Artists & Gilders Decorative Studio
Ross O'Neal Inc.

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Water or Distemper Graining
In the nineteenth century beer was often used for tempering that is mixing the graining medium. The weak glutinous nature of beer makes it fit for spreading and binding the pigment to the surface. Distemper has the advantage of extremely quick drying. It is also very easy to use it to produce subtle soft mottles or coloration's to different types of wood. The old painter used dry pigments (which are still available). These are the actual dry powders of natural earth or synthetic pigments. He would add to these "thinners" to thin them or mix them. These thinners would be either oil based or water based. When water based, we use 1/3 to 1/2 stale beer to 2/3 to 1/2 clear water. I personally believe the beers of olden times were much stronger than today's beer. I have used pure lite beer with good results but have read in old manuals this could cause cracking.

If beer cannot be used, use 1/3 Heinz malt vinegar to 2/3 water to make a good thinner. If malt vinegar cannot be located, just plain apple cider vinegar will work. If the binder in the beer or vinegar is not sufficient, a bit of sugar will help bind it to the work, or you can also use skimmed milk. Although this water color technique has certain advantages such as the best clarity and depth. I have found that unless the binding medium is very strong, it will melt when you apply your graining liquid over it unless it is sealed with shellac. Now there are ways around this that we teach in our classes.

Shellac works well because it seals the surface, so after the water color has dried apply a light fog coat of clear shellac to tack it down. This can be applied by spray. It's possible to buy clear shellac in aerosol cans also. These work fine on small areas. If done correctly you can also easily brush the surface with shellac also, there are a few tips on doing this we teach in our classes. Shellac, being alcohol based, will not melt with the application of water color. Let's say the wood grain is done completely in water color then seal it and apply another coat of water color right over it to do a different effect. Without the shellac, the first coat will dissolve by the application of the second.

If you are using a lacquer system (lacquer primer, ground coat and finish coats) the clear lacquer works very well to seal the water colors between applications. It is best to thin it 1:1 with lacquer thinner for this purpose.

Please keep in mind that the methods described here are not the way we teach you in our classes but are for general use. The methods we use in our classes are much quicker and produce much better results. We do use all mediums in our classes so you have an opportunity to have a feel how they all work. So you can decide which you like best.

As in the case of water colors, the old time grainer referred to oil thinners as that part of graining liquid minus the dry powdered colors. An old recipe found in William Walls book for this is as follows: Take 2/5 gallon raw linseed oil; 3/5 gallon spirits of turpentine. To this add 1/2 pint good liquid (Japan) drier and 2/3 of 1 ounce yellow beeswax. Cut the wax into shavings and melt in a tin can over a gas jet or fire. When the wax is melted take from the fire and add slowly about one pint of turpentine and pour while warm into thinners previously mixed.

This produces a relatively clear graining liquid which will serve very well when added to the dry pigments as needed. The only problem is when combed it will tend to run back together. For this reason it is necessary to use a meglip.

"Meglip". This is a strange word but it has a very necessary part in all this. In imitating woods, especially in oil color and especially oak. We need something more than the colors and thinners to prevent the work from flowing together after being combed or wiped out. Such a preparation is known as a meglip. This will alter the density of the color without drastically altering its shade and allow the combed or wiped out work to remain just as you leave it.

An old recipe for meglip which seems to be standard: Take eight ounces of sugar of lead (zinc white works) and eight ounces of rotten stone. Grind them together as stiffly as possible in linseed oil; then take 16 ounces of white beeswax, (yellow will also work) melt it gradually, and when fluid, pour in eight ounces of spirits of turpentine and it will form an excellent meglip.

Wall said in his opinion it is unwise to use more than one ounce of meglip to a gallon of oil color. The problem is that if too much wax is used, it only retards the drying of the work, but the varnish will not stick to it. I have been told on occasion that when using water color, if you want to make a meglip for water color, the addition of gum Arabic will serve this purpose.

This above formula will work well, especially when you want a graining liquid with clarity and bright color. The following is our modern day version using oil stains as our basis. This formula works very well, but it is not as clear as the above one using dry colors.

