Some wood finishes have
richness and depth that combine
to create a special warm glow.
This glow usually comes with age,
resulting from natural changes in the
wood, due to its exposure to light, and
to a patina that develops at the wood's
surface, in and on the finish. By imitating
the effects of time, glazing can also
create this glow. Basic glazing techniques
are easy to learn, and they provide
a much faster way to enhance a
finish than waiting for Father Time.
Glazing techniques use stains differently
than the way they’re normally
used. Instead of staining the raw
wood, glazing is done after a finish has
been applied, so instead of soaking in,
the color sits on top of the sealed,
Glazing can be done with any coloring
material that will adhere well to a
sealed surface (see “Glazing Materials,” below). Glazing materials need to be
thick. Several brands of oil-based gel
stains work well as glazes. However,
regular thin oil stains don't work well,
because they don't contain enough
binder to stick to the finish, or enough
color to be effective. In general, oilbased
glazing materials are usually easier
to work with, because they have a
longer working time than water-based
materials. They're also easier to remove,
if something goes wrong.
Projects of all sizes can be glazed.
Here, I'll use a mahogany picture frame
to demonstrate how to use a couple of
basic glazing techniques to add color
and character. These techniques can
also be used to change a color for
matching purposes, to add a subtle
warm tone to an otherwise cold finish,
and to age reproduction pieces. Many
fancy faux finishing techniques also use
glazing methods and materials.
Because glazing is done on a sealed surface,
it's very forgiving. If you don't like
the results, oil-based glaze can easily be
erased with mineral spirits, as long as
you act before the glaze hardens. (Color
will be retained only in areas where the
surface is left porous.) This means that almost nothing can go wrong, and you
can practice all you want.
The best colors for glazing to imitate
the effects of age are in the medium
brown range, like dirt. Golden or amber
colors are best for adding warmth to a
pale finish, such as a clear finish on new
pine, birch or maple. The goal for this
mahogany frame is to deepen the
overall color and enhance the molding
and carving by leaving a little more
color in the grooves and crevices. The
gel stain I'm using is a medium dark
brown color that's on the cool side. No
thinner was added.
Seal the Surface
The first step for both techniques is to
seal the wood so that the glaze can't
soak in (Photo 1). Here, I’m using amber
(also called orange) shellac for sealing,
because of its warm glow and fast dry
time, but any film building finish will
work. Four coats of 1-1/2-lb cut shellac
will ensure thorough sealing and provide
an attractive finish. (To create a 1-
1/2-lb cut, mix 1 part canned amber
shellac with 1 part denatured alcohol.)
More coats may be required to fully seal
end grain or carvings. Let each coat dry
for half an hour. Sand lightly between
coats with 400 grit sandpaper or ‘0000’
steel wool. Sand after the last coat, too,
to prepare the surface for glazing. The
scratches from the fine abrasive will
help catch the glaze.
Glazing with cheesecloth
Once the wood has been sealed, the
first glazing technique is similar to
staining raw wood. You apply the glaze
(Photo 2) and then wipe it off (Photo
3). But instead of using an ordinary rag
for wiping, you use cheesecloth. Like
the bristles of a brush, cheesecloth's
loosely woven texture gently removes
the glaze from the surface, so you can
remove as little or as much as you want.
You can remove the glaze uniformly, to
leave an even coating of color, or wipe
across carvings, flutes and fillets to
leave glaze in the crevices.
Glazing with brushes
Round natural bristle sash brushes are
hard to beat for applying and removing glaze. They're especially well suited for
pushing glaze into corners and
grooves. They're also excellent for leaving
just the right amount of glaze on
the surface to create the desired effect.
The best strategy is to use one brush
to apply and work the glaze, and a second,
clean brush for final touch-up.
Start by working a small amount of
glaze into the first brush on your disposable
palette (Photo 4). Then transfer
the glaze to the surface (Photo 5).
Sash brushes allow you to apply, work
and remove glaze all at the same time.
You can add or remove color, work
selectively or overall, and you can work
crevices as easily as high spots.
As you continue to apply and remove glaze while you work the surface,
it's important to keep the brush
from becoming overloaded (Photo 6).
Switch to the clean brush to finish the
job (Photo 7).
The glaze begins to harden and
becomes difficult to work after about
five minutes. It's important to finish
working the glaze before this happens.
Remember, it's also possible to
remove the glaze and start over. Once
you've completed the job, allow the
glaze to dry overnight. After the first
coat is dry (24 hrs above 60° for gel
stains), you can repeat the process to
add more color and/or highlights.
The final step is usually to apply
clear finish to lock the glaze down
under a protective layer, or to provide
an appropriate sheen. But if the finished
object is more decorative than
functional, and the sheen is consistent,
this step may not be necessary, as is
the case with this frame.
Click any image to view a larger version.
1. Start by brushing on thin coats of amber shellac to seal the wood and add a warm tone.
Let the shellac dry, then sand lightly.
2. Next, cover the surface with glaze. The simplest method is to generously brush on the
glaze using a disposable brush.
3. Finish by using cheesecloth to wipe off the excess glaze. Cheesecloth provides more
control than ordinary cotton rags, so you can leave a little color in grooves and crevices.
4. For maximum control, use a natural bristle sash brush to glaze the sealed surface. Put a
small amount of glaze on a palette. Dip the brush in the glaze and then remove the excess
on a clean part of the palette.
5. Dab on the glaze and then brush it out. The sash brush allows you to delicately apply and
spread the glaze.
6. As you work the surface, keep the brush from becoming saturated with glaze by cleaning
it on an absorbent towel or rag.
7. Switch to a clean brush for final glaze removal. It's a good idea to take off your glazestained
gloves for this step, so you don't mess up the work you've done.
Gel stains work well for glazing, but making your own glaze offers
unlimited options for color and consistency. To make your own
glaze, you need concentrated color, such as japan color or artist's
oil, and an oil-based glazing medium to use as a "binder," to make
sure the color will adhere to the surface, and to provide a smooth,
Clear gel varnish and artist's glazing medium both work well as
binders; artist’s glazing medium allows a longer working time. Start
by putting a small amount of binder in a mixing container, then add
small amounts of color and whisk in with a brush until the desired
concentration is reached. Paint thinner or mineral spirits can be
added in small amounts (from 5% to 20%) to increase working time.
Just remember, glaze needs to be fairly thick to work.