February 22, 2015 § 1 Comment
One unfinished project that spent an embarrassingly long time sitting in the shop was a blanket chest I built as part of a two-day class. It was mostly done except for a little fine tuning, assembly, and a finish. A little while back I finally completed the chest. The construction is standard for a blanket chest – four sides dovetailed together, fitted with a plywood bottom and a solid one-piece top. I decided to try a milk paint finish for the outside. The wood is alder, and three narrower boards were glued up to the get the requisite width for both the sides and top. Not a lot of care was taken in matching the grain, so the narrow boards would have certainly been evident with a clear finish.
Several years ago Peter Galbert described a recipe for a brown milk paint finish that he used on some of his Windsor chairs. I kept that in the back of my mind for some future project, and well, the future was now as I figured it would be perfect for this chest. Click on the link above for the recipe, but it basically involves a combination of black and red milk paints, and using a stain rather than straight water for mixing with the paint. He used Van Dyke brown crystals for the stain; I substituted TransTint walnut dye instead. Like all milk paint adventures, I was skeptical all along the way. Then after the final coats of oil and varnish, the whole thing really came together. There is one thing I didn’t get right. Peter describes applying the stain to the wood as an initial step. I did this with the dye but I didn’t get a nice even coat, and there was rather splotchy in places. And sure enough, that unevenness cascaded all the way through all the layers of paint. If I use this recipe next time I’ll probably just skip the initial stain, and just start with the paint.
For the inside, I just applied several coats of shellac. I also fit some thin aromatic cedar half-lapped boards to the bottom in keeping with the spirit of a blanket chest. I like working with alder, a tree native to the Pacific Northwest. It’s easy to work and relatively inexpensive. It is often used a secondary wood, much the same as poplar. Unlike poplar, however, alder is quite attractive and can certainly stand on its own as a primary wood. Alder is quite soft, however, and the alder tree does not get particularly large, so wide boards are very uncommon.