Friday, December 11, 2009

The Mysteries and Art of Finishing

The photo above is from my big Matisse book and it shows '16 of the 22 photos sent by Matisse to Etta Cone', showing 'states in the development of Large Reclining Nude', 1935. I wish I had photographed the various stages in the finishing of this table. I wouldn't have 22 photos, but I'd have a bunch....

For the first 10 years of my career as a furniture maker, I worked mostly in natural woods, cherry, walnut and figured maple, finishing them with clear oil finishes, sometimes with accents of milk paint, slowly developing what I came to think of as my 'studio style'. Most of my customers either lived in Vermont full time or had second homes here and were content with the sort of contemporary or Shaker look that my style evoked. For the next 20 years, some of those clients and others who came my way asked me to make more formal pieces, often designed to blend in with antiques or family pieces they already owned. I found I enjoyed the new design challenge, making pieces fit with an existing environment. It's never been easy though, this coloring of wood, And, even now that I've been doing it for a long time, it's still a challenge. Just this last week, we struggled somewhat with a table for a Boston client, who, from the start, requested a formal, somewhat shiny finish for his table ...Not too shiny, but just the right shiny.... Shiny's tough. If it's too perfect, it can look just like an off-the-rack piece from a local furniture store, but with the right shiny combined with our method of handscraping the big flat surfaces, you can get that wonderful, waterlike surface you find most often on really fine antiques .... It takes patience, a willingness to experiment, and sometimes a certain fearlessness that you just know you have to just have at it and things will be fine. I've stripped a few and that's never fun, but when you get one just right, well, that's really fun ... I tried to write down the process both before I started and after I finished this one, but no matter how hard you try, it won't be exactly the same next time. Make samples, in this case, include the inlays in the samples. For this table we used several coats of diluted Lockwood water based aniline dyes, occasional masking tape on the inlays, some shellac, and after many samples two coats of Minwax brush on fast dry poly, gloss under, semi gloss over, sanded lightly with 1200 and top coated with an oil poly mix. It took, off and on,most of a week. You feel like Matisse, a little ....

Click the photos to enlarge them

The photos below were all taken with the florescent lights on. We weren't totally happy until we turned them off and turned on the chandeliers that Jim cleaned and are still hanging in the finish room ... Nobody has florescents lights in their dining room anyway...

Two of our many varnish samples .. same color on the left, natural cherry on the right

The underside is finished just like the top ... Watertown runners from Moin hardware.

Will, burning in the mark and date

Leg and apron and inlay

The shine under the regular lights

The leaves
Winston Churchill said once ' Success is the ability to move from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm' ... Just have at it ...

1 comment:

Jeff Branch said...

That's something. I use polyurethane a lot, but I have sworn off brushing it on. So, I am envious of your accomplishment. I currently use Minwax wipe on poly and have had very good results - very little fussing with it.

Beautiful table and color/finish.