Finishing the Chest with Drawers

This piece is not a reproduction of any particular existing piece of furniture. Instead it is done in the style of an early 18th century, American, William and Mary form. The finishing processes used are not intended to fool any one into thinking it is an old piece. The attempt is to finish the piece so that it will blend into a room of antique furniture with out sticking out like a sore thumb.


The entire surface of the chest was smoothed with a plane or scraper, the only sanding that was done was to round the sharp edges and corners where natural wear would take place. The piece was next burnished with a block of wood. By burnishing you can simulate wear with out leaving scratches, it looks more like real wear.

Ready for finish

Step 1 Dye

The entire exterior of the chest was dyed. It doesn’t matter what color is used as long as it’s a medium brown color, in this case I had a left over jar of water based honey maple and I used it.The only purpose of the dye is, when you rub through the paint latter you don’t have raw wood showing through. The back was treated differently because it was not going to be painted and none of the interior was dyed except the bottom of the lid, it’s the only interior part that gets paint.

Dyed chest

Step 2 Paint

After the dye was dry I again burnished the chest with a block of wood. Then I used a piece of old candle to rub the wear points and edges on the chest. The wax causes the paint to come off with less effort. The exterior of the chest and the bottom of the lid were painted with red milk paint.

Red paint

Step 3 The Back

On period pieces the back would have no finish and would age through oxidation. In some cases there would be a wash coat of red lead pigment, which turns black with age, used as a form of pest control.There is a good post on the red lead on Jack Plane’s site but I could not find the link while writing this. On this piece I chemically aged the back and then put a wash of thin black milk paint over it to simulate the age.

Chemically aged wet

Black wash wet

Back dry

Step 4 Crackle Black

When The red milk paint was dry I applied a liberal coat of a commercial crackle product and let it partially dry, while still slightly wet I applied a coat of Black milk paint. When dry this product produced a nice crackle effect but the transition from the crackle to the non-crackled surface is poor. I have used other techniques that create a better aged surface, but this was easy.

Untouched surface

In the above picture you can see that there is no transition between the crackle and the black.

Black milk paint


At this point I used sand paper and steel wool to remove paint trying to simulate the way a piece would age and wear naturally. I also installed the hardware at this point, you can see that I rubbed the drops into the paint to simulate wear.


Next the piece got a coat of thin garnet shellac .


At this point I painted the design on to the front of the chest. The pattern is a take off of a Pennsylvania line and berry motif. The linear portion of the pattern was done with a sword stripper and the same red milk paint. The berries were stamped with red, yellow and blue milk paint and the eraser on a #2 pencil. A sword stripper is the type of brush used to pin strip cars and such.

Line and Berry

Another coat of garnet shellac is applied.

Second coat of shellac

Finally the chest was rubbed out with rustic brown wax and steel wool, then waxed with black wax.

Finished Chest with Drawers

About millcrek

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4 Responses to Finishing the Chest with Drawers

  1. Bob Kloes says:

    Very nice work. You are a great artist. Love the chest and your workmanship is excellent. bob

  2. codaprojects says:

    A remarkable result. I would love to see how you used the ‘sword stripper’ – haven’t come across that before.

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