Antiqueing With Permalac

The original finish

If you’ve been in a high end furniture store in the last few years you will have noticed a proliferation of faux antique finishes. Whether it’s layers of paint artfully worn through to show different colors or wood, crazing, chipping, old or the appearance of old is very big right now. Of course, there is a difference between a fashionable faux finish and just plain beat up. What we want to achieve here is to take a low value, unattractive item, and turn it into something unique and beautiful.

We are going to start with this chair. In terms of low value you can’t get much lower, I found it behind a dumpster. The chair itself if actually a good solid, if somewhat plain, piece made of oak and finished in polyurethane. There is a bit of buildup of gunk on the arm rests, and some places on the seat where water has lifted the finish. All in all a perfectly acceptable chair for a dorm room or a seedier dive bar.

The first step in bringing this chair to life is smoothing it out a bit. For the finish I’m applying we don’t need to go to bare wood, we just want to level out some blemishes and remove the gunky buildup. For this I used 220 grit paper. Again the main thing you are looking for here is texture. Certain imperfections, like divots and chips in the wood itself, are actually in keeping with the look we are aiming for. Others, like the water spots, are not. But it’s largely a matter of personal taste.

After sanding, take your time and fully remSnapshot(0)ove all the dust. I started with a dry rag, and then used a tack cloth to get any that remains. Be sure to go over the whole piece, leave no dust behind.

Permalac EF Copper

The first layer of this antique finish is done with Permalac EF Copper. I sprayed, so I took 8 oz of EF copper and cut it with 2 oz #281 thinner. I’ve found that the best results come from doing light coats, and reapplying wet on wet, until the coating flows together. This will give you the best coverage and finish without runs. For this project, I used this technique to spray until I had full coverage with the EF copper. This used about 8 oz. of the material I had mixed up.

Permalac EF Black

It was the end of the day, so I let the chair dry over night. The next morning I applied Permalac EF Black. I again mixed 8 oz of the EF black with 2 oz of the #281 thinner. I used the same spraying method as with the copper. After I finished, the chair appeared completely black.

copper floats
Copper highlights coming through.

I let the layer of black rest for 2 hours. Now it was ready for the antiquing process. Using very fine sandpaper, in this case 800 grit, I lightly wet sanded the whole chair. On any corners, or any area where natural wear would occur, I sanded heavier, fully penetrating the coat of black, and sometimes the coat of copper. I found that it was useful to continually clean the areas I was working with a rag. This removed the wet black dust which obscured the surface. Once I was happy with the results, I dried the chair with a rag, and removed any leftover dust.

The final step in this project is applying to coats of Permalac EF clear satin. I did this using the same mix ratio and methods as before, allowing 1 hour between coats.  As the clear is applied and begins to set up you will see some of the copper come to the surface. And that’s it, I let the chair set for 24 hours and brought it home.

The finished product
The finished product

Permalac on Marine Brass

A few months ago we had the chance to go down to the Independence Seaport Museum on the Delaware water front here in Philadelphia. While we were there we took or tour of the Patriot, the museum’s power launch, and cleaned up the boat’s bell.

Refinishing Wood

The last few weeks my spare time has been eaten by a move. I’m renting a small townhouse in South Philly, just a few miles from Peacock. The owner of the place has completely renovated the house, but he left the original pine floors. Sanded and refinished they look great. I realized, with some help from my girlfriend, that some of my furniture wasn’t up to standards of this house. Rather than spend the money I don’t have on new stuff, I decided to give my old stuff a sprucing up.

First up, perhaps because it needed the most help, was this old mahogany end table that had belonged to my Grandmother. It had spent a few years in the basement before banging around with me for a while, and the hard living had caught up with it. The old varnish was dull and dark, there were numerous deep scuffs and scars on the table as well as some mysterious discolorations. Some people would call that a antique patina, I call it ugly. I wanted to remove the old finish, sand out the dings, stain it a lighter shade, and then spray it with Permalac it to protect the wood and give it a nice sheen.
The first step was getting rid of the old finish. I used some 150 grit and a palm sander to knock most of it off. Some areas had to be hand sanded. It took a couple of hours to get down to bare wood, mostly because the sand paper kept gunking up with old varnish. I probably could have done it faster with rougher paper, but I was worried I might eat up to much my table in the process. Once I had the original finish off I hand sanded the table with 220 grit to get it ready for the new finish.
The sanded table ended up fairly pale, so I decided to stain it. I wanted to see the grain of the mahogany, but the stain needed to be dark enough to blend out anything I couldn’t fix with sanding. I went with a popular oil based stain in a tint called “English Chestnut.” I spent some time with the stain, making sure that I had even coverage without any blotches. I hate doing things twice. The stain I used asked for an eight hour cure so I called it a day.
The next morning I started spraying the table with Permalac. We have an enclosed tent here at Peacock, it’s not a proper downdraft booth, but it does vent off the over-spray and it keeps the air clear in the rest of the warehouse. I use an HPLV with an .8 mil tip for spraying Permalac. The warehouse air is set at 60 psi, so I use a regulator to dial that down to 30 psi. I also limit the trigger pull so that I get a very fine mist. One thing you want to avoid is laying the Permalac too fast, that can result in an uneven, gummy layer. Instead, take your time and try to spray thin coats. This will give you an even, hard finish.
When spraying Permalac, it’s also important to thin it properly. Thinning Permalac retards its dry time and prevents “hairs” of resin from forming on your project. It was around 55 degrees Fahrenheit when I sprayed this table, so I used #281 thinner to thin the Permalac. 1 part thinner to 4 parts Permalac is a good starting point, On hot, dry days you’ll want to use the #69 thinner instead of the 281, you may also want to increase the percentage of thinner.
For this table I figured 125 ml per coat, so 100 ml Permalac plus 25 ml #281. I shot four coats this way, allowing 10 minutes between coats. The first two coats pretty much vanished into the wood. By the third coat I started to notice a surface build developing. After the fourth coat the table started to developed a nice gloss. I let it sit for 30 minutes and then lightly sanded with 400 grit to polish out any pebbling that hadn’t flowed out on its own. Then I wiped the table clean of dust and shot one more coat. I let this final coat cure for an hour and then lightly sanded with 1000 grit. This final sanding deglosses the finish slightly. I have to say I’m pretty happy with the way it came out. Next up, my ladder back chair.