said...

Are you using a stain or a dye? Using both words is a bit confusing unless you are using both products.

Peter Galbert said...

In this case it's a dye, sorry for the confusion

Eric said...

Great post! I love a painted finish, both for look and function. I do think most people associate solid wood furniture with visible uncovered grain, but don't realize there are other options that are equally if not more beautiful. Keep it up Peter!

Anonymous said...


Many thanks for this detailed post on finishing. I just finished applying the finish to my first continuous arm rocker, which I am not happy with as I obviously did not burnish sufficiently and it has very little red showing.

When you say use oil, are you using pure oil such as Tung, or linseed, or a mix of oil and resins, such as a Danish oil ?

Best Regards David

Henry said...

I made this amazing table but, being a total DIY idiot, I mixed up the steps and put the finish on before I had done the transfers of the wine logos onto the wood, so of course they didn't actually transfer. Is there anything I can do to fix this or am I stuck with my table without the wine logos? Thanks for the awesome idea and the instructions

Unknown said...

I have an idea for a place to get rid of your "horrendous" curly

This chair is my absolute favorite Windsor style. The paint job is just perfect! Thank you documenting the steps of this paint job, it def helps put into perspective how much work it is to apply paint correctly. It is a misconception that painted furniture is a way to cover up poor prep work and is in fact the opposite in many cases. This type of finish really highlights all the little flaws that can go unnoticed with typical clear film finishes. Some day I will have a go at a continuous arm Windsor chair.

Chairs Singapore said...

Loved the Chair. Your instructions are very clear and precise.

Rice said...

The works of art very nice. I love a painted finish, both for look and function. Thanks for Sharing

Prince said...

Wow, You made that look easy as pie. I know it had to be a challenge. Your vision for that chair turned out perfect! HON

Katrina said...

Great simple and efficient !