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Creating Custom Finishes

Custom green dye, Danish oil and shellac

I have written before about conservation framing, the materials used and the standards to be upheld. Now I’d like to talk a little more about some of the products and techniques I use to create my own unique custom finishes.

Although I can offer the same off-the-shelf mouldings that other framers stock, most of the frames I make are constructed from raw Tasmanian Oak, finished with non-toxic, food and child-safe dyes, oils and waxes. This is in part simply because it is how I prefer to work – it’s a skill I enjoy exercising – but it also allows me to tailor the frame to the artwork it is to house. Like most framers, I have an array of corner samples on display to help clients compare various combinations of mouldings and matts, but often unique works of art require a more personalised approach, particularly if the client is looking for something a little bolder than the average wood tone. One of the reasons I prefer to use U-Beaut’s water-based dyes is that they come in a range of simple but bold colours, ideal for mixing and creating my own tones. Even better, these dyes are completely non-toxic and food safe which makes them much more pleasant to use than commercial stains, which are invariably highly toxic and give off nasty fumes.

Preparing some samples for a client

To deepen the colour and offer an initial layer of protection, I usually add a coat of Organoil’s Danish Oil. It has a pleasant citrus scent and, although it is classified as a potential skin irritant in its liquid state, it is non-toxic and food safe once it has dried. To top things off, I apply one or two coats of U-Beaut’s Traditional Wax. This is another non-toxic and food safe product which protects the timber and can be buffed with a soft rag to create a nice sheen.

Another reason I prefer to work this way is that any damage to the finish on the frame can be easily fixed. Off-the-shelf mouldings, usually made from some sort of engineered wood with a thin outer coating of “finish”, chip easily and cannot be touched up. My frames, by contrast, are more durable and can be sanded back to the original wood and re-finished entirely if required and any loss of sheen over time can be rejuvenated with a light coating of wax and a quick buff.

Other finishing products I regularly use include India ink, shellac and even black tea. I also offer a selection of specialised finishes including liming, French polishing (with either shellac or beeswax), a Danish soap finish (characteristic of modern Danish furniture) and ebonizing, a non-toxic chemical process which blackens timber without the use of dyes or pigments. I'll talk about some of these finishes in future posts.

A selection of the custom tones available

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