Four Decorative Finishes

      Step-by-step directions for producing four distinctive finishing looks. July 28, 2005

Reprinted with permission from Custom Woodworking Business.

Step-by-step directions for producing four distinctive finishing looks.

By Mac Simmons

When you really look at the art of finishing you can certainly see how finishing, refinishing, repairs and restorations all tie into one another. What you can do in each one of these arts, you can also accomplish in the others. As an example, if you know how a finish was originally produced in the finishing shop, you will have no trouble reproducing it if the piece has to be refinished or if you have to do any repairs to a damaged finish.

Knowing how a finish is produced means getting to know and understand all the materials that are used to bring the entire finish together. There must be complete compatibility among all products used, whether you are finishing, refinishing or doing repairs and restoration. Getting to know the compatibility of all the materials is especially important when you undertake some of the more complicated decorative finishes.


This patchwork of finishing samples shows some of the decorative finishes that can be created using different colored basecoats and texturing techniques to apply glazes of various colors.

This leads me into a story about decorative finishes from many years ago, when I was selling finishing supplies. One of my customers, who also is a friend, did (and still does) finishing, refinishing and restorations in his shop. He was commissioned by a high-end antique dealer not only to restore several pieces of furniture, but also to enhance their finish. My friend asked me to stop by when I was in the area because he wanted some advice and feedback on some of the pieces.

When I visited him, he showed me the furniture and explained what the customer wanted. Each piece was different, which allowed for more latitude and creativity about what could be done. While I donít have any photos of the original pieces after he completed the finishes, I recreated a few new samples in my shop to show some of the procedures we used to enrich them.

To start, each piece of furniture was thoroughly cleaned and the coating on each one was tested for compatibility with the new clearcoats to be applied. Then, any damages and defects were filled in and touched up.

After that, we did a variety of different decorative finishes on the tops of the pieces. Gold and silver gilding was applied to some carvings, as well as on parts of the turnings and spindles. Then they were clearcoated.

These decorative finishes, described below, not only enhanced the furniture, but also added color, character and interesting effects to each piece.

Finish #1: A Collage of Colors
I began this finish by applying a silver basecoat. After it was thoroughly dry, I applied a clearcoat and allowed it to dry as well. I then selected several paste watercolors to make up colored glazes and used small, balled-up pads of soft cloth to apply the colors on a piece of cardboard as a test piece.

After doing the cardboard test, I began to twist the cloth, infused with each one of colors, onto the silver background, randomly dabbing on a color and adding other colors until I had a nice collage. Then I used a small, stiff brush to flick on some flyspecks of each colorant to add more color and effect, and afterwards I took a damp cloth pad and lightly dabbed over the colors. This technique made the different colors run into one another. After this step, I allowed the colorants to dry completely. I ended by applying a few clearcoats to protect the new finish.

Finish #2: Marble With a Border
To create the look of marble, I started in the same manner as above: I applied a silver basecoat, allowed it to dry, applied a clearcoat for protection and allowed it to dry.

I used pieces of masking tape to create a border around the edges, which I painted black. After it was thoroughly dry, I applied a black oil glaze and mottled out the color to create a faux marble look. I also dampened a cloth with mineral spirits and dabbed the glaze to give it a softer look. After the glaze dried completely, I applied several clearcoats to protect and preserve the finish.

Finish #3: Fancy Faux Gold
For this effect, I started with a gold basecoat instead of silver, letting it dry thoroughly and following with a clear coat. I then dabbed and mottled on a Van Dyke Brown glaze, but before it dried, I used a dampened cloth with mineral spirits to mottle out the glaze. This technique "floats" the glaze.

I continued dabbing and began making a pattern. I repeated the process until I had the visual continuity I wanted, which added to the appearance of the glaze and gave it an interesting effect. After the glaze dried, I cut out a "circle cover" to fit the panel and taped it down. I glazed around the circle to add even more character to the piece. I completed the finish by applying a few clearcoats.

Finish #4: Red Mahogany Leather
I began this sample by applying a cadmium red basecoat, which I allowed to dry, followed by a clearcoat. This allows the background colors to remain translucent.

To create the look of leather, I mottled and dabbed a black oil glaze over the clearcoat. This technique produces several shades of red mahogany colors. Once I achieved the color and the effect I wanted, I allowed the glaze to dry. Then for added effect, I applied a black striping and clearcoated the sample to protect the finish and keep it in good condition.

Finishing Up
All four of these decorative finishes are easy to do with a little practice and some trial-and-error testing. The key to success is to follow the instructions and always use compatible finishing materials.

As you read through my instructions, please note how many times I mention the step of allowing the piece to dry thoroughly. I re-emphasize how important it is to allow enough dry time between each application.

I also stress again the importance of knowing each of the products you use in your shop. There are many different products available, and they may not all be completely compatible with each other. This includes colorants, stains, toners, glazes, sealers, clearcoats and many other products used in finishing, refinishing and restoration work. Many will react negatively with other products. I strongly suggest that you ask your finishing materials suppliers about each product you purchase and whether their products are compatible with whatever you are using.

I also recommend that finishers or refinishers always make complete samples, from the first to the final coat in a procedure. You will learn more about the materials and pick-up important information about compatibility. You also will see the consequences of not allowing for adequate dry time if you rush the process.

Since that initial visit to my friendís shop many years ago, I have passed along the procedures for doing these decorative finishes to many others in the finishing trades. You may want to add them to your own finishing "arsenal" as well.

Reprinted with permission from Custom Woodworking Business.



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