Canadian Woodworking
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Colour your world

Blog by Rob Brown
New Beer Tote

Not long ago, when someone mentioned painting wood, everyone just about lost their minds.

“Why on earth would you cover beautiful wood with paint?” was the typical response. Unless it was a piece of furniture in a country setting, paint was never supposed to come in contact with wood. When wood was used outdoors on a fence, deck or siding, the rules were relaxed, but the “no paint on furniture” rule was very clear.

Today, opinions have changed a bit, but not a whole lot. Sure, there are some makers, both professional and amateur, who are adding a small amount of paint to a few of their pieces, but for the most part you just see natural wood when you look at a piece of furniture.

A match made in heaven

Being a woodworker, I obviously love the look of natural wood with all its grain, colour variation and natural imperfections. I also like colour, and think wood and paint are made for one another. I enjoy a good hit of colour, and a bold colour can complement wood very nicely and provide a unique focal point to the project.

I’ve included a few projects in our pages over the years that featured colour. “Build a Wall Cabinet with a Sliding Door” ran in our Apr/May 2021 issue. “Build a Nook for Your Cat” appeared in our Apr/May 2020 issue. “Design and Build Curvy Doors” ran in Feb/March this year, and “Simple Mirror Frame with a Weathered Look” was included in our Oct/Nov 2016 issue. I’m sure there were other projects which included paint in them, too. Most of the paints I’ve used over the years have been milk paint, but some are either brush or spray-on opaque paints that completely obscure the wood.

Know when to draw the line

I prefer to add a hit of colour to only a part of the project. This approach gives you the best of both worlds, and even brings out the best of both wood and paint. Covering all of the wood in a furniture or décor project is something I never do.

I started making some Baltic birch beer totes earlier this week. I like the exposed edges that are left, and the simple look of the grain on the faces of the parts. Rather than leave it as-is, I opted for painting the curved edge of the handles bright colours. It proved tricky to keep paint off the rest of the part, but masking tape and some scrap plywood went a long way to creating a clear dividing line, while small amounts of errant paint could be removed with some light sanding. The simple colour and grain of the birch really makes the handle edge pop.

Other makers

I hope you’re not tired of John Glendinning’s work, after reading about it in my weekly column two weeks ago and checking out his work in the digital slideshow I put together for our website. John does a great job of mixing pleasing wood grains with complementary and vibrant colours. The results are striking.

Have you included any colour in the pieces you’ve made recently? Or have you noticed other makers using colour to brighten up projects? Share them here or send me an email. I always enjoy seeing what others are up to and learning about new makers.

New Beer Tote

The blue edge was a late addition, and I’m glad I thought of it.

New Beer Tote

Other Options

I made enough parts for a few totes, and even though it’s not assembled yet, one of the other handles has a fresh coat of magenta on it.

Other Options

A Rainbow of Colours

Aerosol spray cans come in a wide range of bold colours. This is my collection from over the years. You can also use regular latex paint, milk paint or other types of paint.

A Rainbow of Colours

Control Where It Goes

In order to keep as much paint as possible off the faces of the part, I used masking tape to get as close to the edge as possible, then used a scrap cut to the rough size and shape of the workpiece to cover the rest of the face. The lower face was protected because it was placed face-down on a board.

Control Where It Goes

Getting Creative

I also experimented with adding coloured dots, but that didn’t work out as well as I had hoped. A bit more playing around might leave me with a good approach though.

Getting Creative

Serving Board

This small production run by John Glendinning looks great, especially when on display together.

Serving Board

Small Box

This box by Glendinning almost looks like it’s lit from below, the paint is so energetic.

Small Box

Caddy Production Run

Another project by Glendinning, these caddies feature more muted colours than some of his other work.

Caddy Production Run
Published:
Last modified: October 13, 2023

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

4 Comments

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  2. I’ve been making pieces for my granddaughters since I retired. My daughter-in-law asked me to build a doll crib but also asked if I could make it pink and white to match another piece of furniture in their room. I was hesitant at first but I think it turned out great. I did leave the drawer interior and underside natural so the drawer would look, smell and slide better and give me a spot on the underside to wood-burn a special gift note from Poppa.

  3. Although I generally do not like to paint wood, I do at times do it. One thing that I have found to help make the water based paints that are common these days more durable on wood is to put a clear coat of water based polyurethane on them after they have dried. I have found that this not only makes the finish more durable but also keeps it from picking up dirt / grime and makes it much easier to clean when it does.

  4. Another way to add colour is to mix the species in a single project; Pau amarallo (yellow wood), padauk, purple heart, ebony,, zebra-wood, and so many others added to contrast with the primary species in the build all compliment and take the piece to a higher level in my opinion. Plus by doing so, all is natural; “no grain is obscured in the making of this project”! Win, win!!

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