Bronze powder ersatz

(ed: written Jan 2009)

As I mentioned previously, I read George Grotz’s book The Furniture Doctor a while ago.  It is well-written and informative on many subjects having to do with furniture restoration, particularly the myriad of finishing options available.  Should you get a copy, I would suggest the updated edition published in the 1980s, and particularly commend your attention to the chapter about forging furniture, which provides an amusing glimpse into a world that I had not previously encountered.  (Step one: build armoire.  Step two: put armoire on windswept hill for one year.  Turn monthly to ensure even exposure.)

One of the types of finish that he discusses is the use of bronze powder over (usually) some sort of black paint.  You see this used to make images of fruit, vines, or as a sort of pinstriping.  I was once fascinated by a rocking chair at my grandmother’s house that had this treatment, but had forgotten entirely about it until reading about how it was done.  As one would suspect, you use stencils.  What I didn’t suspect was that you can, with delicacy of touch, “fade” the bronze color to the background black; you apply the powder with a little felt thimble worn over the finger, which naturally applies more powder at the beginning of a stroke than at the end.  You can then manipulate this technique to provide a three-dimensional effect to the pears you are stencilling onto your chair.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that I like the look of bronze striping on black, but am not terribly willing to spend lots of time laundering felt thimbles and mucking about with vials of bronze powder to get it.  While rummaging around in my “misc. supplies” drawer last week, I turned up a jar of gold Stencil Magic (R) Paint Creme that I purchased at a craft store some months ago, perhaps due to a half-remembered impulse to draw metallic fruit on my stationery box.

This Creme (?) is a viscous material that applies more like a soft wax than paint.  In addition to noting that “Labeling conforms to ASTM D-4236”, the top of the jar informs me that it is NONTOXIC, a claim I am reluctant to test, given the uncanny resemblance the material has to ground metal in a somewhat fragrant suspension.  (While I know that small amounts of some metals aren’t toxic, I am not reassured by the perhaps overly emphatic all-caps nature of the claim.)

Not having an appropriately expendable smooth black surface handy, I figured I would just try it out on an index card to get an idea of how it looks.  I am also unwilling to trust to my stencilling ability, an ability I last practiced in the second grade or thenabouts.


I drew a letter “R” in stylized script on an index card, and then cut it out with an X-Acto type knife.  (For those wondering, that is a Gerber Artifact, a curious pocket tool I received as a gift recently.)  To my suprise, I remembered to leave material connecting the outer stencil to the inner stencil covering the hole in the “R”.

pre bronze application

I taped the stencil card to a blank index card.  I then selected a piece of the finest paper towel I had lying around, for use as a brush.

When the Stencil Magic people inform you that a “skin” will form on the surface of the Creme, they aren’t kidding.  I gouged a hole in it, and then began wiping the creme onto the card through the hole in the stencil.  It has a pleasing consistency, though you need to use more of it than I expected to get a solid coat.  Once done, I removed the stencil from the final card.

post bronze application

Results: more experimentation needed.
1)  As is obvious from the picture above, I need to immobilize the small pieces of the stencil better.  The feathering of lines surrounding the hole in the “R” show that this part of the stencil moved despite my efforts to hold it steady.
2)  A brush might work better to get an even application, and is in fact what you are supposed to use for this.  I’ll probably try a cheap flux brush next.
3)  This stuff doesn’t fade well, since it seems to dry patchily if you don’t use enough of it.  It does look good in the places where I put enough on, though, with crisp edges.  It would probably be good for pinstriping or other solid designs.  I would want to clearcoat it to protect it, though, as one would do with real bronze powder.

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