Early chairs , especially American ones , look best when they are painted.
Like any good woodworker who is in love with his or her raw material, I’ve tried to make stick chairs without painting them. Some chairs, such as two Welsh stick chairs I built six years ago, look pretty good to my eye without paint. But they don’t look traditional. Their albino skin tone makes them look quite contemporary.
Other stick chairs that I’ve stained then topcoated have ended up painted, which just about doubled the finishing time.
Tonight I started finishing the Windsor sack-back chair I built last week at The Windsor Institute. And there was never any doubt in my mind that I’d be painting the sucker.
I’m following Michael Dunbar’s excellent instructions for applying milk paint that we published in our February 2010 issue. Many Windsor chairs started their lives painted a bright green in lead-based paint, according to Dunbar. Other colors became fashionable after green, so some vintage Windsors display several colors after they are broken in.
For my chair, I’m putting down a base coat of barn red milk paint, which I’ll follow up with pitch black milk paint tomorrow. After that, I’ll add some wear spots to the chair and add some varnish or wax , I haven’t decided which topcoat to use yet.
Right now, the chair looks like a delicate brick with four legs. Despite its odd appearance tonight, however, it looks better than when it was raw wood.
- Christopher Schwarz
Other Finishing Resources I Recommend
- Glen D. Huey’s “Finishes that Pop” DVD is an excellent introduction to using aniline dyes to accent the grain.
- “Understanding Wood Finishing” by Bob Flexner is the absolute best book on the topic I’ve ever read.
- Issue 6 of Woodworking Magazine has an excellent article on painting furniture using modern latex paints.