Customers requested a fine crackle finish on the doors and drawer fronts of the maple kitchen I am building for them. I tried the commonly available acrylic crackle glaze with a coat of acrylic paint on top (various cuts and thicknesses for both), but the effect is too coarse - looks like barn board.
I am trying to get a very fine crackle effect, like you see in old China - very thin lines. What should I use for this? What kind of top coat will protect it best?
From contributor P:
What is your application process? If spraying a conventional crackle lacquer, the size of the cracks is controlled by the amount you apply: less wet film = finer cracks; heavier film build = larger (wider) cracks.
For me, a standard finishing schedule for crackle would be:
1 - Apply NC primer tinted to desired basecoat color or apply clear sealer over desired stain color. If applying pigmented basecoat, apply enough coats (sand between) to give full-filled finish.
2 - Sand to 320 or 400 (the smoother the surface, the easier the crackle lacquer slides to form the cracks.)
3 - Apply crackle lacquer (tinted to desired color if applicable). Practice on sample boards until you get the desired crack size.
4 - If needed, lightly scuff the crackle with a scotch brite pad or super-fine sponge. Be careful here as the crackle is usually very powdery and will sand off in a hurry.
5 - Apply sealer or self-seal topcoat per manufacturer's recommendations. Some suppliers will allow you to put on one coat of acid-cure TC, some will allow precat only, and some will allow NC only... depends on whose crackle you are using. More than one coat of an AC product will usually cause lifting. You could also isolate the crackle by applying a vinyl sealer followed by your desired TC.
Something to remember: getting consistent sized cracks over the entire piece is very difficult because it's hard to keep your film build exactly the same across the whole piece (if it's a large piece.) Practice, practice, practice, samples, samples, samples!
These are general steps based on the crackle systems I have used in the past. Each supplier's system will be different. Be sure to get clear instructions from your supplier. Most of the problems I have seen with crackle systems stem from incompatibility problems between layers in the process.
Just for a drill, here's a couple of slightly different takes:
When using lacquers, I like Mohawk's or Behlen's crackle lacquer. I mix their lacquer pigments directly into it. I put down a colored lacquer basecoat and let it dry. Then I put down a coat of vinyl sealer, and apply the crackle lacquer while the sealer is still soft. How long the sealer coat dries before I spray the crackle depends on the weather and what kind of effect I am trying to create.
A thin coat of crackle does indeed make a finer crackle than a heavy coat, and you can learn to control it pretty well with practice, but my control, at least, is never absolute. The sealer coat just gives you more options in how the pattern develops. Generally, the softer the sealer, the bigger the plates. I realize this is contrary to your current needs, but it might be of interest later.
Spraying gives you a mudcrack pattern. When I want a more rectangular pattern I use McCloskey's Special Effects crackle glaze, and apply it with a brush over a base coat, then flat latex paint over it. You can get more of a mudcrack pattern by rolling the crackle medium and then the color coat. Different rollers give different patterns.
You can get interesting effects with more than one crackle coat, and McCloskey also makes a crackle glaze specifically to make a fine crackle.
Hope I haven't muddied the waters too much, but there are a lot of ways to make and manipulate crackles.
I would not use any type of crackle on a kitchen that was going to be used like a normal kitchen, as those areas would be the weakest link of the whole system. If it is a designer show kitchen, I might do crackle in selected areas only.
"50/50 mix flattening paste and MEK. Vary the mix and amount applied to control crackle. Basically, flattening paste keeps the MEK from evaporating too fast. Also, I've gotten great results from milk paint and a heat gun. Forcing the milk paint to dry too fast causes it to crackle (real easy to control)."
Another strong one, but with uniform crackle, is ICA Effetti Speciali. This is the strongest out there. Try scratching it - it's like concrete and is the most advanced coating on the market for that effect.
As far as the glue crackles are concerned, they are known to lift more than the commercial RFU coatings, and are more erratic and unpredictable in their crackling.
They sell prepared, ready for use crackle mediums at most paint and arts and crafts shops.
One medium is used for the small crackles, the second is the large crackles. I have used both types, and find they are a better choice for crackling than using the glue method, because they are more predictable in their outcome.
Comment from contributor K:
To do the old china cracked finish, use gloss tung oil over lacquer sealer. Spray on some good old fashioned spar varnish, and heat it with your heat gun. It will craze like granny's dishes, but not crack open. After drying, use shellac to topcoat it, followed by one coat of nitro. This is not something that will last a lifetime, but none of them will; this really looks like what you want - the way we used to do it 40 years ago.