Matching a Finish from a Cell-Phone Photo

No kidding the challenge is to make a reproduction poplar chest of drawers look like this photo taken by a cell-phone camera. Finishers weigh in with advice. April 30, 2006

I've duplicated this chest in poplar (actually two of them) for a client and now need to duplicate the finish. I have not done any finishing of this type. Any help would be appreciated.

Click here for full size image

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor R:
It is difficult to tell without a few more detailed pictures (close-ups), but from what I can tell, it is not the easiest process for your first time. Fortunately you came to the right place if you are going to attempt this on your own. This looks to be a glaze over a dye or wiping stain (again, not close enough to tell). If you have already built these out of poplar and intend to use any sort of a penetrating stain, you should probably use a washcoat to minimize any blotching. There seems to be some distressing as well, which is, in this case, some selective removal of the finish to imitate wear, and perhaps some rounding of sharp corners to replicate age and handling. You should definitely consult the Knowledge Base and research some of the above mentioned processes. There is just too much information, based on the overall general nature of your question, to put into one posting.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the response. Unfortunately, this is the only picture I was given (and it was taken with a cell phone) and the piece is no longer at the store that was selling it. To me it appears that there is a gold undercoat with a green stain overcoat that has been wiped away for a worn look, especially on the middle of the rails of the face frame. Also, a wine (I'm guessing) colored stain on the moulding around the drawers - then the whole thing is aged with a glaze. But that's my guess... I've been deep in research on this one - it's quite a challenge!

Regarding the quality of information in these forums, I agree - I do feel that I've come to the right place and I will take your advice and comb the Knowledge Base for tips there. Because even if I'm close, I'll still need an assist with the products.

From contributor G:

If all there is to match to is the picture, it's not as hard as if somebody's going to see the original and the copy side by side. The color balance is probably off due to lighting and the phone cam limitations. I hope you have a lot of leftover poplar, 'cause it looks like you'll be doing a lot of samples. I suggest making a lot of notes as you experiment. One idea that may actually help - get the customer involved in the matching process. Get them in your shop while you make the samples and they will likely settle on something fairly quickly.

From contributor J:
Looks like a glaze or oil stain over a sanded paint, then a clear over that. Lucky for you, you can use pine for your samples for so little wood is showing. It's so opaque your challenge is to match the right combination of paint and stain. Make a few samples - keep notes! - then get your customer in to pick from a few examples.

From contributor P:
Ug, I can't believe you have to do this from a picture. But here is how I would approach it. Find a brown stain or two for the drawer fronts that you like and get your customer to approve one on a sample. Spray the whole piece with the stain. Seal the stain with dewaxed shellac and use a glaze made with japan colors for the drawer moldings (burnt umber = dark warm brown; raw umber = greenish brown, van dyke brown = very dark brown). Find a green in japan colors that you like and paint it on some wood. Sand through in areas. Seal with shellac. Wipe or spray on your brown glaze and wipe off, leaving in some spots. Seal with shellac. Coat with shellac. Have customer approve sample. For the molding, use either gold paint or gold metallic colors in some kind of base, i.e. shellac, and then rub through that a little bit. Finish up with shellac built to desired sheen, then rubbed out with steel wool and waxed. That would be one way to approach it. It's complicated because of all the layers, so you have to get your customer to approve samples.

From contributor M:
The good news is the client isn't stuck on being exact. If I can get "close," that will be enough... cost will start to become a factor (and I've informed them that the more complicated the process, the more expensive these pieces will become). Obviously, approval along the way is key... which you all have eluded to and I totally agree with. I will finish turning the legs and start making blanks for samples.

From contributor R:
Talk about baptism under fire! If this was my job, I would take the picture to a paint store. Look through the paint chips that represent their oil based paints. Choose colors that match the colors on your picture. Now don't get me wrong - I'm not saying to paint this chest. I'm saying to thin down the paints real good with Naptha or paint thinner and make yourself "stains" from the oil based paints. The colors on the picture are very diluted, but also are heavy colors.

I duplicate Mexican museum pieces on newer white woods like this all the time. I also finish them with CV or pre-cat lacquers with no problems. I've been tinkering around the finishing department for quite a few years now and the best advice to give you on this project is to just experiment. Keep notes on every sample and eventually you will get the colors you're after.

From the original questioner:
First of all, thank you all very much. I feel I've been given enough ammunition to be very dangerous! The quality of experience that I've read is just great and I can say I really appreciate it.

As an update, I have also looked into subbing this out and have contacted a couple of seasoned finishers to give me a quote (for a cost benefit analysis). If one is reasonable enough, I can maybe learn from them, and move on to other pending work.