Controlling Color

by Alan Noel

One of the first things students realize when taking my restoration classes are the limitations of brushed on or hand-applied finishes. When using spray equipment to apply finishing materials, be it HVLP or conventional compressed air/siphon cup systems, the finisher has the option of, besides glazing, to shade the finish by mixing color into the finishing materials themselves. This allows the finisher to gently adjust the depth of colors being employed in a very efficient and, most of all, a totally controlled process. Utilizing this process allows the finisher to spray on very thin coats to gradually deepen the the overall look, as well as shade in areas that are lighter due to differing grain patterns or the use of different woods.

Such control is much harder to attain when applying a finish by hand, and since hand/brush applied finishing materials that have color already added to them have been introduced into the market, I've had many questions about how to obtain an even appearance when using these types of finishes and finishes that have been tinted with dyes or UTCs.

    Here are a few tips:
  1. Always approach a project keeping in mind that it is much easier to finish going from light to dark verses dark to light. Making a mistake on the dark side means you may have to bleach out what you've done and start over.
  2. Stain the wood a color that is a shade or two lighter than what you are after. Then the finish/color can be adjusted because you have left room for more color layers.
  3. Instead of brushing on each coat, wipe on each coat. This will take longer to build a finish but in the long run, you will be gradually adding color and depth while still having total control over the entire process.
  4. Be sure to gently sand between coats with fine sandpaper and remove any dust with a tack cloth before applying additional finish coats.
  5. Be sure to lay rags out, submerse in water or hang them up to dry to prevent spontaneous combustion.
  6. Practice, practice, practice! Experiment on scrap to see how many coats it will take to achieve your desired color, whether you prefer brushing or wiping your finish, etc., before applying the finish to your project. A bit of preparation can save you a great deal of frustration later.
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