I don’t do many fake finishes. I prefer to let a piece age naturally rather than beat it, burn it, and make it write bad checks. But some pieces look wrong with a perfect coat of paint or shellac. The following finish is not designed to fool anyone. It is designed to nudge a vernacular piece in the right direction.
If you read “Chair Chat” (doesn’t everyone?), then you know we have a joke about faked chairs and finishes. We say they are from “Far East Wales.” We are told there is a robust trade in importing fake antiques from the Far East.
I learned to execute this finish from Troy Sexton in 2007. I have modified it to make the finish look grimier (and make the finish easier to do). This blog entry offers the basics. I’ll have a full writeup in “Guerrilla Chairmaking.”
This finish works with latex and acrylic paints (regular house paint). I haven’t tried it with milk paint, oil paints or artist paints, so I don’t have anything more to add here. Here’s how it works:
- Paint your base coat on. I use two coats. Sand between finishes, just like you would normally.
- When dry, coat the project in lacquer – brush it or spray it. Use a fairly heavy coat. Light coats of lacquer won’t do much. (Note: in “Guerrilla Chairmaking” I’ll detail other film finishes that will work besides lacquer – I’m not done experimenting yet.)
- As soon as the lacquer is dry to the touch (15 minutes or so) add the topcoat color.
- As soon as the topcoat of paint is dry to the touch (but not fully cured), use a heat gun (mine goes to 1,000° (F)) to blister the topcoat. Hold the gun about 1” from the surface and use one of the attachments that consolidates the blast of heat. (I have tried using propane torches instead of a heat gun and am not wild about them.)
- Scrape off the blisters. Then smooth all surfaces with a woven pad (like a 3M grey or green pad). Steel wool works, too.
- Rub on a coat of black wax. Buff it when it flashes.
That’s all there is to it. You can add as many layers of color as you like, burning between each layer of paint and lacquer. If you do this, always apply the wax only on the last coat.
If you are eager to try this, I suggest doing a test board with leftover paint to get comfortable with the process. This also will answer a lot of your questions about how fast to move the heat gun, how to get big blisters, etc.
As always, wear breathing and hand protection when working with solvents and VOCs. And take care with the heat gun. I do all the burning outdoors.
— Christopher Schwarz
21 thoughts on “A ‘Far East Wales’ Finish”
This might work with milk paint as well. I think that Curtis Buchanan srecently omewhere mentioned doing the “heatgun trick” on his spoons – but probably omits the lacquer in between the paint layers.
Nancy HIller had an article in FWW on using milk paint, laying down a layer of hide glue, and then another layer of milk paint. However, that outcome is more of a crackle and peeling affect and less of a bubble affect. Still a cool look.
Yup. That crackle formula has been around for a long time and is promoted by Franklin International. I’ve used it and like it. But I don’t find it as predictable as using a heat gun. Just my personal experience.
That’s a neat trick, and it would fool me. When you say “some pieces” look wrong with a perfect coat, what factors into your decision?
There are times when things look odd to me. Like someone who makes a perfect copy of a Federal-style house but it’s brand new and everything is crisp and newborn. Or when I see a 19th-century coin that looks like it was minted yesterday. Or an old Norris plane that has never been out of the box. It is completely subjective.
I’m very new to the world of vernacular chair making, (and furniture making in general), but why paint?
Was paint used to cover up something wrong with the wood?
Many chairs were made using a variety of species to embrace their structural characteristics. (This chair is one such example.) Paint unifies the design. Also, many many vernacular pieces were painted.
A lot of woodworkers are offended by covering the grain. I go both ways.
Hi Chris, Looking forward to your new chair making book. BUT, IMHO there just something about the Guerilla Chairmaking moniker ( perhaps that is not the final name) that just looks very out of place for a woodworking book, and sounds displaced to me. It make me think that this is a book where guerrillas
( primate, Congolese or otherwise) make chairs or are taught to make chairs. Yes, I know it is not that. I have never had any disagreeing thoughts about the names of all of your and other author’s books that I have purchased from LAP, but on this one I just felt compelled to comment. Thank you.
I think the name is perfect. In slang lingo, guerilla refers to an unauthorized, anarchistic, edgy or disruptive version of an activity. Thus, guerilla chairmaking is the activity of making a chair without obeying a consensus or a set of strict rules. Guerilla chairmaking liberates the chairmaker. She is no longer restricted to plans, rules or special tools. A chair can be made from heart, with what you’ve got at hand. This is my interpretation of the guerilla chairmaking concept. To me, the beauty of chairmaking is the never ending variations manifested by different personalities, approaches and methods. There are no rules. Only chairs.
I was just referring to the book name from its phonetically appealing perspective, not allegorically. Each to his own. Thanks for your input.
“To me, the beauty of chairmaking is the never ending variations manifested by different personalities, approaches and methods.”
I would add “asses” to that excellent list of variations.
You did it! Nice. Something to analyze and compare with the next “Far East Wales” chair in the next Chair Chat perhaps.
I don’t think I like the distressing. I like furniture happy.
I keep thinking that Gorilla Chairmaking is just the book for me, but I see no mention at all of banana wood. Oh well, I’ll probably still order a copy as soon as you announce it, but maybe you can toss a nanner to the shaved apes in the crowd.
Just wondering….will “Guerilla Chairmaking” be available for order as a pdf before the books are delivered?
Thanks for all of your outstanding books!
As troops amass in our nation’s capitol and state houses prepare for armed seige, “guerrilla chairmaking” assumes an ominous tone. Guerre is war (fr.) and guerrilla conjures up dark thoughts of bloody conflicts past and threatening militias present. Does traditional woodworking need violent imagery? The image of the anarchist may have been cool once upon a time, until real anarchists set their hot feet inside our hallowed halls last week. We have been hearing this week, repeated endlessly, “words matter.”
I agree with you completely, well said.
Those weren’t anarchists, real or otherwise. Nor a militia, whatever they choose to call themselves.
I like the proposed title of Guerilla Chairmaking. It goes along with the idea that building your own furniture is a subversive act in today’s throwaway furniture culture. I’m brand new to woodworking, but my plans are to start building my kids simple furniture so we can stop buying Ikea cardboard junk. And my first step is that I’m going to build a low roman workbench from an ash tree that fell down in my back yard.
“Chop”, “cut”, “pound”, “whack”, “wallop”, “beat”…. Spare me the ridiculous imaginary PC crud. Yes, words matter, primarily because they represent ideas, and what you’re doing with them is wrong.
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