Handcraft how to

Finishing toys and small projects

A finish is sometimes thought of only in terms of paints and varnishes, but as the term is used in the present instance it includes all of the final operations in preparing the project for its use as a completed whole. None of the paints, oils, or lacquers can be applied successfully over a rough surface.

Most of the projects shown on the following pages are made of wood or metal, and the particular process to be used in finishing each of these is explained. So much depends on the final smoothing, rubbing, and polishing of the raw material before the paint, oil, or other finish is applied, that it should not be neglected.

Kinds of finish

Among the projects described in this book there are a number of different finishes mentioned or suggested, and often it leaves the choice to the reader's own judgment as to which one to use.

Wood finishes are usually one of three kinds; stains, natural finishes, or paints. Under paints, of course, are included all opaque finishes.


Stains are used on such woods as fir, mahogany, and oak to intensify their natural grain and beauty. Wood stains are usually applied evenly over the surface, allowed to set a few seconds, and then the surplus wiped off with a rag.

After staining, the surface is usually given a coat of filler, that is, a thin coat of shellac or some sealing medium, before the final finish is applied. Wax, shellac, varnish, or clear lacquer may be used over the stain as a final finish.

Natural finish

Some woods like black walnut, bird's-eye maple, red cedar, and gum are better without stain. For the final finish, wax, shellac, varnish, or clear lacquer is applied.

A painted finish

Show-card colour, oil paint, or lacquer are classed as painted finishes. It is suggested that any or all of these be applied to small projects over a coat of thin shellac, to seal the surface. Sandpaper lightly after the shellac is dry.

The author has found that for any of the small models or mantel projects, nothing gives greater satisfaction than the ordinary show-card colours used by sign painters. They are reasonably cheap and if covered with a coat of white shellac or clear lacquer they produce a very durable finish.

Coloured enamels and lacquers

Enamels and lacquers are applied when a glossy and more durable finish is preferred. Only bright, cheerful colours should be used. White, black, and red with yellow and blue are suggested.

Composition finish

This finish is ideal for decorating small boxes, picture frames, and a variety of other small projects. It is one of the oldest and simplest of finishes and lends itself to so many different variations that it is ever a new means of expression.

It may be made by mixing thin hot cabinet glue with enough powdered whiting or yellow ocher to about the consistency of thick cream. The yellow ocher gives a smoother mixture than whiting.

The mixture should be applied while hot with a stiff, flat brush like the one shown in Plate 2. Never try to use this finish on anything but clean, dry wood that has never been painted or finished before. Apply the composition-like paint in an even coat, and as it cools the surface it may be stippled or roughened to produce numbers of patterns by patting the brush up and down as shown in Figure 3, on Plate 2. This rough surface will harden as it is left and a little experimenting on some flat blocks of wood will help to acquire the knack of producing interesting effects.

Sometimes a wad of coarse paper or cloth gives an interesting surface if patted lightly over the plastic finish.

After the composition has dried overnight, or until it is thoroughly hardened, all of the harsh irregular spots should be sanded off with rough sandpaper. Then the work is ready for the final finish, which may consist of any good oil paint, mixed with a little Japan drier and turpentine.

Many interesting colours and designs may be produced in this final finishing by allowing the colours to dry just to the right stage and then stippling or wiping over with a rag, piece of tissue paper, or the end of a dry brush. The raised spots, of course, will show light because of the paint being wiped thinner at these points.

After the desired effect has been obtained, the paint is allowed to dry completely. Several different colours may be blended unevenly to give a mottled effect if desired. Or a few touches of gold powder may be scattered over the paint before it is dry.

Finishing ship models

Ship models, like old rugs, should have a soft, mellow richness not always easy to get by the usual methods of finishing. Many experiments and schemes may have to be resorted to by the reader to obtain the proper effects.
The finishing colours are applied to the model for appearance only and any device or plan that will give the desired effect may be used.


First it is suggested that each part be given one or more coats of shellac before the colours are applied. The ordinary oil colours should be used because of their slow drying qualities. They may be smeared or blended to give the worn look. Colours should seldom be used full strength. A touch of white will soften the more intense colours.

If the colours, after they have been applied and dried, still appear too bright, a thin coat of grey oil colour mixed with a little turpentine may be applied. As this toner dries, parts may be wiped off with a rag to vary the effect. This will produce somewhat of a weathered appearance. A little black with white will give the grey.

Cracks and nail holes

Plastic wood or a putty made with a little whiting mixed with glue may be used as a filling. Either may be applied with the point of a knife and when dry smoothed with a bit of fine sandpaper.


For finishing most of the projects described in this book, small, round camel's hair brushes, size No. 7 or smaller, are the most useful. For the larger projects, such as the wall shelves and footstools, one or two brushes of the flat type, about 1 in. or less in width, will be needed.

Care of brushes

After the brush is used it should be cleaned or left hanging in turpentine, or some other medium that will prevent the paint setting in the brush.

To clean a brush

Fresh paint may be removed from the brush by washing it in any medium which will serve as a thinner of that paint. The regular commercial paint remover should be used for brushes where the paint has set.

If a small can or jar half full of turpentine is kept handy, the brushes with oil paints in them may be suspended in the liquid and kept indefinitely. Shellac brushes require denatured alcohol, and lacquer brushes, lacquer thinner as cleaners.

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