Glazing and toning techniques

A detailed discussion of glazing and toning methods. April 4, 2001

Our company has traditionally used hand-rubbed stains followed by cat lacquer finishes. We are asked more and more frequently for glazed finishes, especially "pumpkin" color. I am puzzled how to achieve this look.

Forum Responses
I'm not sure what you are describing--it sounds like you mean "heavy toning" (or opaque lacquering). Glazing in the traditional sense is a method of selectively adding color in recesses or angles which capture it as it is rubbed off the open sections of a piece. Its purpose is to appear to add age or character to the piece.

To make something pumpkin in color, get some orange Huls 844 colorant, put it in the lacquer and paint away.

From the original questioner:
We have been asked for both toning as you have described and for true glazing, both isolated and in combination. Calling it "pumpkin" may have been too orange. Allowing maple to obtain a light brown/tan to light pumpkin color is the best description I can provide.

I have had a lot of requests for "honey maple" color, which is a mixture of yellow (oxide or ochre), brown or red, and white. You measure and mix the tints to get a basic color to work with. I sometimes use a white Bleachtone (Mohawk or Star) to mix my colors in. After I have made my color application, I seal with vinyl sealer. This application of color can be light, medium, or heavy. That is, one, two or three coats. Of course, the more coats applied, the more opaque the look, and the less definition of grain.

If you mix your basic color with a specific recipe, you should be able to maintain consistency. Another requirement for consistency is the number of coats applied. If you do three applications, all should be done the same amount.

After you seal, do the glazing. I can wipe my glazes right off and get one look, or let dry about 10 minutes, get another look, or let dry 1-2 hours and get another. The dryer the glaze is, the more control you'll have over the look when it is wiped or struck off. All glazes are not the same. When the glaze is dry, apply another vinyl seal coat, sand smooth and topcoat.

There are other techniques to add embellishment to your final look. I distress some or add another color glaze to some.

Does anyone have a recommendation on a good professional finish book?

Bob Flexnor's "Understanding Wood Finishes" and Jeff Jewitt's latest book "Great Wood Finishes" are the best two on the subject.

I worked out a schedule last week on a job that sounds like this one. I used a very diluted white colorant in a vinyl base (SW vinyl basecoat system), sprayed lightly on the bare wood at low pressure. Then, I experimented tuning it with very dilute ngr dyes over that until I found the closest match. I sealed over that. I used a white glaze used as the final coloring step.

This was a good match schedule and was not hard to implement. Figuring out the schedule is what takes the time.

Be sure that all coloring and sealing materials are compatible with the topcoat material. Cat finishes are more finicky about this than the nitrocellulose lac that I like to stick with.

There are many techniques on how to use glazes. You can leave brush marks on the sealer, toner, or opaque color coat. You can brush the marks out, and still get the glaze's color when you coat over the brushed out glaze.

By changing the colors of the toners and the glazes you can create a multitude of finishes. Glazes are also used to do faux finishes.

Another technique is the double glaze, where wipe or strike-outs are used to create different effects in the finish.

All glazes out there will work completely differently. Some have very short "open" times and some very long. Some low viscosity and some very thick. Each has it its place and use.

Find a supplier that has a rep that knows how to finish because anybody can sell coatings. A good rep can cut a few steps out sometimes and still have you produce a quality looking product if production is what you have to deal with. In a high-end custom finishing shop this is not always the case. Try everything you can get your hands on, as one brand may not fill the bill for your needs.

Bob Niemeyer, forum technical advisor

We do a lot of these finishes on high-end custom homes. I make my own glazes quite simply using Huls 824 UTC colorants and mineral spirits or VM&P naptha, depending on the look I am after. With these colorants, I can do probably 95% of all these finishes. The only exceptions are the brush glazes, where you must feather out the brushing almost to a shaded (sprayed on) look. For these finishes, you must use a heavy-bodied glazing stain like the kind Mohawk makes. I don't like using these, as coating failures are quite common.

Here is a basic scenario for glazing, which can be adapted to fit most situations.

1) Wipe on stain (waterbased analine dye or pigmented oil stain). This should be the "base" color of the final finish.
2) 1 pass of vinyl sealer.
3) Hand sand 320 and apply glaze (amount of sealer may have to be varied to determine penetration of glaze). Glaze can be applied by many methods--brush, rag, spray, splashed on by hand, blown with air nozzle, etc. You can also apply an even coat of glaze color and then splash on small amounts of naptha to get nice looking watermarks. Experimentation is the key.
4) Spray a full coat of vinyl sealer.
5) Hand sand 320 and then shade with a mixture of thin vinyl sealer and Ultra penetrating dye stain (Mohawk) or 844 Huls UTC colorant (again depending on the final look). This step gets you to the final color and you can then apply catalyzed lacquer. I like to do all of the color steps in the vinyl sealer so they get locked into the solvent-release property of the vinyl sealer.

I suggest doing test panels and then doing adhesion tests before doing a job. These finishes do not hold up as well as a standard finish and are not always the best choice in a high-traffic or commercial area.

You mention you use a paste colorant, and either mineral spirits or naptha to make up your glazes. Both of these solvents dry very fast, and would not allow you much time to work out the glaze. Do you use an additive to keep the glaze "open" when you work on larger pieces?

My mineral spirits dry slow enough to work just fine. The VM&P naptha is used precisely because it dries fast.

Here's a little finish for you to try. Seal a piece of wood (pine or maple), wipe on a burnt umber glaze (burnt umber utc and mineral spirits). Let it dry a little, then sprinkle the naptha on using your fingers (rubber gloves work well). Look at all those pretty little marks where the color moves around. Even out with a scotch brite pad before sealing, and you have just created watermarks. If you use three different colors of glaze at once mixed with the naptha (on a painted or primed board) and either sprinkle it on or blow it around with an air nozzle, you will get a very nice marble effect. (Usually one of these is white.)

What you're describing is known as a "fantasy finish."

Naptha is a fast drying solvent, and would be difficult to use as a glaze on larger work because you can not brush it out uniformly because it dries to fast. All solvents have parameters during their distillation--these could vary slightly from one distiller to another. That's why some type of oil or oily solvent is used to make up most glazes, because on most work naptha dries to fast (even faster then mineral spirits).

What you are actually making is a pigmented wood stain. Maybe the colorant you are using is an oil colorant--this would have an oil and would allow more open time for you to work out the glaze.

The way I was taught, anything wiped on over a sealer coat is a glaze. The dry time just effects how it wipes or reacts. The glazes you refer to are brushed out edges and no, that technique does not work with naptha. Those glazes are also very likely to lift or wrinkle in areas and I don't use them unless I have to.