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.