Color matching and grain repair

Learning the necessary skills. (From WOODWEB's Finishing Forum) January 21, 2003

What's the best way to develop perfect color and grain matching skills? Matching the color with its constantly changing rainbow of hues is very difficult for me. I seem to be able to paint in the grain. But if color is not perfect, it stands out.

The millwork installation company I work for sent me to the two-day Mohawk School. They provided me with the Matchall and Blendall kits along with a color wheel. I like the dry pigments because I can have several different shades and keep adding graining liquid as it dries. The Matchall doesn't work for me. Dries out before I complete one repair. On large projects I may have months where that's all they have me do. It's almost always clear finish or clear over stain, very little paint.

Forum Responses
(From WOODWEB's Finishing Forum)
From contributor M:
You first have to understand and learn something about furniture colors. The method most used to teach colors is the red, yellow and blue theory, when actually if you look at furniture, there is not much finished in those three colors. I strongly suggest that you learn about the universal color system.

I can sympathize with your dilemma. Color and grain matching is not easy to learn, but there are a few tips that may help.

Get a set of tapered, pointed tip camel's hair artist brushes, from the smallest to medium. They're great for color and grain replacement.

Use a clear medium such as slightly retarded lacquer or a waterborne with NMP to dissolve the Mohawk or Master's Magic Blendal type powders. These slower drying vehicles will give you more open time to allow you to make a better color judgment.

Use your finger. A quick swipe with the index finger over a wet touched up area can blend in a repair when no amount of brushing will do.

Don't expect to become an expert in 2 days. It can take hours of practice and experience to learn how to do it quickly and correctly.

I can only talk as a cabinetmaker who has a bunch of repair work to do on high-end entry doors for a major door manufacturer. I have learned to repair using Famowood filler, if there is a gouge and stains, along with artist's acrylic paints to match color and grain, using various artist's brushes.

I had one repair in 2 years. I couldn't match the color and had a friend come by with Blendal dry pigments and he had it done in half an hour. It was amazing to watch him work. I have a lot to learn but am going to learn to use Blendal colors.

From contributor D:
Another method of adding color touchups is being developed as we speak. The use of acrylic colors is what I am talking about. Golden Paints is working slowly on this. The best place for this information is from the tech support at Golden Paints. Or join the Professional Refinishers Email Group.

Here is what you need to do no matter what. You must draw out the grain lines long and thin. It is easy to get way too much color in way too big of an area way too soon.

Also, you should practice using Lacover as your brushing medium. It stays wet longer and goes on more like a glaze. Color washing is better than color painting. Translucency is better than opacity. The downside is that the Lacover (a padding lacquer from Mohawk Finish Supply) and Blendal dry pigment powder coloring dries darker than what you are laying down with a brush.

Also, regarding color touchups, you do not want to stripe a color with a fat edge of finish which will cause a ridge when it dries.

When you are painting a long and thin stripe of color, learn to slowly turn the brush as you paint so that you can really go long and thin.

From contributor M:
I have a little trick I use for doing touchups by brush. Because Lacover and many other touchup mediums dry to a dull sheen when touching up on some glossy finishes, I mix my dry colors with clear shellac so the touchups dry with a higher sheen. If you learn to combine the Lacover with the shellac in the right portions, in many cases you can come close to the sheen on most furniture. In some cases, it may eliminate padding or coating over the touchups.

Practice makes perfect, and perfect takes lots of practice.

From the original questioner:
Contributor M, in thinking about the combination of Lacover and shellac, do you use the bleached shellac so as to not alter the color?

Contributor D, you zeroed in on one of my many frustrations. I went to the art store and bought the smallest fine brush they had. I still had grain lines too wide for the narrow "quarter sawn" fine grain lines. Back to the art store to purchase colored pencils. I could now sharpen to size, but color control was limited to their selection. I'll give this slow rolling a try.

From contributor M:
Yes, the clear shellac. I strongly suggest that you learn to color pad, and how to 'French in' the colored powders with your fingertip. You also should consider using aniline powder dyes to do your touchups.

When I worked at Baldwin we used to use Naptha to wet right after we grained in an area to see the actual color when wet. I also recommend forgetting about the art store and get your brushes from Mohawk. Even before I worked for Mohawk I still had a fit if my brushes were purchased elsewhere. For a very fine brush you need the M901-4603.

From contributor D:
It is a fact that the Mohawk touchup brushes are exceeding good quality. Why hunt around and have to deal with an arty paint by the numbers person behind a counter when you can get just the brushes that are known to work from Mohawk? The trick is selecting the right brushes. I have many, many kinds. I use them all, just like a baseball player might have a few different bats.

I guess I'm the oddball again. I never use a brush to do graining or to repair sand-throughs. I much prefer pencils. Stabilo makes a china marker type pencil that writes on anything and is a regular wood pencil you can sharpen in a pencil sharpener. Talk about fine lines! And, you don't like it? Wipe it off with a rag! The biggest trick to doing touch-ups to me is not so much getting the perfect color (doesn't hurt, though), but getting the perfect shade (light/dark). Most people I have trained have a tendency to make their repairs way too dark. Start too light and layer your way up to the proper tone. The color can be off a little but if the tone is correct, it will still disappear. Another favorite of mine is Creative Automotive airbrush colors. Water base, comes with a catalyst and a bonding agent and available in all kinds of cool metallic and pearlescent colors. They work great for a base color or even for shading in the color on one of those impossible "it's too dark - is there anything you can do?" jobs.

To further confuse the issue, I've used acrylic colors for the past 15 years to do color matching and repairs. I used Blendall powders before that. I really like the water solubility of the acrylics.

For graining I prefer ultra fine markers or pencils. I get my brushes from the local art supply store - I really find they have a better selection than anyone. I also get my asphaltum from the art supply house as well as many other items not usually found elsewhere.

Contributor M, do you prefer the aniline powders dyes over the Blendal? Or is it an additional option to consider?

From contributor M:
I like anilines because they are transparent, whereas the pigments are translucent if you thin them out. I use them both - each of these colorants has their place in finishing and touchups. Buy the smallest quantity you can get - they will last a long, long time.