Playing with finishes

Hey Folks,


When making repeated iterations of the same item, it’s often difficult to keep focused on the process; even when the goal is to improve both the product and the process with each course.  I’ve been alternatively both busy and burnt out with building these little shaker bentwood boxes, and at times I’ve struggled to remain motivated.  The solution is to mix things up a bit without significantly changing the manufacturing process.

Once built, the boxes are essentially all the same.  The only differences are size and materials.  Some are made of cherry, some of walnut or maple, etc. Top and bottom plugs can be Douglas Fir or pine, but in general, they all look alike.

Enter the finishing process.  Finishing can make an enormous difference in the appearance of the final product, and offers the opportunity to add some real variety.

Traditionally, bentwood boxes were painted with milk paint, then finished with either oil or soft wax (usually beeswax softened with turpentine).  Over time, the beeswax would darken with collected dirt and pigments, and a distinct patina would develop.  I have tried to emulate this process by lightly distressing a milk painted box, then buffing it with dark brown wax to give it an aged appearance.


Most of my boxes (so far) are made of maple, because it’s relatively plentiful, easy to bend and finish.  But maple is a bit bland to look at, so most of them are painted.  Cherry, on the other hand, ages slowly over time to a beautiful dark red.  So my cherry boxes I’ve finished with a few coats of blond shellac.


Of course, you can also combine the two finishes for an impressive effect.


Shellac also lends itself well to tinting with soluble dyes, so now you’re only limited by your imagination.


Keeping it fresh can occasionally be a challenge, but sometimes changing only one thing will provide you with a entirely new perspective.



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