Posts Tagged ‘finish’

A recent customer wrote to me:

I love your style, a perfect combination of texture, color, and form, that looks and feels gently worn, yet alive.

“Gently worn, yet alive” is exactly what I’m going for. My birds tell a story. The first story in the story of my experience with the bird. The second story is what I put into the bird through form, color and texture. The third story is the story revealed to the viewer what they hold a bird or whale or goat in their hand.

I study color and texture an experiment in ways to convey them in my work. The following pieces are from my collection of stuff and are textures that I cherish and work towards re-creating. These were created by the master of distressed and interesting surfaces — Time.

Tfullsizeoutput_8a7his is the tool box that I take to demonstrations. I bought it for the finish. It’s a simple well worn homemade plywood box with steel hasps and corners. It had a disintegrating wet formed leather handle that I recovered.

I love the pale green alligatored paint with subtle white splatter. Bare wood The circle is from my own shellac can. The single light blue drop is mine as well.

fullsizeoutput_8a8This is another side of the same box. I stenciled “50 Little Birds” across the side. One this side there are two layers of bright yellow-green paint. The top coat has alligatored into fine grains. The paint is worn to wood following the grain of the plywood veneer. The hardware is painted as well.
This is the top of the wooden stool that I sit on at my bench. It was left behind when a co-worker left the school where I was teaching. He always knew that I fullsizeoutput_8a9liked it and I suspect it was left on purpose.

It was once painted red over white and then alligatored. Decades of rear ends have worn much of it to bare wood that has been rubbed smooth. It has some splatter — black spot can be seen here.

fullsizeoutput_8a6This is one of the many white cedar lobster bouys that I picked up as a kid. Lobster bouys were so much more substantial and interesting when they were made of wood. These were made from massive blocks of wood and were turned on a lathe. This wasn’t fancy work and the gouge marks are still visible.

This bouy was primed in orange — often whatever house paint that could be aquired. The red with a green stripe indicate which fisherman owned the bouy. An identical one was displayed on the boat. I love these three colors together. I also love that the red exposed beneath the failing green paint has not faded. It’s also important to note that most of the red paint is missing from the surfaces that would make the most contact.


Years ago i got a bargain on a huge poplar dresser and cabinet. It’s almost 5′ tall and 6′ long. It contain 8 drawers (Three of which are larger than most dressers) and a hanging locker. It was so large that we had to remove the cap on my full sized pickup to load it.

It was to be put in my (then) upstairs studio — but it could not negotiate the turn in the stairs. It now sits in our living room with the TV atop.

It’s been painting — at least — three times. It has a few stories to tell and I’ve can’t make sense of them.

IMG_0810Looking at the door, It is clear that the green paint is under the grained red paint. This is counter to what would be expected. In general faux grained finishes pre-date “institutional” green. The hardware is painted with both colors indicating that there is — probably — at least another color (the original color) underneath.

Another mystery is the row of orange dots under each bin pull/drawer pull. They were painted when the piece was “institutional” green.

These are the finishes that I seek out. These are the finishes that I collect. These are the finishes I strive to re-create.

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I did not go out and replace my Johnson’s Wax last night.  By the time my uke lesson knocked off and I ate dinner I had no use for it.  I’ll pick it up on the way home tonight.

I took a quick glance at a Google search for Johnson’s Wax yesterday afternoon and have a few additional observations.

I am a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work and once made a pilgrimage to Illisnois and Wisconsin to see his work.  I visited his home and studio in Oak Park. Illinois and Taliesin near Madison.  On the way home we stopped at the Johnson Wax Building in Milwaukee and were very surprised to find that the building was not open to the public.  We were met at a gate by a guard who kindly turned us away. It was clear that an empire had been built on Johnson’s Paste Wax.

In my recent web search for Johnson’s Paste Wax I first visited the manufacturer’s website and discovered (or was reminded) that Johnson Wax Company has dropped “wax” from the company name and added the founder’s initials.  At some point, when the popularity of wax as a household product and the company broadened its offerings it re-branded as S.C. Johnson Company.  In searching their own website I can find no mention of wax as a currently manufactured product.

I’m sure that this is the reason the the internet is full of forum postings warning of doom and gloom and that Johnson’s Paste Wax is no longer being manufactured and has gone the way of the New England Pilot Cracker (A truly tragic loss!).

Johnson’s Paste Wax is still readily available and (presumably) still manufactured.  (Perhaps S.C. Johnson has a giant tank filled with was that will supply the world until the demand is gone.)

It’s on the shelf of the Noblesville (IN) Ace Hardware and I know I spotted it in a big box store last week.  Websites offer one pound cans (a 20 year supply for my use) for $3 – $8.  I did find cases (6 cans) for $35 offered by a mail order warehouse offering products no longer manufactured.

I may have to buy 2 cans — just in case.

I think that’s quite enough about Johnson’s Paste Wax.

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The Wonders of Johnson’s Paste Wax

Last week I polished off my first can of Johnson’s Paste Wax.  I bought the can, over 20 years ago, before marriage and kids (barely).

At that time I was building shaker style furniture.  I was all about creating an authentic finish.  I began by dying the wood and following the dye with milk paint or oil rubbing varnish.  The piece was then distressed and painted pieces received a topcoat of rubbing varnish.  After the finish had hardened all was waxed and buffed to a nice, soft polish.

I love the stuff the moment I opened the can.  It smells of Mom’s and Grandma’s kitchens.  It smells of childhood playmate, Peter Anderson’s basement.  Peter moved to England before second grade.  With a little linseed oil it smells of the antique shops my mother haunted hen I was little.  These weren’t antique malls, but small shops in houses and barns across central Indiana, and mid-coast Maine.  These smells bring back intense emotional responses.

It feels good.  When applied by hand it softens and soaks into your hands an it covers the surfaces of floors, table and chairs.  When it drys it looks like wax.  It’s pasty and yellow and even a bit mealy.  With a spit (or spritz from a water bottle) and a buff it develops a soft, mellow, shiny protective surface.  If the surface wears or dulls, you simply apply more and buff again.  Finished surfaces develop a wonderful silky feeling that begs to be touched and stroked.

It brings colors live.  Milk paint is dull and flat when applied.  Under a coat of wax it POPS and glows under the shiny surface.

It protects surfaces from water.  It revives old dull surfaces.  It softens and renews leather.  It is a completely renewable surface that develops character as it is finished and refinished.

That first can has waxed dozens of chairs, tables, cabinets and picture frames.  It’s waxed shoes and countless ukuleles and guitars.  I can say with some authority that it has finished nearly 115 little carved birds.

Twenty years is a long time and my wax is gone.  Tonight I’ll pick up another can for my next twenty years’ work!

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