A while ago, my wife and I were looking for a small blanket chest to put in our living room. We looked in some moderately priced stores, on-line and even in second hand shops, but nothing struck our fancy. We ended up buying a small chest from an unfinished furniture place. The Mill Stores sell a wide variety of pieces ranging from very good to pretty bad quality. I used to build furniture, so I know a little bit about woodworking. The piece that we got was in the pretty bad quality category in terms of build, but the dimensions were good, the price was right and we were going to antique it anyway.
Since it was a pretty plain box to begin with, we thought we would add some decorative trim. We went to Home Depot and browsed the lumber and millwork section. We came away with a pretty nice sunburst medallion and some half inch beaded trim. We then went to JoAnn Fabric to get some decorative rope to replace the twine handles that was currently on the piece. Now we just needed some time to do it. Well lo and behold the calendar said we had a free weekend, so we decided to bang this out.
A few years ago we came across a pretty neat finishing technique using artist gesso and pigment. Gesso is an acrylic mixture that artists use to prepare their canvases. You apply a thin coat as primer followed by a thick coat to add texture. The pigment we used to accent the piece was burnt umber. We previously had finished a few pieces with technique and they look gorgeous. One was an old Yield House armoire and the other a headboard that I made from scratch.
Chest, duh that’s what we are working on
Length of chain
Putty knives of varying widths
¾ inch tacks
Drill and 3/32 in bit
The chains, hammer, nails and chisels were used to distress the piece. I like to smash it a few times with the chains to add some depth to the piece. Be careful when swinging the chain. It may bounce off the piece and smash you! Just sayin’. I use the awl to add some “worm holes.” I use the chisel to shave down the corners and any other places where “wear” would occur. Use your imagination; there is no right or wrong way to distress a piece. I also use the sandpaper to relieve the edges of the piece and to smooth the inside. My wife would have a fit if a blanket caught on a stray piece of wood sticking out!
After distressing and sanding the piece, run some tack cloth on it to clean up any dust or debris. We removed the hinges and lid bracket. Carefully place the hardware in a plastic bag and SEAL it. Nothing ruins a project faster that a lost screw or hinge.
We measured out where we wanted the trim pieces. We drew pencil lines to mark the spot. We then measured the trim and cut the corners with a miter saw. Trust me when I say this measure three times and cut once. We applied a thin coat of wood glue to the back of the trim and held them in place with masking tape. I then drilled some pilot holes in the trim and gently tapped the finishing nails in place. I then set them with the nail set.
Now the fun begins. We painted the interior of the piece with some leftover latex paint from another project. With the interior dry (you did wait right?) pour some gesso into an old margarine container (my wife never throws that stuff out) and lightly brush on a coat, covering the entire piece. It dries fairly quickly.
We waited a few hours to go to the next step. We next applied a thick coat of gesso using putty knives. We took a hefty dollop of gesso and swirled it on the piece. We then used different sizes of putty knives to form tiny ridges. If you make a mistake or don’t like the pattern; no problem. Smooth it out and try something new. Again, there is no right or wrong way, only the way that looks best to you.
We let the second coat dry overnight. I took the blade of the putty knife and ran it over the bumps and ridges of the gesso. This knocked down some of the high points to make it look a little more “worn.” At this point we reassembled the piece.
Next, take the artist color and dilute it with some water. We tested in on the back of the piece until we got the color we where looking for. We took a rag and washed the color on. Waited a minute and wiped it off. Wax on wax off, or in this case, wipe on, wait, wipe off. In some of the lower areas like “wormholes” and places I trimmed with the chisel we applied more of the color to give it more of an antique-y feel. We also worked some of the dark stain into the beadwork of the trim. This gave us a nice contrast. We also made sure that the stain was matched so one panel wasn’t darker than the other.
After waiting another few hours, we applied two coats of satin polyurethane. For the finishing touch we replaced the original twine handles with some really cool braided rope. Voila, a beautiful antiqued piece that was fun to do and looks fantastic.