It is as follows (This particular one is for a medium to dark oak using heavy bodied interior stains. When I say heavy bodied, I mean that 1/2 or more of the stain is pigment.): 1 quart medium Oak Stain; 2 quarts American Walnut Stain; 1-1/2 - 2 quarts Glazing Liquid; 3/4 quart turpentine; 2 quart's urethane varnish, any brand; 1 quart antifreeze, for a thicker and extender. To adjust this formula you can do the following: To adjust color: Merely adjust color of stain used or add additional universal colors.

To make it more transparent: Use less stains or colors, and add more varnish (urethane works well); or add antifreeze (antifreeze is mostly glycol that combines, but is inert and merely works as an extender and a thicker). To make dry faster; add Japan drier; rarely a problem. To make set up slower (so you can work it); Add kerosene to thin instead of turps 10-20% is about right. If you really want it to slow down, add a bit of dish soap, but be careful. You could extend the dry time by months if you add too much.

Glaze formulas
1 part glazing Liquid, 1 part paint thinner, 2 part's penetrol, 1/3 part boiled linseed oil, 1/3 part kerosene. Fractional amount white alkyd paint to better absorb tint. In addition, oil colors or universal tint to color.

Latex wash
1 part latex paint, 2 parts water. This can be reduced to 10 part's water but the finish becomes weaker. However, you can add acrylic polyurethane in place of some water to make it stronger.

Latex glaze
1 part paint, 1 part flotrol, 1 part acrylic polyurethane and 20% antifreeze

It is hard to say why we call it "rubbing in." This is the term we give the actual application of the graining liquid or glaze. This could be in the form of any glaze for any wood. In the old days most of the graining was done in water using the traditional glaze over oil base coats. Many times if the surface was not sanded properly or from contamination of oils on the surface the beer glaze would ciss. This could be corrected by wiping down the surface with fuller's earth or scrubbing the surface with the abrasive nature of the dry pigments in the glaze to stop this, so this may be where the term derived.

In most instances we want glaze to be very thin and subtle so, consequently, the procedure is more like rubbing than painting. When rubbing in oil color, care should be taken to make sure your surfaces have been sanded lightly with 320 or so. After dusting off your surfaces, apply your oil color to only a small area at a time. A good 3 inch bristle sash tool seems to work well for this purpose. For example, you would probably do a six panel door in the following order, and grain each panel before moving on to the next:

Notice that joints in the door are made exactly where they would normally occur. We work from top to bottom and left to right. Notice it is much easier to grain a section of wood and then wipe off the excess on the ends than it is to grain up to a finish board with grain running the opposite direction. In other words, you do not want to have to grain horizontally up to a board that is vertical and still wet. I use a piece of 80 grit sand paper shellacked on the back as a shield.

On a larger object, such as a wall or a flush door with only one surface and no natural breaks, we need to plan our breaks in logical areas where there would normally be unions in the wood. For example, if you have a flush door four feet by twelve feet to grain you should have no problem on your base coats. When you grain an area like this is just too much to do all at once, so you would first tape off the door into three equal areas.

Put the tape on securely, but not so securely as to remove the paint later. Then continue to grain the end panels, after which you can do the middle panel. If it is a hot enough day, you can put your tape right back on the graining after about two or three hours. If not, just grain right up to the border of the first two panels, being careful not to get any graining liquid on the side panels. You would need to cut a very straight line up to your grained end panels.

If you use the tape, you will need to place the edge of the tape 1/16 inch from the edge to leave a small bit of graining showing and not have any ungrained areas in your joint. You may also use a piece of 80 grit sand paper as a guard or shield to protect the areas as you work.

The graining liquid should always be applied, or at least laid off, in the same direction as the grain of the wood. It is important to apply an even, yet thin, coat of graining liquid. If too much is applied then the combing will appear thick and ropy, and when combed will run back together. It is usually advisable to apply a thin coat of paint thinner to your work with a rag before rubbing it in. This seems to lubricate the surface and enable you to apply the graining liquid thinner and more evenly, especially on large unbroken surfaces.

Timing is of the utmost importance. If the graining liquid sets up too fast, the combs do not go through it easily or remove all the graining liquid. If this happens, you need to clean off the section completely and start all over. If graining over a glossy surface that has been sanded, but still makes the graining liquid creep and crawl, then washing down your surface with a little Fullers earth will rectify the problem.

