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Notes From The 'Net

By Doug Evans, With Loren Woodard and Matt Kelley

Recently, Mr. Cottonwood Bark, Alex Bisso, asked a question about cottonwood bark. Imagine that! Alex wanted to know about keeping the strength of cottonwood bark and adding some color. Alex asked :

I have a question about finishing a cottonwood bark carving that I would like to get some input on.  The piece I am working on is fairly delicate and the bark is soft.  Although I am thinking of adding a little color wash in some places, I want to first apply a heavy spray of Deft.  I like the deft and think that when applied as an initial coat it tends to penetrate into the bark and do a good job of binding and strengthening it.  In my mind probably better than a gel or tung oil varnish.  (Is that a reasonable contention?).  I want a very light wash of color and have not been to please the way watered-down acrylics work for this.  I know it is OK to apply a gel or tung oil varnish to the bark and then use it as a medium for artist oil paints to add some color – but is it OK to do this after an initial coat of Deft (somehow I think not). 

Pat Sherman was the first to reply to answer part of Alex’s question:

Alex,  I  have used super glue to strengthen bark. before finishing it. and I have used sanding sealer also. It seems to toughen it up some.

Jack Jellies add his thoughts:

For what it's worth I also use really thin superglue to strengthen but then I like to use thinned oils for any added color. You can control the viscosity of oils really well and even add cobalt to it if you want a fast set-up. Still, the dry time is longer, but then coating with laquer is a breeze.

Don Heuerman did not like the idea of mixing oils with Deft. Don advised:

I would not try to mix artist oil colors with deft.   Deft is a lacquer and it is not compatible with oil color.  You can spray Deft over a oil color after it is dry but they don't mix together.  I like using a tungseal varnish to mix the oil color in and can get a good wash that way.  Then after it is dry I like to put a fine coat of Deft over it.

Andre J responded:

For what it's worth I also use really thin superglue to strengthen but then I like to use thinned oils for any added color. You can control the viscosity of oils really well and even add cobalt to it if you want a fast set-up. Still, the dry time is longer, but then coating with laquer is a breeze. I wouldn't paint on top of laquer myself though a quick coat might be ok. I've also used sanding sealer...very lightly before painting and that has held up well

Regular contributor Byron Kinnaman has another angle for adding color:

For strengthening super glue works pretty good.   I like to use boot cream to add color.  You can get just about any color you like.  Work it in, buff it out a few times then finish with a couple coats natural.   Leaves a nice satin finish that feels soft, and is pleasant to look at.

Faye Burden had yet another approach ( I saw pictures of this and it looked great !)

The finish turned out quite well. I used Watco Danish Oil... applying a heavy coat. Then I allow that to wait over night and the next day I thin my artist oil paints and apply them. I did this twice. After waiting a few days for this to dry, I then sprayed it with about 5 or 6 coats of Krylon clear flat finish.
(Editor - see Faye’s excellent bark carving HERE.)

Ivan Whillock added his much-valued observations:

I've used oil paint over lacquer.  After observing the technique used in Italy, I've often used the process of sandwiching oil paint between two coats of lacquer-based finish. 
I'd usually brush on the first coat of Deft to make sure that all the recesses were covered.  When that is dry, which doesn't take long, you paint your carving with artist's oil paints.  You immediately wipe off the excess  paint, letting it merely stain the surface rather than hide it.  You can control the density and transparency of the color by the amount of oil paint you leave on the surface, either wiping most of it off with a cloth or evenly distributing a thicker layer  with a  brush.  When you're satisfied with the density/distribution of color, you immediately spray the whole carving with a coat of Deft.  Spraying is preferred with the second covering as brushing may disturb the still-wet oil paint.  The top layer of Deft dries the oil paint quickly, giving you a dry-to-the-touch carving in minutes.
The first layer of lacquer forms a barrier so that the paint is not absorbed into the wood so you can wipe off as much as you want.  The last coat of lacquer binds the paint to the first coat of lacquer.  If you must thin the oil paint, do so as little as necessary with terp or mineral spirits.  Again, the oil paint is used more as a stain than an opaque cover over the wood. 

While I've not tried the process on bark, it works well on wood and lets you create a quick oil-paint finish that lets the grain show through--or not if you prefer to use thicker or opaque colors--adding white, for example, makes a color more opaque..  Unlike some water-based techniques, this process does not raise the grain and lets you keep the color transparent so the the wood shows through.  As you know, oil  paint  doesn't lighten or darken as it dries, so the color that you apply is the color  you get when it is dry.
The finish on carvings on which I've used this process, starting in 1989, still look fine today,
*The usual disclaimers apply: your results may vary.  Also, as always, test EVERYTHING on a scrap of the material you plan to use before you put it on a carving you spent hours to make.
Ivan Whillock Studio
Faribault, MN 

That's all for now - but keep those great ideas coming, and share them on your favorate carving list.

Doug Evans (aka the Woodologist)

StaffPlease take some time and check out the wood carving lists on the Internet. There is a lot of knowledge free for the asking on all of the list serves.

For information regarding the various email lists for woodcarvers, visit The Carvers' Companion Resource Files, or click the links below.


Woodcarver's List - Woodcarving Fun -- Knotholes List - Fishcarving List2 -- House of Woodcarving

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