by Ross O'Neal
Article is Courtesy of O'Neal
Coatings Inc. Artists & Gilders Faux Studio.
PREPARATION OF GRAINING LIQUIDS
Water or Distemper Graining
In the nineteenth century beer was
often used for tempering that is mixing the graining medium. The weak glutinous
nature of beer makes it fit for spreading and binding the pigment to the surface.
Distemper has the advantage of extremely quick drying. It is also very easy
to use it to produce subtle soft mottles or coloration's to different types
of wood. The old painter used dry pigments (which are still available). These
are the actual dry powders of natural earth or synthetic pigments. He would
add to these "thinners" to thin them or mix them. These thinners would be either
oil based or water based. When water based, we use 1/3 to 1/2 stale beer to
2/3 to 1/2 clear water. I personally believe the beers of olden times were
much stronger than today's beer. I have used pure lite beer with good results
but have read in old manuals this could cause cracking.
If beer cannot be used, use 1/3 Heinz
malt vinegar to 2/3 water to make a good thinner. If malt vinegar cannot be
located, just plain apple cider vinegar will work. If the binder in the beer
or vinegar is not sufficient, a bit of sugar will help bind it to the work,
or you can also use skimmed milk. Although this water color technique has certain
advantages such as the best clarity and depth. I have found that unless the
binding medium is very strong, it will melt when you apply your graining liquid
over it unless it is sealed with shellac. Now there are ways around this that
we teach in our classes.
Shellac works well because it seals
the surface, so after the water color has dried apply a light fog coat of clear
shellac to tack it down. This can be applied by spray. It's possible to buy
clear shellac in aerosol cans also. These work fine on small areas. If done
correctly you can also easily brush the surface with shellac also, there are
a few tips on doing this we teach in our classes. Shellac, being alcohol based,
will not melt with the application of water color. Let's say the wood grain
is done completely in water color then seal it and apply another coat of water
color right over it to do a different effect. Without the shellac, the first
coat will dissolve by the application of the second.
If you are using a lacquer system
(lacquer primer, ground coat and finish coats) the clear lacquer works very
well to seal the water colors between applications. It is best to thin it 1:1
with lacquer thinner for this purpose.
Please keep in mind that the methods
described here are not the way we teach you in our classes but are for general
use. The methods we use in our classes are much quicker and produce much better
results. We do use all mediums in our classes so you have a opportunity to
have a feel how they all work. So you can decide which you like best.
OIL COLOR GRAINING
As in the case of water colors, the
old time grainer referred to oil thinners as that part of graining liquid minus
the dry powdered colors. An old recipe found in William Walls book for this
is as follows: Take 2/5 gallon raw linseed oil; 3/5 gallon spirits of turpentine.
To this add 1/2 pint good liquid (Japan) drier and 2/3 of 1 ounce yellow beeswax.
Cut the wax into shavings and melt in a tin can over a gas jet or fire. When
the wax is melted take from the fire and add slowly about one pint of turpentine
and pour while warm into thinners previously mixed.
This produces a relatively clear
graining liquid which will serve very well when added to the dry pigments as
needed. The only problem is when combed it will tend to run back together.
For this reason it is necessary to use a meglip.
"Meglip". This is a strange word
but it has a very necessary part in all this. In imitating woods, especially
in oil color and especially oak. We need something more than the colors and
thinners to prevent the work from flowing together after being combed or wiped
out. Such a preparation is known as a meglip. This will alter the density of
the color without drastically altering its shade and allow the combed or wiped
out work to remain just as you leave it.
An old recipe for meglip which seems
to be standard: Take eight ounces of sugar of lead (zinc white works) and eight
ounces of rotten stone. Grind them together as stiffly as possible in linseed
oil; then take 16 ounces of white beeswax, (yellow will also work) melt it
gradually, and when fluid, pour in eight ounces of spirits of turpentine and
it will form an excellent meglip.
Wall said in his opinion it is unwise
to use more than one ounce of meglip to a gallon of oil color. The problem
is that if too much wax is used, it only retards the drying of the work, but
the varnish will not stick to it. I have been told on occasion that when using
water color, if you want to make a meglip for water color, the addition of
gum arabic will serve this purpose.
This above formula will work well,
especially when you want a graining liquid with clarity and bright color. The
following is our modern day version using oil stains as our basis. This formula
works very well, but it is not as clear as the above one using dry colors.