I have found that a good nylon sash tool seems to work the best to apply water color. As mentioned, water colors dry fast, so we need to plan our areas on our work carefully. On a hot day or in the sun, water colors are almost unusable because they dry to fast. Only limited areas are possible under these circumstances. If we are doing a door, we need to section it off like the previous drawing, working top to bottom and left to right. Once the water color is dry it turns a very light, dusty color, quite different from what it will look like after it has been sealed. Once you seal it, you have bought it.

So it is very important to do it right, and if you are not sure you like your work, redo it simply by washing it off with a damp rag or sponge, rather than sealing it with lacquer or shellac. Then you have to keep it or begin over. It is therefore important to keep a wet edge as you work even more than working with oil colors. Only those areas you are capable of finishing before it dries. Do the upper areas just because, unless it is sealed, your work is easily ruined by a drip of water color from above.

You will need these tools for oak graining in oil color: Rubbing in brush, badger blender, rubber combs, rubber rollers, fitch or liner, erasers, rags, and steel combs. Oak graining is probably the most widely used of the different woods to be imitated. It can be represented in a light natural oak color to a very dark walnut color and anywhere in between. Here's how to choose your ground color. For light oak, use yellow ochre or raw sienna and a bit of burnt sienna in white to make a buff color.

For dark oak use yellow ochre, raw sienna and burnt umber. By varying these colors the ground color can be as dark as necessary. Sometimes you may see it represented as quartered oak or plain sliced or other cuts, depending on how your piece of wood was cut. It is best to get a sample of the real wood stained the exact color you wish to represent before beginning. Choose your ground color carefully and remember it's better to be a bit lighter than too dark.

This is the first step after the ground coat to approximate your wood grain. The purpose of the antique is to add texture to the background of your wood. Look at your piece of oak and notice how the background has a texture to it. Notice the lines and variance nature has spent years to make. You can see here that mere graining over paint or putting in your figures and combing in your grain leaves too stark a background. Therefore, it is advisable that we apply the antique just over the ground color. The antique can be made as follows:
50% Glazing Liquid
50% Turps or thinner I prefer turpentine as do many of my contemporaries
Colorant, either colors in oil or dry powder

Note: If you use dry colors are used they are very abrasive but do leave a very good texture. Their abrasive nature leads toward wearing out the tools very fast. If you are doing a large area such as a wall or a flush door, you might use 10% kerosene and 40% turps or thinner to slow down your dry time.

This antique can be applied in any manner from brush, roller or spray. In doing a larger area spraying on thin coats works best. Once you have it on we need to draw lines in your work with a coarse 4-5 inch bristle or horsehair brush. The idea is to have a streaky finish with fairly predominant lines as a background for your oil color oak graining that follows. Using the oil antique above gives us much more time to work on it than water colors, but we need to wait until the next day before we can work on it. If we use water colors for our antique (see recipe for water colors) then it dries very fast and can be sealed immediately with shellac and then you are ready to grain. You will notice either way, that the way you hold your brush, the pressure exerted, etc., determines how the antique looks. By pushing firmly down on the bristles near the stock of the brush a very coarse effect is obtained. By pushing lightly on the tips a very soft antique is achieved.

Remember to keep your joints clean. Wipe them off completely with a rag because when it dries, it is permanent. Where inside corners are a problem a dry brush will take out unwanted glaze. Apply in the same order as we discussed in the rubbing section. Remember the antique has to go in the same direction as the grain you are putting on next. The actual graining liquid (oil color) is very transparent and will show most imperfections so do a neat, clean job.

(Also called center core or heart grain)
This is the pattern one would see if he cut a tree through the center longitudinally. It is very popular and is used a lot in oak graining. It is easy to imitate and with very little practice the beginner can master this technique proficiently. There are three basic ways to draw heart grain:
1) With the rubber rollers, which looks very amateurish
2) Drawing in the heart grain with a liner (small brush) by hand preferred method
3) Combing out the heart grain with a rubber comb or rag a good alternative

The first way is by far the easiest and most used for beginners work. It produces a grain pattern that most people can live with if they have never seen it done the other ways. Rub in your panel as described, remembering not to put on your graining liquid too heavily and then take your rubber roller firmly in your two hands. Place the smallest circle of the roller between your two thumbs or slightly above. Now firmly roll the roller over the panel, scraping off the glaze. Your fingers never leave the exact spot of the roller that you began on.

