Contrasts & Harmony – Going Beneath the Veneer
My last post touched upon the relationship between color and wood/soil/mulch in nature and how balancing the two in a given design is something I like to achieve by using milk paint directly over a previously finished piece of wood-toned furniture. In these cases, since the milk paint likes to resist adhering to some areas and therefore naturally flakes off, the natural wood color will peak through the brilliant or more neutral hues of the paint, creating a beautiful harmonic contrast. In other words, the lights and darks work together in perfect harmony! I knew I wanted to showcase this in my next post. We will soon see….
In comes a curvy little accent table with the same wood tones as the Bayberry Dresser and Hope Chest to which I had already given a redesign. Those tones look gorgeous with Bayberry, but as much as I love it, a little voice in my head whispered I should step away from favorites for fear of over-doing their fun. Plus, my little supply was empty, and I wanted to use what paint was on-hand. I pulled out Sea Green which I had only used on one of my first pieces, and I remember it being somewhat dark. I decided to go with it and knew I could lighten it with Snow White if necessary.
Well, that accent table was a little beauty, but its top had a missing piece of veneer at the front corner, with a sub-layer that was loose. I could have glued it down and filled-in with wood putty, but I had recently read about a great method of using hot towels to remove veneer.. and another one using a hair dryer… and another using an iron…… I decided to go for it. Well, little beauty had no intention of giving up her veneer without a fight.
I started using my putty knife, laying it at the loose end at a very slight angle from the horizontal and then gently hit the end with a hammer just to get under it. Once there, I lowered it to horizontal and whacked with great gusto, hoping to loosen a nice long strip. Ummmm….no. About one inch later the putty knife said, “I’m done”, and broke through to the surface, leaving behind a tiny piece to peel away and loads of splintered pieces remaining in the underlayer.
I tried laying down the hot towels for period of time, tried heating-up the putty knife with the hair dryer, and continued this futile process for about 15 more minutes, getting nowhere fast. My heart started beating faster, and I began to sweat with panic….what have I done??? Clearly I have intentionally ruined the top of this piece, and there’s no turning back! It was only one small little piece, I should have just filled it…..stop. Enough with the second-guessing. As my Dad taught me, there is always a way. Forge ahead. I viewed my little progress to date and calculated about how long it would take to remove the whole thing. Too long. Usually when I hit a roadblock or things are taking too long, I think maybe there’s another solution to the design?? Sure I could labor through and remove the whole top and work some cool but expected treatment….. But what fun is the norm??
As lots of ideas like to show their brilliance by bursting forth upon the scene unexpectedly, this one proved to follow suit…all at once! Why not remove only a portion of the veneer, allow the raw wood underneath to shine with a stain, paint the remaining veneered area the same as the body, then….here’s the even more spectacularly awesome part….use one of my historic reproductions stencils across the top, and with milk paint, change the color from light over the painted area to dark over the stained area. There you go! Done! Forge ahead indeed! Now I would further be able to illustrate my contrast and harmony theme!
I was so happy and so confident with this decision that it made my remaining veneer removal so much easier. Plus, I found the combination that worked for me: laying down a wet thin flannel baby towel from my rag bag and a steam iron.
I love curves in designs and wanted to echo the curves of the piece so I first free-handed a curve from the front side to the opposite side. Then with a utility knife and fresh blade (the veneer was more than 1/16” thick), I began to score the line and would have to continue to re-score a little at a time as I moved along the curve. I laid down the wet towel just inside the edge of the curve (I didn’t want the veneer to soften and lift on the side that was to remain) and placed the steam iron right up to the edge of the towel and held for just under a minute. I tried shorter times, but again, this particular veneer (and probably the age and quality of the table) was stuck on sticking! It was a great feeling as I steamed, hammered in the putty knife right up to the edge, and watched as the veneer lifted in a perfect curve, little by oh-so-little but wonderfully just the same.
After all was removed, I still steamed over the towel on the raw wood in order to loosen the remaining glue. I let the wood dry for several hours and then taped off and stained the raw wood with Minwax Gel Stain in Mahogany and painted the veneered portion in The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company’s Sea Green (I decided not to lighten it).
Because eight hours of drying time was necessary between coats of stain, I painted the remaining body and top with a total of two coats of paint, and then a final coat of stain was applied to the top the next day.
Finally ready for the stencils, I chose one for the top that again, would follow the table’s curves as well as my scored line. The one that fit the bill was a floor stencil (circa 1740-1840) as seen in the Edward Cutler House of Warren, Rhode Island.
I really love to highlight the exterior sides of the drawers since they usually look bare and forlorn when pulled out as compared to a fresh new body redesign. I opted for a petite border wall stencil as seen in the Rich Hollow Tavern located in East Montpelier, Vermont.
Stenciling with milk paint does offer its challenges as it is inherently thinner than acrylic-based paints, and thinner means the chance of bleeding under the stencil. I therefore made very small amounts of Snow White that would be for the painted area, and a mixture of Pitch Black, Driftwood, and Snow White for the stained area and for the drawer sides. I added very little water, just enough to make a creamy paste. Using a stenciling foam brush, I dabbed a bit of paint to the brush, worked it in with a spiraling motion onto a paper plate, blotted it on a paper towel, then….held my breath and began to stencil – better to have it dry and add more than chance it bleeding! Which mine did (Shh!!) in a couple spots, but I recovered by touching up a few blurred areas. I quickly learned as I went, adjusting amount of paint and pressure of pouncing/swirling, until I got the desired effect. Which came out exactly as I envisioned (once I finally had the vision remember)! Don’t you just love it when that happens?!
Milk paint drys very quickly, especially with such a skim coat as stenciling, so it was then off to putting sand-paper to the wood which can be pretty darn scary when you’ve just stenciled a pretty design! I tend to do a lot of praying and breath-holding for these projects I’ve noticed, but milk-paint drys with a fine gritty texture, and hitting it with 400-grit sandpaper literally turns it to silky-smoothness. It is oh-so-worth it, so it makes sanding your design just one of those things in which you have to have faith.
Last step was sealing it. Many times I sand over a liberal coat of hemp oil to achieve that smoothness, but my supply was low, so I chose clear wax. I recently ordered Tung oil and am looking forward to trying that out as well. Using a lint-free cloth, I worked in areas and applied a thin coat of wax, rubbed it in well, and immediately wiped it off. Can I tell you just one more reason that I love milk paint?? Wax deepens the color of paint, but with milk paint, it brings out all that wonderful variation in and depth of color that makes each project unique. I forgot to mention that after I stenciled, I could actually see the crystalline silica in the paint sparkle, perhaps more noticeable in the Snow White and Pitch Black colors. …So sparkly beautiful.
I love milk paint because it’s not forced. The depth and variation and if desired, chippiness, just happens. And speaking of chippiness, remember how I had wanted to showcase the contrast of wood with paint in the way milk paint behaves when no bonding agent is used in the first coat? Well true to the unexpected surprises that milk paint is known for bringing (a challenge that I welcome!), little beauty did not want to chip except for a couple of very minor areas.
Slightly sanding the major edges brought out some of the gold wood tones which paired beautifully with the Sea Green. And you know what? I think chipping would have made the overall design too busy. And after buffing off the wax as the final step, I was amazed at the high sheen that was immediately apparent. It restored my faith in wax and gave little beauty the protection she needs for her brand new redesign!
Hope you enjoyed reading, and I would love to hear from you if you have any comments or questions!
Have a great day!