Van Dyke Brown is a finish shade that has stayed popular throughout the years.

In this photo are, left to right, samples of Van Dyke Brown: alone, as a glaze, as a stain and as washes over sealer.
This photo shows, from left, samples with tan toner and then with applications of Van Dyke Brown glaze, stain and washcoats. All have clear coats.

Van Dyke Brown is a red/brown/black color named after the famous Dutch artist of the 17th century, Anthony Van Dyke, who used this specific brown color in many of his paintings.

The photo on the top right shows samples of Van Dyke Brown at various stages: first, alone; then, brushed out as a glaze; next, used as a stain, and finally, as wash coats used over coats of sealer. The stain and wash coats were made by thinning out the glaze.

This color is commonly used by starting with a compatible clear coating and adding a little white pigment into the Van Dyke Brown colorant. This makes up tan tinting toners. The color of the toner can be adjusted by adding a little more brown to go darker and more white to go lighter.

Once toner is applied and has dried, you can apply a stain, glaze or use wash coats to add more depth of color to it. After that dries, apply a few clear coats to complete the finish. (See photo on the bottom left for an example of tan tinting toner.)

There are many other colors that can be used for making up toners. While Van Dyke Brown can be used as a stain, glaze and wash coats, other colors will yield many other wood colored finishes as well.

There are other uses for Van Dyke Brown colorant. For example, if you take the paste pigmented colorant and reduce it down with the proper solvents, you can produce several popular wood colors. Also, a Van Dyke Brown glaze is often used to “antique” gilded gold finishes. Van Dyke Brown glazing is also done on composition leaf to create faux gold pieces. (See photo on bottom left for an example.)

Another usage is “flyspecking,” which is used to give an aged appearance to a finish by adding various size dots in random patterns. Assorted markings and curlicues are also used to age a finish; these markings are done with the Van Dyke Brown glaze and a brush. (See Photo above for examples of different aging techniques done with Van Dyke Brown.)

Another technique where Van Dyke Brown colorant is commonly used is adding it to a clear coating and making up a shading stain. Then, as you are spraying with a spray gun or an airbrush, you add color and coating in each pass of the gun. (See photo on page bottom right where shaded edges have been added.)

Van Dyke Brown is one of the most popular colors used in finishing and has been for more than 50 years. Those shades are still seen in today’s furniture showrooms.

Mac Simmons is a freelance writer and 50-year veteran of the furniture finishing, refinishing and restoration trades. Mac has written articles for woodworking magazines in the U.S. and in the UK, Austria and Canada. 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].

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