By adjusting the position of the roller you can create different widths of patterns. Most are using the smaller patterned rubber roller to start with. This roller has the most desirable effect for a larger open grained heart grain. For a slightly different pattern you may try the other rubber rollers with the slightly larger grain pattern. The third type of rubber roller is for quarter sawn effects, but does not work very well. It is not used in the same manner as the other two, but is simply rolled over the surface rather than scraping off the glaze. They come in a package of three and are included together.

Another type of rubber roller is the Embee Graining Tool (white with brown handle). It is a little gadget and can be used in a number of ways. On narrower widths of panel this tool produces a heart grain. It can be dismantled and rolled up in a tight ball to produce a small very tight heart grain. Most of the worst graining I see are done with this. After you have run your rubber roller through your rubbed-in panel to your liking, next comb out the rest of your panel.

Remember your grain will vary from wide near the center of the tree to narrow near the edges. The next comb to use would be the one with the wide teeth and preferably variable in that not all teeth are equally spaced. The larger side of your graduated tooth rubber comb is suited perfectly for this. Run it through firmly and turn it around for the other side of your heart grain. Next use a smaller comb for the tighter grain on the outer portion of your panel. Then soften your grain by combing it through your combed areas only. Next soften your grain very softly with your fine side of your soft rubber triangular comb, run through back and forth at about an angle of one o'clock, wiping your comb with a rag after each pass.

This produces a very soft, real looking combed portion of your work. Next blend your center heart grain with your badger blender softly in the direction of the center of your figure. The lines should not overlap. If they do wipe them out and draw them in with your liner. Then blend again.

Pull lines to a sharp clean edge. This gives a very realistic look. There is no need to blend the area that has been combed with your badger blender. Next you need to put in your pores with your check roller. Apply your graining liquid sparingly and roll your check roller over your work. The imprint of the little checks leaves a very convincing pattern to the center of your heart grain.

The next way to imitate heart grain is by simply drawing it with a brush. First, rub in your panel and then wipe off the heart area with a piece of burlap drawing in your grain over it. Then it is blended with the badger blender it will pull off some of the under glaze and produce a very natural effect of lighter areas between your grains. This kind of heart grain works well on narrow or square panels or on large or wider panels. It is necessary to either do a good job of blending your combing into it or by hand drawing your side grain in with a brush. Drawing in grain will produce a very good effect, but it can take a long time unless you shown how to do this properly.

The third way to imitate heart grain is the way many of the old time grainers of the nineteenth century used to do it. That is by combing it out. They used leather, but rubber will do even better. This way is the most difficult and can be time consuming, but it is very handsome when done well. Only much painstaking practice will suffice in learning this procedure. It would do well to see some of this type of graining or a natural board of plain sliced oak preferably with knots before trying this type of graining. The old master grainer would do it completely with a few combs and his blender and produce very striking results. One of my dear friends Robert Woodland of England does a beautiful job using this method.

In studying various examples of nineteenth century oak graining as described above, there is often a very soft "sprayed on" portion of the knots. Most knots have darker areas around them but they are very subtle. It is difficult to draw them in without any spray tools? Spray tools were not invented until much later. Early grainers devised a neat little gadget called a venturi tube (or mouth pipe). When held upright and blown through the air passing through the top tube. This would pull some of the thinned paint mixture of an appropriate darker color up through the bottom tube and display it on the work in a very delicate atomized manner.

Today we can use an airbrush with the same results, as well as being able to do larger areas if desired. It is best to wait until the work is finished and dry before attempting this procedure on your first attempt. Because, if the darker areas applied are not to our liking, we can wipe them off and begin over. This procedure works best with an oil glaze.

The combing of oak woods can be mastered with a bit of practice. It would smart for the beginner well to have a few pieces of the real wood to look at while graining or at least a few good photographs. An oak floor is a great help when trying to discover new patterns. Do not be discouraged if your work is not as handsome as the real wood. For most it will never be. At best most can be only a close second place. Nature has the quality, but we have time on our side. It took nature years to make a tree and we can grain it in minutes.

In straight combing of oak woods, you can see how the grain varies from very straight to very wavy as well as from very tight to very large. Experiment on the different patterns.

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