It is as follows (This particular
one is for a medium to dark oak using heavy bodied interior stains. When I
say heavy bodied, I mean that 1/2 or more of the stain is pigment.): 1 quart
medium Oak Stain; 2 quarts American Walnut Stain; 1-1/2 - 2 quarts Glazing
Liquid; 3/4 quart turpentine; 2 quart's urethane varnish, any brand; 1 quart
antifreeze, for a thicker and extender. To adjust this formula you can do the
following: To adjust color: Merely adjust color of stain used or add additional
To make it more transparent: Use
less stains or colors, and add more varnish (urethane works well); or add antifreeze
(antifreeze is mostly glycol that combines, but is inert and merely works as
an extender and a thicker). To make dry faster; add Japan drier; rarely a problem.
To make set up slower (so you can work it); Add kerosene to thin instead of
turps 10-20% is about right. If you really want it to slow down, add a bit
of dish soap, but be careful. You could extend the dry time by months if you
add too much.
1 part glazing Liquid, 1 part paint
thinner, 2 part's penetrol, 1/3 part boiled linseed oil, 1/3 part kerosene.
Fractional amount white alkyd paint to better absorb tint. In addition, oil
colors or universal tint to color.
1 part latex paint, 2 parts water.
This can be reduced to 10 part's water but the finish becomes weaker. However,
you can add acrylic polyurethane in place of some water to make it stronger.
1 part paint, 1 part flotrol, 1 part
acrylic polyurethane and 20% antifreeze
It is hard to say why we call it "rubbing
in." This is the term we give the actual application of the graining liquid
or glaze. This could be in the form of any glaze for any wood. In the old days
most of the graining was done in water using the traditional glaze over oil
base coats. Many times if the surface was not sanded properly or from contamination
of oils on the surface the beer glaze would ciss. This could be corrected by
wiping down the surface with fuller's earth or scrubbing the surface with the
abrasive nature of the dry pigments in the glaze to stop this, so this may
be where the term derived.
In most instances we want glaze to
be very thin and subtle so, consequently, the procedure is more like rubbing
than painting. When rubbing in oil color, care should be taken to make sure
your surfaces have been sanded lightly with 320 or so. After dusting off your
surfaces, apply your oil color to only a small area at a time. A good 3 inch
bristle sash tool seems to work well for this purpose. For example, you would
probably do a six panel door in the following order, and grain each panel before
moving on to the next:
Notice that joints in the door are
made exactly where they would normally occur. We work from top to bottom and
left to right. Notice it is much easier to grain a section of wood and then
wipe off the excess on the ends than it is to grain up to a finish board with
grain running the opposite direction. In other words, you do not want to have
to grain horizontally up to a board that is vertical and still wet. I use a
piece of 80 grit sand paper shellacked on the back as a shield.
On a larger object, such as a wall
or a flush door with only one surface and no natural breaks, we need to plan
our breaks in logical areas where there would normally be unions in the wood.
For example, if you have a flush door four feet by twelve feet to grain you
should have no problem on your base coats. When you grain an area like this
is just too much to do all at once, so you would first tape off the door into
three equal areas.
Put the tape on securely, but not
so securely as to remove the paint later. Then continue to grain the end panels,
after which you can do the middle panel. If it is a hot enough day, you can
put your tape right back on the graining after about two or three hours. If
not, just grain right up to the border of the first two panels, being careful
not to get any graining liquid on the side panels. You would need to cut a
very straight line up to your grained end panels.
If you use the tape, you will need
to place the edge of the tape 1/16 inch from the edge to leave a small bit
of graining showing and not have any ungrained areas in your joint. You may
also use a piece of 80 grit sand paper as a guard or shield to protect the
areas as you work.
The graining liquid should always
be applied, or at least laid off, in the same direction as the grain of the
wood. It is important to apply an even, yet thin, coat of graining liquid.
If too much is applied then the combing will appear thick and ropy, and when
combed will run back together. It is usually advisable to apply a thin coat
of paint thinner to your work with a rag before rubbing it in. This seems to
lubricate the surface and enable you to apply the graining liquid thinner and
more evenly, especially on large unbroken surfaces.
Timing is of the utmost importance.
If the graining liquid sets up too fast, the combs do not go through it easily
or remove all the graining liquid. If this happens, you need to clean off the
section completely and start all over. If graining over a glossy surface that
has been sanded, but still makes the graining liquid creep and crawl, then
washing down your surface with a little Fullers earth will rectify the problem.
