Hand painted furniture specialist in Ireland talks natural wood finishes
Adam Bermingham is a hand painted furniture specialist covering Ireland. With a background in antiques, he knows all about the natural beauty of wood.
Take a look around my website and you will see a lot of different paint finishes. The name of this website is My Hand Painted Furniture.com, so you may be surprised to learn that –
a) I am the biggest fan of natural wood finishes
b) The paints I use on parts of my furniture, or in some cases all of it, are to enhance the natural character, not hide it.
What lays behind furniture painting…
Hand painting furniture, for me, is not an exercise in concealment, but one of vision. If every piece that came into my workshop was of 17th century English oak, I would never open another can of paint as long as I lived. However, as I do not live in this dreamworld, I attempt to make each piece I work on the best it can be.
Now my taste might not be the same as yours, but to my eyes this…
is a massive improvement on this…
So what I’m trying to get across is that I leave as much natural timber exposed as I think the piece needs, and I almost always leave the top, on tables or cabinets like the one above, natural.
It’s oil and wax for this furniture painter
I come from a diverse background. My first job was in an Auction House, and I worked for many years in the antiques trade in Essex, England. That is where my love for furniture started and grew.
My whole time in Ireland has been spent in the Painting and Decorating trade. Hence my business is a combination of the two paths I have taken.
For many years I used all types of varnish both inside and outside people’s homes, but when it comes to furniture I try to stay away from varnish as much as possible. For me, it is all about natural products, such as oils and waxes.
Prepare a timber surface for waxing or oiling
To bring out the natural beauty of timber, preparation and attention to detail is the key. Many of the pieces that come into my workshop have factory finishes on them. What I mean by that is production-line sprayed polyurethane or other such finishes. These must be completely removed if you want to achieve the best results.
This is an example of one such piece. A coffee table made of an exotic Far Eastern hardwood. Don’t ask me to name it, maybe one of you can? I would be impressed.
That dark stain bears no resemblance to the timber underneath as you will see.
As you can see, my orbital sander is sitting there ready to go. 60 grit paper to quickly remove the finish. You could try and do this by hand if you have a lot of time and weight-lifter arms, but really an electric sander is a must for this type of work.
Once you are back to bare timber move up through the grades of paper, in this case 80, 120, 240. I like then to give a final rub over by hand with a fine sanding pad, just for that extra smoothness.
It may be necessary to fill cracks or holes, but do this after you have removed the factory finish with 60 grit. Leave the filler to cure rock hard, maybe overnight, then continue sanding with 80 grit. Be sure to remove all the filler residue from the surface, and always use a high quality wood filler. I use Famowood professional wood filler, which is a good all rounder, and being a medium shade, I rarely need to tint it, plus it sands well.
Oiling prepared timber
Next, my go-to finish in the workshop… boiled linseed oil. I would highly recommend it for all hard woods, and on any timber it’s great. If you like that natural finish it’s ideal, because it is water repellent and as you can see from the pictures below it really makes the grain “pop”, revealing the wood’s natural attributes.
Just wipe it on with a lint-free cloth (something you might use on a flat screen TV) and leave to dry. In many cases for extra protection I will then apply two coats of natural bee’s wax and buff to a mid sheen finish, but this is optional, as many of my pieces are for sale and need to be transported. Below are a couple of examples…
This piece has an oak veneer top. It had a walnut wood-dye applied and then it was knocked back with 000 wire wool. I think the finish is stunning.
Remember that coffee table with the dark uninspired finish? Well, look what delights were underneath.
In a few hours and a bit of hard work, love care and attention, these are the results that can be achieved… and you can do it too.
All you need is sandpaper, wood-filler and linseed oil. Oh, and that coffee table you don’t like any more and were thinking of taking to the charity shop.
I will be posting further examples of wood finishes and what you can do with your tired, old furniture. If you have any questions, contact me, or maybe post on the Traditional painter forum, where you can get a wide range of expert ideas and suggestions.
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