The Job’s Only Half Done

One of the things I love about building vernacular furniture is that when everything is assembled and joinery planed flush, the job is only half done – a clear expanse of white pine has always been seen as an inviting canvas for artistic whimsy.

Yesterday, my two older boys and I made a small hanging knife box for my wife, Julia. Besides the angled sides and scallop details, this build is nothing more than a few pieces of white pine nailed together. (This design was inspired by object #125 in Russell Kettle’s The Pine Furniture of Early New England, by the way.)

This morning, after consulting with my wife about her decorative preferences, my oldest and I tackled the paint. We began by scribing the ubiquitous daisy (aka “hex sign”) and proceeding with various milk paints. Real Milk Paint’s “Cobalt Blue” mellowed with a hint of black gave us the base coat we were after. The black “graining” was done with a disposable China bristle brush with sections of bristles cut away. The yellow outlining was done with Old-Fashioned Milk Paint’s “mustard.”

After all the paint was done, I couldn’t resist “aging” it. I know, I know. It’ll acquire its own patina over the next 200 years. Besides the fact that I’m not going to be around to see that, the biggest problem is that my training was at The National Institute of Wood Finishing. With an incurable fascination for finishing techniques, there’s no way I can walk away from an opportunity to play with layers of color to simulate antique surfaces. After all, matching old furniture surfaces is what I did for a living before launching M&T.

So, this morning I hopelessly launched into selective scuffing with maroon Scotch-Brite, burnishing edges, rolling random metal objects across the surface to create intermittent denting, and dyeing any freshly exposed substrate after the beating.


For those of you interested in trying this process for yourself, here are the most important tips:

  1. Use only hand tools in construction because machines excel at uniformity, which is the antithesis of what we’re after here.
  2. Only use period fasteners. Modern nails and screws (especially Phillips screws!) spoil the period aesthetic.
  3. Work to looser tolerances than you think you should. Trust me, it’s taken me many, many projects to learn to work “free” enough to end up with legit looking workmanship.
  4. After all the paint, scuffing, and dyeing is complete, wax the surface and buff to a noticeable sheen because this goes along way in accentuating the coarse hand-tool marks.

I know this is not everyone’s bag but, for me, reproducing patinated painted surfaces is just about as fun as it gets.

- Joshua


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