RUBBING IN WATER COLOR
I have found that a good nylon sash
tool seems to work the best to apply water color. As mentioned, water colors
dry fast, so we need to plan our areas on our work carefully. On a hot day
or in the sun, water colors are almost unusable because they dry to fast. Only
limited areas are possible under these circumstances. If we are doing a door,
we need to section it off like the previous drawing, working top to bottom
and left to right. Once the water color is dry it turns a very light, dusty
color, quite different from what it will look like after it has been sealed.
Once you seal it, you have bought it.
So it is very important to do it
right, and if you are not sure you like your work, redo it simply by washing
it off with a damp rag or sponge, rather than sealing it with lacquer or shellac.
Then you have to keep it or begin over. It is therefore important to keep a
wet edge as you work even more than working with oil colors. Only those areas
you are capable of finishing before it dries. Do the upper areas just because,
unless it is sealed, your work is easily ruined by a drip of water color from
You will need these tools for oak
graining in oil color: Rubbing in brush, badger blender, rubber combs, rubber
rollers, fitch or liner, erasers, rags, and steel combs. Oak graining is probably
the most widely used of the different woods to be imitated. It can be represented
in a light natural oak color to a very dark walnut color and anywhere in between.
Here's how to choose your ground color. For light oak, use yellow ochre or
raw sienna and a bit of burnt sienna in white to make a buff color.
For dark oak use yellow ochre, raw
sienna and burnt umber. By varying these colors the ground color can be as
dark as necessary. Sometimes you may see it represented as quartered oak or
plain sliced or other cuts, depending on how your piece of wood was cut. It
is best to get a sample of the real wood stained the exact color you wish to
represent before beginning. Choose your ground color carefully and remember
it's better to be a bit lighter than too dark.
This is the first step after the
ground coat to approximate your wood grain. The purpose of the antique is to
add texture to the background of your wood. Look at your piece of oak and notice
how the background has a texture to it. Notice the lines and variance nature
has spent years to make. You can see here that mere graining over paint or
putting in your figures and combing in your grain leaves too stark a background.
Therefore, it is advisable that we apply the antique just over the ground color.
The antique can be made as follows:
50% Glazing Liquid
50% Turps or thinner I prefer turpentine
as do many of my contemporaries
Colorant, either colors in oil or
Note: If you use dry colors are used
they are very abrasive but do leave a very good texture. Their abrasive nature
leads toward wearing out the tools very fast. If you are doing a large area
such as a wall or a flush door, you might use 10% kerosene and 40% turps or
thinner to slow down your dry time.
This antique can be applied in any
manner from brush, roller or spray. In doing a larger area spraying on thin
coats works best. Once you have it on we need to draw lines in your work with
a coarse 4-5 inch bristle or horsehair brush. The idea is to have a streaky
finish with fairly predominant lines as a background for your oil color oak
graining that follows. Using the oil antique above gives us much more time
to work on it than water colors, but we need to wait until the next day before
we can work on it. If we use water colors for our antique (see recipe for water
colors) then it dries very fast and can be sealed immediately with shellac
and then you are ready to grain. You will notice either way, that the way you
hold your brush, the pressure exerted, etc., determines how the antique looks.
By pushing firmly down on the bristles near the stock of the brush a very coarse
effect is obtained. By pushing lightly on the tips a very soft antique is achieved.
Remember to keep your joints clean.
Wipe them off completely with a rag because when it dries, it is permanent.
Where inside corners are a problem a dry brush will take out unwanted glaze.
Apply in the same order as we discussed in the rubbing section. Remember the
antique has to go in the same direction as the grain you are putting on next.
The actual graining liquid (oil color) is very transparent and will show most
imperfections so do a neat, clean job.
PLAIN SLICED OAK
(Also called center core or heart
This is the pattern one would see
if he cut a tree through the center longitudinally. It is very popular and
is used a lot in oak graining. It is easy to imitate and with very little practice
the beginner can master this technique proficiently. There are three basic
ways to draw heart grain:
1) With the rubber rollers, which
looks very amateurish
2) Drawing in the heart grain with
a liner (small brush) by hand preferred method
3) Combing out the heart grain with
a rubber comb or rag a good alternative
The first way is by far the easiest
and most used for beginners work. It produces a grain pattern that most people
can live with if they have never seen it done the other ways. Rub in your panel
as described, remembering not to put on your graining liquid too heavily and
then take your rubber roller firmly in your two hands. Place the smallest circle
of the roller between your two thumbs or slightly above. Now firmly roll the
roller over the panel, scraping off the glaze. Your fingers never leave the
exact spot of the roller that you began on.
