About Stains, Painting & Gliding Process

In making bread, mixing the dough is only one step in the process. Making a carving is not necessarily the end of the job. In these hurrying times we hate to wait for Nature to darken our work with the patina of age. So we resort to stains or color or paint or some other vehicle to give the finishing touch to the completed work.

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This is an involved process and calls for some skill in the use of the best materials to accomplish whatever finish we have in mind. In my experience, carvings are wanted in gold leaf, in the natural color of the wood, some want them stained, some, as in the case of eagles, want them painted in the natural colors of the living bird. Banners are painted in many different colors; incised or raised letters are either gilded or painted. Other carvings, as in the instance of State Seals, are usually painted according to the original.

The technical terms for all these processes are as follows:

Stains: As the name implies, this is a coloring process used to darken the carving with either commercial stains or with those that are mixed in your own shop.

Painting: Generically termed polychroming. I will use this term hereafter.

Gilding: The term used to define the application of gold leaf and NOT a gilt paint. Personally I never use gilt paint. I call it a poor substitute for the original gold leaf, and in my opinion it is a lot of muck. The reason I dislike it is that it discolors and won't last either indoors or out. I have put my neck out on that one.

These are the three conventional ways to add to the attractiveness of the finished work and can be used singly or in any combination that may be desired

When finishing a carving in stain, I prefer to mix my own color stock, using either dry earth colors or tube colors. If the former, a deeper stain can be developed, if you remember to keep the pigments used to obtain the color stirred up thoroughly in the vehicle. The following dry colors are suggested: American vermilion, Van Dyke brown, raw sienna, raw umber, burnt sienna, burnt umber, and Indian red. All these are available in most good paint stores. They are inexpensive and will keep indefinitely if stored in pint glass Mason jars with rubber rings and glass tops.

All these colors are available in artist's tube colors ground in either oil or japan. The advantage of tube color as a stain stock is that, when the color is let down in the vehicle, it stays in suspension. Tube color costs a lot more than the dry color.

The first step in making your own stain is to mix the vehicle. My best advice is to use raw linseed oil, japan dryer, and turpentine. The amounts to use will depend upon how much of a hurry you are in. Short-set vehicle (quick drying) is obtained by increasing the amount of japan dryer used. Thinning the oil with turpentine hastens the drying process somewhat, cuts the gloss, and gives deeper penetration to the oil when applied to the wood.

Since I mix my vehicle by guess and by God, I can't give any set rule to follow. I suggest you try various proportions on waste stock to see which gives you the best result. There is some slight difference in the setting process when dry versus tube color stock is used. I pay this no attention. The vehicle being mixed (rather more than you think you will need for the job at hand), pour off some of the vehicle into a separate container for testing color.

Bear this in mind; if dry color stock is used, it must be mixed with a small quantity of vehicle before it is added to the pot. The dark colors are very strong—use small quantities. I usually start my stain by mixing some raw sienna first. This is the base color. It is a soft, light tan. The quantity used in the vehicle will determine the depth of the color—not the tone. Add judicious amounts of burnt sienna if the general tone is to be on the reddish brown side. If it is to be on the brown side with no red tones, use small quantities of Van Dyke brown for this.

If it is to be a blend of the browns and reds, use some burnt sienna, Van Dyke brown, and American vermilion. For instance, in staining an ordinary-sized table the proportions I use are: 1½ cups of vehicle, about 2 tablespoons of raw sienna, then one third as much of Van Dyke brown, and a very slight amount of American vermilion. This gives a moderately deep brownish stain. Indian red will give a richer tone, if that is wanted. Burnt and raw umber are used to give a patina of age. They are essentially muddy colors in tone and should be used with great care.

It can be a very rewarding process, this mixing your own stain. Commercial stains are available. My objection to their use is that you don't know what has been used by the manufacturers to carry the color, nor do you know whether or not the colors are dyes or earthen colors. If you try to blend two or more commercial stains, you may run into a chemical incompatibility that will affect the whole appearance of the piece.

The best way to find out how to bring order out of chaos is to try several batches of stock until you have come upon the combination that is most pleasing to you. For goodness' sake, don't have the carving to which the stain is going to be applied within hailing distance of your color experiments. If dry color lands on the wood, it can't all be removed and will show up. If you use tube colors, the result is even worse.







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