Sunday, September 6, 2009

Combing—sort of!

This weekend I decided to refinish a desk/sideboard that I've had for a couple years. The table was downstairs during my renovation and the contractors decided to use it for a tool bench...adding to an already distressed look. I certainly could have stripped the finish and re-applied a coat of stain and wax. But, given the decorating plan for the room, I didn't really want another wood tone, particularly one so large. I also didn't want to just cover it with a coat of paint. The solution was to try my hand at combing.

For those of you who don't know, the paint technique of combing dates back to the early 19th century when artisans and craftsmen would decorate chests, cabinets, and cupboards with amazing comb marks revealing undercoat colors and adding depth to the design. If you have the opportunity to visit museums like Winterthur in Delaware or Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, or visit a top quality antiques show like the annual New Hampshire Antiques Dealers Show in Manchester, you will see some exquisite—and pricey—examples.

There are specialty combs sold at retail paint stores that offer a variety of options in terms of size and width of teeth. Unforutnately for me, the desk surface was uneven and I needed to find a tool that could be flexible enough to drag across slightly separated boards and uneven surfaces. A feathering comb for hair ended up being the tool of choice. A $2.95 purchase at my local CVS.

The process is simple. After priming the desk, I recoated it with a putty colored, semi-gloss, water-based paint. Once dry, I applied a flat paint in blue and, while still wet, dragged my comb through the finish. Since this is a hand art, perfection is not something you should aspire to. Personally, I like the wavy, uneven lines that decorate my desk. What do you think? By the way, I applied a coat of Liberon Neutral Bison Wax for protection and to give the surface some sheen.

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