By adjusting the position of the
roller you can create different widths of patterns. Most are using the smaller
patterned rubber roller to start with. This roller has the most desirable effect
for a larger open grained heart grain. For a slightly different pattern you
may try the other rubber rollers with the slightly larger grain pattern. The
third type of rubber roller is for quarter sawn effects, but does not work
very well. It is not used in the same manner as the other two, but is simply
rolled over the surface rather than scraping off the glaze. They come in a
package of three and are included together.
Another type of rubber roller is
the Embee Graining Tool (white with brown handle). It is a little gadget and
can be used in a number of ways. On narrower widths of panel this tool produces
a heart grain. It can be dismantled and rolled up in a tight ball to produce
a small very tight heart grain. Most of the worst graining I see are done with
this. After you have run your rubber roller through your rubbed-in panel to
your liking, next comb out the rest of your panel.
Remember your grain will vary from
wide near the center of the tree to narrow near the edges. The next comb to
use would be the one with the wide teeth and preferably variable in that not
all teeth are equally spaced. The larger side of your graduated tooth rubber
comb is suited perfectly for this. Run it through firmly and turn it around
for the other side of your heart grain. Next use a smaller comb for the tighter
grain on the outer portion of your panel. Then soften your grain by combing
it through your combed areas only. Next soften your grain very softly with
your fine side of your soft rubber triangular comb, run through back and forth
at about an angle of one o'clock, wiping your comb with a rag after each pass.
This produces a very soft, real looking
combed portion of your work. Next blend your center heart grain with your badger
blender softly in the direction of the center of your figure. The lines should
not overlap. If they do wipe them out and draw them in with your liner. Then
Pull lines to a sharp clean edge.
This gives a very realistic look. There is no need to blend the area that has
been combed with your badger blender. Next you need to put in your pores with
your check roller. Apply your graining liquid sparingly and roll your check
roller over your work. The imprint of the little checks leaves a very convincing
pattern to the center of your heart grain.
The next way to imitate heart grain
is by simply drawing it with a brush. First, rub in your panel and then wipe
off the heart area with a piece of burlap drawing in your grain over it. Then
it is blended with the badger blender it will pull off some of the under glaze
and produce a very natural effect of lighter areas between your grains. This
kind of heart grain works well on narrow or square panels or on large or wider
panels. It is necessary to either do a good job of blending your combing into
it or by hand drawing your side grain in with a brush. Drawing in grain will
produce a very good effect, but it can take a long time unless you shown how
to do this properly.
The third way to imitate heart grain
is the way many of the old time grainers of the nineteenth century used to
do it. That is by combing it out. They used leather, but rubber will do even
better. This way is the most difficult and can be time consuming, but it is
very handsome when done well. Only much painstaking practice will suffice in
learning this procedure. It would do well to see some of this type of graining
or a natural board of plain sliced oak preferably with knots before trying
this type of graining. The old master grainer would do it completely with a
few combs and his blender and produce very striking results. One of my dear
friends Robert Woodland of England does a beautiful job using this method.
THE VENTURI TUBE
In studying various examples of nineteenth
century oak graining as described above, there is often a very soft "sprayed
on" portion of the knots. Most knots have darker areas around them but they
are very subtle. It is difficult to draw them in without any spray tools? Spray
tools were not invented until much later. Early grainers devised a neat little
gadget called a venturi tube (or mouth pipe). When held upright and blown through
the air passing through the top tube. This would pull some of the thinned paint
mixture of an appropriate darker color up through the bottom tube and display
it on the work in a very delicate atomized manner.
Today we can use an airbrush with
the same results, as well as being able to do larger areas if desired. It is
best to wait until the work is finished and dry before attempting this procedure
on your first attempt. Because, if the darker areas applied are not to our
liking, we can wipe them off and begin over. This procedure works best with
an oil glaze.
COMBING OAK WOODS
The combing of oak woods can be mastered
with a bit of practice. It would smart for the beginner well to have a few
pieces of the real wood to look at while graining or at least a few good photographs.
An oak floor is a great help when trying to discover new patterns. Do not be
discouraged if your work is not as handsome as the real wood. For most it will
never be. At best most can be only a close second place. Nature has the quality,
but we have time on our side. It took nature years to make a tree and we can
grain it in minutes.
In straight combing of oak woods,
you can see how the grain varies from very straight to very wavy as well as
from very tight to very large. Experiment on the different patterns.
Web Site: O'Neal
Coatings Inc. Artists & Gilders Faux Studio.