I spent much of last week working on some freelance writing projects, so I didn’t have a chance to make more progress on the basement family room makeover. I am planning to install the chair rail this week, though, and get some more painting done. This is a slow and steady project, but I do want to keep some forward momentum going! Since I don’t have an update on the basement, I thought I would share a little project I worked on a couple of weeks ago – refinishing a vintage paint palette.
I realize this is sort of a niche thing and not everyone has a vintage paint palette sitting around that they want to refinish and use, but refinishing wood is refinishing wood. This would work for a cutting board, a tabletop, a dresser… anything that is wood.
I purchased this palette off of Etsy because I loved the shape and the warm color of the wood. It was clearly handmade, which also drew me to it. I didn’t realize until I saw it in person that it was way too rough to use as a paint palette. Paint would get stuck in all of the edges and crevices, making it an impractical mixing surface. The other thing that I couldn’t have known until I held it is that it’s way too heavy to be a practical palette! Paint palettes are generally as light as possible, so they can be held for extended periods of time. Paint is also pretty heavy, so they are typically balanced out on one end to counter the weight of the paint. This paletted was just one flat, solid piece of wood. I’m sure that someone saw this pretty piece of wood and thought it would make a good palette. It looks unused and I’m guessing my two observations are the reason why.
But, I like to actually use the vintage and antique art supplies that I purchase, so I decided to refinish it. It had simply been oiled, so it did not have a finish or paint that needed to be removed. If you are refinishing a piece that does have an existing finish or a layer of paint on it, there are two typical options – sand off the finish or remove it chemically. There are some other options like power washing and sandblasting, but those either make a big mess or require specialized equipment that most people don’t have.
HERE is a great tutorial on chemically stripping and sanding a tabletop to refinish it. THIS is my favorite chemical paint/finish remover. If this vintage palette was caked with paint or someone had used a polyurethane finish on it, I would’ve used one of those methods to remove the finish first.
Since it was just oiled, I was able to jump straight to sanding.
When sanding a piece to make it smooth, perhaps it’s weathered and rough, or as is the case with this palette, it’s rough from sold saw marks, the key is to start with a heavier grit and work your way to a finer one. It’s easy to get impatient with sanding and just use one paper for the entire job, but it’s the different grits that will give you that buttery smooth finish in the end.
For this project, I used the DeWalt Orbital Palm Sander I’ve had for years and started with an 80 grit sandpaper.
The and 60 or 80 grit paper is a good place to start when you want to smooth something out, like the grooves on this vintage paint palette, or you are trying to remove a finish without using a chemical stripper. Keep the sander moving, so you remove a nice, even layer and don’t create dips in the surface. This can especially be an issue in softer woods like pine. Once the surface is smooth, switch to 100 grit paper and repeat the process. I continued to sand, graduated to 120, 180, 220, and then 320.
It’s hard to see if a surface is truly smooth, so I continually rubbed my hand over the vintage palette until it felt completely smooth.
Because this is a vintage paint palette, I finished it off with refined linseed oil. I typically use hemp oil for furniture, because it works beautifully and isn’t stinky (linseed oil is a little stinky), but I use linseed oil for my oil painting, so I use it to season my palettes.
The sanding didn’t fix the fact that it’s too heavy to use as a traditional oil palette (not to mention it was made for someone with a longer arm), but it will be a very nice tabletop palette! I do sometimes paint with oils at my desk either when I’m working on small pieces on oil paper or I’m recording a demo.
I have yet to take this palette for a spin, but it’s ready when I’m ready to use it. Glass palettes are practical and easy to clean, but I love the patina that builds up on a well-used palette. If you’re ever shopping for an antique or vintage palette that was used by an artist, look for one that has a very glossy mixing surface. The finish ends up being so slick from years of mixing oil paints on the suface. It creates such a special patina.
Sadly, people are buying up these antique and vintage palettes and globbing paint all over them, covering up that patina that comes with years of use. Yes, some artists did and do glob paint all over their palettes and they end up drying that way, but most artists will have some mixing surface. If that open mixing area is very smooth and shiny, that is a highly-prized find.
So, there you go. A little bit about refinishing wood and a little bit about antique and vintage paint palettes. You just never know what you’re going to get when you come to this blog…