Many finishers are switching to a two-colorant finish to enhance their projects.

As more and more wood products are being imported into the country, you may have noticed, read or heard that many domestic manufacturers of furniture, kitchen cabinets and numerous other wood products are responding by adding a second colorant to their finishes to enhance and enrich the appearance of their pieces. They are switching to two-colorant finishes either to increase their sales, increase their profits or both.

In the past, a sealcoat or two, followed by a pair of clearcoats, was considered a complete finish in some finishing shops. Another commonly used complete finish is stain, sealer and several clearcoats.

There is nothing wrong with these finishes. In fact, there are several single-colorant finishes still in use. One is sealer followed by a brushed-out colored glaze, which is allowed to dry and clearcoated. Another is sealer, tinting toner and clearcoats. There also is sealer and shading stain.

But as times and styles change, you may find that adding a second colorant can be beneficial to the finisher and to the business, since adding another colorant to any finish improves a project's overall appearance. The extra color brings out more of the wood's characteristics and gives a seamless uniformity to the overall color of the finish.

One coloring technique that can be a valuable tool when using multiple colorant finishes is the “color dilution system.” It works well with stains, tinting toners and shading stains. It also allows you to reduce your colorants and gives you more choices of color.

As you experiment with sample panels, you will see different shades of color emerge. Colors appear different on certain species of wood and you want each of your colorants to show properly in your finishes. By reducing the colors, you will attain a sharper and clearer finish. (See photo A on this page for an example.)

It All Starts with Samples

Let's take a look at some of the secondary colorant finishes that you may want to try. Start your samples with the same species of clean, well-sanded woods that are free of wood dust or any other residue.

If you normally use a dye or pigmented stain with clearcoats, try applying a seal or your regular clearcoat over the stain and then apply a colored glaze as your second color. Brush it out, allow the glaze to dry and then apply your clearcoats to protect the finish. (See photo B for an example.)

If you usually stain your woods, try this two-color finish: After the stain has dried, apply a sealer or your normal clearcoat and allow it to dry. Then apply a shading stain as your second color, which will add depth. Once you hit the targeted color, you can proceed with clearcoats to complete the finish. (See photo C.)

Another finish you can try is to first apply a tinting toner, which is used for changing, blending and uniforming the wood's color. Tinting toners are colored coatings that can be translucent or transparent. They can be stained, glazed and a shading stain may be added as a second colorant. (See photo D.)

Another two-colorant finish is an opaque colored basecoat that is sealcoated, glazed and clearcoated. (See photo E.)

These are all common finishing techniques. With some trial and error, you should have no problem incorporating any one of these methods into your finishing. It will take you longer to complete a two-colorant finish. But as you spend time working out each of these finishes, you will gain more speed and be able to complete each faster.

Another way to gain speed in your finishing process is in your choice of materials. Check with your salesman, finish manufacturer or supplier, and ask if they can supply you with faster-drying materials that will still allow you enough time to complete each step. (Consideration also must be given to the size of the pieces you will be working.)

As you become familiar with each step in the two-colorant process, you will learn to make adjustments as needed and see how each colorant adds beauty and character to your finishes. Remember that doing start-to-finish samples is a valuable tool and worth the time it takes. For one, you will learn the entire finishing process. Second, if changes or color adjustments are needed, you can do them on your samples. And three, you will discover whether your finishing materials are compatible with each other.

I'm confident that once you become familiar with each of these second-colorant finishes, you will be a better finisher and your work will prove that two colorants definitely have a place in 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 [email protected].

PHOTO A: This sample panel shows four shades of the same stain, with various dilution levels. At left, the stain is full strength. The dilutions then progress from left to right: 50%, 75% and 85%.
PHOTO B: At left, the sample has a medium yellow stain that has been allowed to dry. At right is the sample after the application of a Van Dyke brown glaze, which has been brushed out and clearcoated. PHOTO C: The sample at left has a raw umber stain and sealcoats. At right, a raw umber shading stain and more clearcoats have been applied.
PHOTO D: In this photo, the sample at left shows a blond toner (mixing white and yellow) and sealcoats. At right, a Van Dyke brown glaze has been applied, brushed out and allowed to dry, followed by a clearcoat. PHOTO E: Step one, top left on this sample, is the application of a yellow basecoat and sealcoats; at right, a burnt sienna basecoat and sealcoats have been applied. Bottom left, a glaze has been applied, brushed out and clearcoated. The final panel shows the results after the application of a second glaze is complete.

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