One of the make or break decisions of building any piece of furniture can be made right at the end, when you decide how you will finish it. It’s quite amazing how that simple decision can completely transform the look of your work so it really isn’t something you want to get wrong – especially if you’ve toiled over the build for a good length of time.
Amongst our comments to the tool chest video over on YouTube I was intrigued to see how our decision to use paint for the finish provoked quite a response – it came up numerous times and the balance was definitely tipped to say that the paint was a bad move. Many people would have preferred to see a stained finish to allow the wood to show through.
I felt a hint at a long seated rivalry on this ‘paint or not to paint’ subject and I’m sure that many a debate has already taken it’s course over the vast reaches of the internet. I’ve never found anything offensive about painted furniture myself although if Richard started covering over a nice bit of oak then I would definitely want to hit him (just lightly!)
The one thing that paint can do better than any other finish is create uniformity, and it’s this ability which makes it the obvious choice for me on many projects. I’m sat at the moment next to a beautifully made cupboard; it has a raised panel door, a crisp hand cut moulding around the top, and the carcase is dovetailed with very narrow and elegant pins. I know (because I remember Richard building it) that this cupboard is made of all random odds and sods that were laying around at the time; some boards salvaged off an old pallet, a spare bit of beech for the door panel and hardwood offcuts for the moudling. Unfinished it looked a little sorrowful.
I understand when people feel that a coat of paint can take away the natural beauty of the wood, but then you must also consider cases such as this cupboard where it is the paint which creates the beauty. A couple of well applied coats and the whole piece becomes unified; it suddenly looks classic and yet the hint of the tool marks and evidence of it’s construction remain visible.
Of course the case of this cupboard is by no means the exception; for as long as furniture has been made it would be common for an odd mix of timbers to be used, especially within the poorer communities. It’s also accepted now that through history the majority of pine furniture was originally painted as this would be considered preferable to seeing the knots and other defects.
The decision today has to come down come down to taste and the specific situation.
Yes, it covers the grain. But paint can be a big positive for a piece in the way that it unifies and simplifies the surface so that the form itself can be better understood and appreciated.
Richard and I have never had a taste for stained pine but perhaps someone could twist my arm? Do you feel that paint is the enemy of wood or is it on your list of essential finishes?