Phar out finishing techniques


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I've just begun collaborating with a local artist who wants to make a fairly large mural out of wood.  The idea we've come up with is to design impressionistic type pieces based on arranging square wood blocks into the larger image.  The plan is to develop different finishing techniques for the blocks to give them different color intensities, contrasts between the grain, and overall color.  The blocks will be used as 'pixels' if you will in the larger image, so the smaller the wood block the higher the resolution of the final image.  I would imagine the blocks will be between 1 and 2" square.  The idea is mine but I'd never be able to do this without an artist.  She'll be doing the true 'art' part and I'll just be providing as wide a variety of finishes on these blocks as possible.  The wider her variety of wood blocks to choose from the better the end result will be.

So as an example, here's an art piece I found on Etsy.  It seems the artist here has either baked or burn treated these pieces.  I'm taking this idea as inspiration on how I can vary the finishes on these wood blocks.  But I'd like to have as many coloring/finishing options as possible, which is the purpose of writing here.

pic here

What I need now are both wood species suggestions and finishing techniques.  Just brainstorming so everything's on the table.

I need different wood grain size options.  Need both wider and narrower grained species. 

Would be nice to have a species where both the fast and slow growth rings take dye stain so they have the same hue.

Need coloring / technique suggestions.  I've used General Finishes water based dye stains before so that's one idea for generating color.

Thanks for your ideas.

wood wall art.jpg

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I would suggest that you work with the artist to create a 'color by numbers' sort of template that reflects her / your vision of the end result. That should allow you to estimate the volume of blocks for each tone or texture. Then try samples of various finishes on each species of wood available, to see which matches your vision best.

I suspect that obtaining a wide variety of suitable species will prove more difficult than the finishes. 

The Wood Database is one place to search for species of the desired color or texture, but I think HobbitHouse Inc. has better photos.

While I generally prefer the natural wood color, for a project like this it is good to remember that most wood will change color over time. For artwork intended to retain its appearance unchanged, maybe a 'bland' species that accepts dye well and consistently would work better that a variety of species? Something formulated for wood application, like trans-tint dye, is probably more color-fast than general purpose dye, such as Rit. However, I have used Rit with good success. YMMV.

For topcoat finishing, I'm assuming that a variety of sheens and tones is desired? Hard wax oils or pure oils tend to be low luster, and leave open grain pores looking open. AFAIK, they all add an amber tone, too. If you stick to wiping poly, you can easily manage the tone by using oil-based (more amber) or water-borne (more clear), each available in sheens from low to high gloss. IMO, these also fill grain pores better, leaving less texture for dust and grime to collect in.

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I agree with @wtnhighlander.  This might be a good application for spray lacquer (less amber). 

Since all woods tend to go brown over time, I'll throw out this idea:  stay in the brown family, i.e. light and dark tones like a sepia photograph.  If you want colors, then I'm thinking dyed maple.


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You're going to need a bunch of wood samples, and a mess of stains and/or dyes to get there. I've spent the last 3 months experimenting with both red oak, and white oak...vs...6 different stains, trying to find the perfect brown that really turns my crank. I'm close. Within each wood species, there is different grain patterns that stain differently. Lots of experimenting, wood samples, and stains/dyes.

Then, when you use an oil based poly(which is what I use, mostly), each coat darkens the wood a tad.

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  • 2 months later...

As far as adding a bunch of different colors, if you want to do that, you use acrylic paint. If you look at the picture of the boards I have on the wall, I just randomly used acrylic paint on there. And yeah, it stays on there. It looks good. You can use all kinds of different colors. But I'm wondering how you plan on connecting those pieces to the board? Are you just going to glue them or are you going to nail them from the back?


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