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