A Little About Faux Patinated Finishes

By Mac Simmons
Photo 1: This patinated finish is shown first after the application of silver leaf, top, then as red glaze is being dabbed onto the red and black glazed background. The sample at the bottom is the finished piece, after the color has been mottled in.

Many years ago, I was mentoring a woodworker who was just learning the art of finishing. As time went by and he become more confident with his newly gained knowledge and experience, he decided to open his first finishing shop, working out of his garage.

As his business increased, the garage shop became too small and he moved into a larger shop. He already was doing very well when he read a book on finishing with chemicals, which he had never attempted to do. He thought this sounded like a unique way to color wood and, since no other finishing shops in his area were doing it, he decided to give it a try and bought all of the chemicals listed in the book.

As time passed, he not only found out that the chemicals were difficult to obtain in small quantities, but also that they were very expensive. And even when he measured the chemicals carefully, the colors would be different on different sections of the same wood piece. However, he still was excited and amazed at this technique, and he loved showing customers his new chemically colored samples.

One day when I paid him a visit, he was raving about a new technique he had learned from the book that involved using a mordant, which is a substance that permanently fixes a dye while making the chemical stain look like it is suspended between the wood and the coatings. He showed me a few pieces he had done with the mordant, and although the pieces all looked good, I did not see any significant differences in the mordant and chemical coloring than what he achieves with his regular pigmented and dye stains. So I told him that I thought he was wasting his time and money -a conclusion he reached several weeks later. He returned to using the same coloring system I had taught him a few years before.

The point I want to make by sharing this anecdote is not that you should use pigments and dyes instead of chemicals. It is that you should always keep an open mind to trying new techniques and be aware that, in most cases, there is more than one way to get the job done.

Photo 2: This series shows the raw wood, at left; after a silver base coat has been sprayed on, in the middle; and, at right, the finished piece after it has been colored in and clear-coated.

I do believe that coloring with chemicals has a place in finishing, and there are specific chemical colors that will produce beautiful color stains. Each finisher should explore various materials; which colorants he chooses is a personal option. Each individual should decide what is best for him and the type of work that he will be doing.

Creating Patinated Finishes Without Chemicals

One novel technique that is done with various chemicals is the "patinated finish." A selection of chemicals is applied to pure silver, composition gold or silver leafing, with this technique, to produce unique and attractive finishes. However, I personally prefer not to work with the potent chemicals required to produce patinated finishes. My preference is to use a variety of colored glazes to create a faux patinated finish, which also achieves a nice look.

To create a faux patinated look, I use silver leaf or the composition gold and silver leaf, not a pure gold leaf, since the chemicals do not affect the gold. I also have used metallic bronzing coatings for my base colors.

When I use leafing I first apply a gold sizing onto the wood. You also can use varnish or polyurethane as your sizing. The sizing adheres to the wood and the leafing adheres to the sizing. You apply the sizing and wait for it to get tacky. Then you begin laying out the sheets of leafing, slightly overlapping each sheet until the entire surface is covered. When the sizing dries, the leaf will be bonded to the wood.

I make sure that the leafing project is thoroughly dry and then use a flat brush to lightly fan off the overlapped leaf. Those fanned-off pieces can be saved and used to do repairs in any part of the leaf area that has defects.

Photo 3: Starting at top left, this final example shows the raw wood; after application of gesso and striation; after a silver base coat has been applied, and after the final application of several colored glazes.

To repair defects, apply a little sizing and place a piece of leaf over it. Repeat the process of tapping the leaf level, drying it and fanning off the excess. After the repaired leafing is thoroughly dry, apply a clear coat or two to seal in the gilding.

When I use metallic bronzing coatings as my base and background color for a patinated finish, I also apply a clear coat or two to seal in the metallic colors. I do this to preserve the metallic colors so my colored glazes do not distort the brilliant background colors. You should always allow your clear coats to thoroughly dry before you begin any colored glazing process.

Adding the Glaze

The faux patinated finish is another one of the faux finishes where there are no set standards that you have to follow, leaving you free to be creative and do it any way you want. You can purchase a ready-to-use colored glaze or mix your own using universal, Japan or oil colorants; either tung or boiled linseed oil to make the glaze easier to work, and naphtha or mineral spirits as a solvent and carrier.

Here is a suggested formula: 1 to 11?2 ounces of either one of the colorants, 3 to 4 ounces of either one of the drying oils, and 10 to 12 ounces of either one of the solvents. As with all formulas, adjustments may be needed due to differences in materials from different manufacturers and to the size of the pieces you are working on.

  • For some specific examples, look first at Photo #1 on page 72. Here is how it was done: I silver leafed and seal coated the tall turned box and brushed in some red and black colored glaze on the bottom. I then mixed up a red colored glaze and dabbed in some color, followed by dabbing a little of the red and black glaze to mottle the colors. Then I allowed the glaze to dry and finally I clear coated the piece.
  • In Photo #2 on page 72, I seal coated the raw wood and then sprayed a silver metallic base color and allowed it dry. I seal coated again and allowed it to dry. Then I selected some colors and mixed up some glazes. I dabbed and mottled in the colors, allowed the glaze to dry, and finished up with a clear coat to protect and preserve the patinated finish.
  • In a third example, shown above in Photo #3, I went all out. I started by mixing up some gesso and applying it to the wood. I manipulated the gesso using a graining comb to add striated lines. I allowed the gesso to dry, then seal coated the piece and allowed it to dry. Next, I sprayed a silver metallic base color and allowed it to dry, followed by a seal coating. After the seal coating dried, I applied a few colored glazes, dabbing and mottling them out I allowed the glaze to dry and then clear coated the piece to complete the finish.

As you can see from these three attractive examples, faux patinated finishes are easy to learn to do, and they will add lots of panache to almost any project. This is another technique that is worth learning and adding to your finishing repertoire.

Mac Simmons is a freelance writer and 40-year veteran of the furniture finishing, refinishing and restoration trades. Questions may be directed to him in writing c/o CWB, 400 Knightsbridge Pkwy., Lincolnshire, IL 60069 or via e-mail c/o hkuhl@vancepublishing.com.



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