Going Dutch

With the hardware fitted, all that remained to complete the casework for the Anarchist’s Tool Chest was to apply the finish, and I’ve spent the past two weekends attending to this. With the lid removed from the case I first filled the (fortunately very few) significant dents with wood filler, and then sanded all of the exterior surfaces with 120 and 220 grit paper. Given that the tool chest is going to live in the workshop and will no doubt take a beating over the years, I focused on removing the worst of the tool marks and scratches, but did not strive to achieve a fine furniture or musical instrument level finish. Once the case and lid were looking good, I taped up the dust seal and back edge of the lid with blue painter’s tape to keep these surfaces paint free.

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The only real choice of finish when it comes to tool chests is milk paint, and I am not one to argue with several hundred years of dead woodworkers. However, given that my current workshop is a little gloomy, I thought that the traditional none-more-black colour scheme of English tool chests would suck out light and add to the gloom. Consequently, I decided to go with something a little more European (sorry, dead English guys) and ordered a quart of each of General Finishes Federal Blue and Persian Blue milk paint, with the intention of having a very Dutch colour scheme of dark blue undercoat and lighter blue top coat. The advantage of a two colour scheme is that  the undercoat will show through as years of workshop use takes its toll on the top coat.

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 I’ve not used milk paint before, but this experience was entirely straight forward and stress free. General Finishes advice is to apply their milk paint using a foam applicator or pad. My local hardware store didn’t have any large foam pads, so I resorted to a small foam roller (the sort used for glossing radiators) and a 1″ pad for cutting in round the edges and on the bevelled skirts. This is where my old student holiday job of painting school classrooms came in handy, and painting with the roller resulted in a swift and even application without any noticeable brush marks or flashing. The milk paint worked easily and is certainly comparable to applying a standard emulsion paint (and a lot easier than the graffiti resistant oil based eggshell paint we used to paint schools with). All told I was able to do a full coat of the chest and lid in about 40 minutes without feeling unduly rushed.  Being self levelling there was no need to sand between coats, and although using the roller left a slightly dimpled surface, the colour was even and for this purpose I didn’t think that a little bit of texture was anything to fret about.

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 The first coat was predictably patchy, but each subsequent coat filled in the colour significantly. It was after the third coat that I decided to stick with just a Federal Blue colour scheme, and save the Persian Blue for another project. Four coats of Federal Blue resulted in a solid and vibrant colour. Milk paint does develop a patina quite quickly, and as I had only used one colour I decided to further protect the chest with several coats of General Finishes high performance lacquer, chosen because it was compatible with the milk paint and because they offered a flat finish option – there is no need for a high gloss finish on a tool chest.

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 The lacquer was applied in the same way as the milk paint – a foam applicator cut in the edges and the bevels, then a roller to cover the large panels, and again, because of the even coverage left by the roller I did not need to sand between coats. A pint of lacquer gave me three good coats, which should provide ample protection over the coming years.

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Once the final coat of lacquer had dried I removed the painter’s tape, and took the opportunity to fit four 50mm castoring wheels to improve the mobility of the chest (I want to lift it as infrequently as possible) before reattaching the lid and fitting the escutcheon. The lacquer needs a final flatten with 320 and 400 grit paper, but I will wait for a week or so before doing this, so as to give the lacquer time to fully cure. This flattening will be to remove any significant high points only, and I won’t be buffing my way up to 12,000 grit micromesh as I would on a guitar body.

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 The only work left to complete the tool chest is now the internal fit out; saw till, runners, and sliding trays, after which I will be able to transfer my tools into the chest and call this project done.

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