Creating Unique Surfaces
On Your Woodturnings
Overview: This decorative techniques article will focus on three
elegant effects you can add to your woodturnings, to change the visual
or tactile quality of the finished piece. Topics to be covered include:
1) Using colouring and dye products. 2) Using the Razertip wood burner
to burn the surface, adding texture and colour and 3) Applying metal
(gold) leaf to the finished surface.
Techniques for Colouring: Quick Tips
- Using spirit dyes to change the colour of the surface is one of the
simplest decorative techniques and is almost "goof-proof" within the
modern dynamic of a woodturning environment. They are fully intermixable
to achieve virtually any colour and dry quickly.
- If you want to colour the entire piece, either with one colour of
several... Fully turn and sand the piece before applying the chosen
spirit colours. It's easy to mix the colours on the surface, creating
additional colours from areas where the different colours blend
- If you want a very light blush of colour, you can add a tiny bit of
your chosen colour to a lacquer, or alcohol based finish creating a
tone-spray effect. This yields a very translucent colour that is almost
imperceptible, enhancing the overall piece subtly.
- This effect is best
achieved when the finish is sprayed onto the surface, allowing complete
control of the colours intensity.
- Dyes will accentuate any residual sanding scratches, or torn/bruised
grain areas. Therefore, always sand to at least 600-grit (1,200 for
gallery quality work) and remove any surface dust before applying the
dye colour to the surface of the wood.
- If you want to limit the colour to a specific area, such as the rim
of a platter... Turn and fully sand the area that will receive the
colour, leaving the rest of the piece rough turned.
- When you have
finished applying the colour and it has dried, finish turn the rest of
the project, cutting in to the coloured area with your gouge to remove
any unwanted colour, or to clean up the edge boundaries (the platter rim
for example) of the coloured area. This will yield a knife-edge between
the coloured and non-coloured areas, creating crisp transitional
- Spirit dyes can be applied via brush, rag, paper towel, dip bath, or
with various spray equipment like artist's airbrushes, H.V.L.P.
sprayers, or small disposable sprayers available at any local home
Decorative Techniques for Wood Burning: Quick Tips
- One of the easiest decorative techniques for new woodturners to
master is wood burning. The Razertip "Create-A-Tip" wood burner offers
the ability to make custom tip shapes quickly. In addition, more than
500 pre-made tips are available in a variety of sizes and styles.
- Both light and dark coloured timbers can be burned and textured. If
you're just starting out, choose tight grain, light coloured hardwoods
for your initial burning/texturing projects. Good starter projects
include platter rims, bowl rims and box tops.
- Experiment with the amount of heat necessary to allow you to burn
the chosen design efficiently. It's best to practice a bit on some scrap
wood of the same species before beginning your decorative techniques
wood burning project.
- There are three different tip sizes available, with 18, 20 and
22-guage wires. This allows you to mix the wire tips to create different
textures and visual effects, by simply changing the wire tips. Do NOT
attempt to change any wire tip until the tip has cooled.
- Fully sand the surface of the wood prior to using the burner to the
desired grit. It's easier to burn smooth surfaces, but as you progress
in your burning, experiment with using the tool of rough surfaces, or
those whose surface has been textured by other woodturning tools. This
adds a highlight to the texture and allows subtle shading of the texture
to enhance its visual and tactile qualities.
This White Ash platter has been burned
to enhance the grain pattern
Decorative Techniques for Metal Leafing: Quick Tips
- The process of applying delicate metal sheets to the surface of an
object is known as metal leafing, or gilding and dates back to around
2500 B.C. There are numerous precious metal leaf materials available
including gold, silver and platinum. Due to the high cost of genuine
precious metal leaf, composite metal alloys are available that are
difficult to distinguish from the more expensive genuine metals. These
inexpensive alloys allow everyone the opportunity to apply metal leaf to
the surface of their woodturnings.
- Metal leaf can be applied to the interior and exterior of turned
decorative pieces. Dyes can also be used in conjunction with the metal
leaf, to create beautiful decorative woodturnings.
- Metal leaf should not be used on the surfaces of any woodturnings designed for food storage.
- A "sizing" or adhesive is required to make the metal leaf stick to
the desired area. This can be easily brushed on and allowed to dry until
tacky, but not fully dry. If the sizing fully dries, the metal leaf
will not stick to it.
- Once the sizing has dried to a tacky state, the metal leaf can be gently applied to the treated surface.
- The metal leaf will only stick to areas treated with the sizing,
therefore when applying the sizing to the surface of your woodturning,
make sure the desired areas are fully covered.
- The metal leaf sheets are very fragile and must be handled
carefully. Broken pieces, or leftover scraps should be saved as these
can be used to leaf small areas, or to fill in textured areas.
- When applying the metal leaf, do not have drafts or other wind
blowing around your work area. This will make application of the metal
leaf onto the surface much easier.
- A small soft brush, or burnishing cloth is useful for flattening the
leaf on the surface after application. Be careful to apply the brush
very lightly to the surface to prevent damage to the metal leaf.
- Once application of the metal leaf has been completed, allow the
surface to fully dry. Lightly brush the surface to remove any loose leaf
and prepare the surface for the sealer coating.
- A sealer is necessary to protect the surface and should be applied
when the surface has fully dried. The length of time necessary for the
sizing to fully dry will vary, according to the product used,
temperature on your workshop and the particular substrate used.
- Experiment with various colours of leaf and also the new variegated
leaf that features a multi-coloured appearance. Composite metal leaf is
inexpensive and allows unlimited artistic freedom in its application and
By using these decorative techniques, you can add a touch of elegance and a classic beauty to your work that is easy to achieve.
Safety Note: Always follow all manufacturers safety instructions
before working with your lathe, or any of the tools or products you may
use. If you are unsure about any operation, obtain competent
professional instruction before proceeding. Use and wear all necessary
safety devices during turning and observe safe woodturning practices to
prevent accident or injury.
D. Russell is a professional studio woodturner, teacher and writer. He
has written numerous articles for international woodturning magazines,
which have been published in more than 78 countries around the world.
Steve has demonstrated in numerous cities across the United States. His
studio, Eurowood Werks, specializes in bowls, platters and hollow forms
with unique visual and tactile treatments.
Steve is also the current and founding President of the Lone Star Woodturners Association, Inc., an AAW member chapter. The LSWA is a 501(c)3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching and demonstrating the art and craft of woodturning.
is also a featured writer for the Guild of Master Craftsman's
"Woodturning" magazine, published in London England. Woodturning
magazine is the world's leading magazine for woodturners. Look for his articles covering technical topics, or project based articles in
an upcoming issue.