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Painting wood

Discussion in 'Painting Techniques' started by BESPJL, Jan 3, 2006.

  1. BESPJL Active Member

    Hi all,

    this is a silly question but how do you paint (acrylic, oils or enamel) the wood of the spears, axes and rifles?

  2. Flyingkiwi New Member

    As with most techniques, there are many different methods. One simple one is a mix of mediums. First apply an acrylic undercoat in a wood like colour (eg AC41 -Wood) then when dry, brush on undiluted Oil Paint colour Burnt Sienna then after a few minutes with a clean brush, brush across the oil and it with remove a lot of it leaving streaks on top of the acrylic undercoat, simulating the grain. Have a go!
  3. Einion Well-Known Member

    Hi Paulo, what scale? What type of wood? Varnished or unvarnished? If unvarnished, old or new?

  4. BESPJL Active Member


    Thanks for the tip. This approach is similar to the one I use, but I'm not satisfied. Maybe I'm not doing it correctly.


    The scales are 54mm, 90mm and 120mm.
    It's for used in battle roman and medieval spears, and 18/19th century firearms battleground and parade ground.


  5. Einion Well-Known Member

    >battle roman and medieval spears
    It's unknown all the woods used for weapon shafts and but ash seems to have been the most common throughout European history - surviving fragments have been found in Roman spear sockets (another word for the hasta actually means an ash tree), it is mentioned in Beowulf (8th c.) and a number of later mediaeval sources refer to it too. Types of oak were also used in mediaeval times for axes and shorter-hafted weapons (it can be a bit heavy to be practical for longer shafts but it was still used on halberds and other weapons of about that size) and other hardwoods are likely to have been used also, including hazel and sycamore.

    Many weapons for the run-of-the-mill warrior would likely have been unfinished for economic reasons so a matt, pale-coloured appearance would be common I think which means the wood would easily get grimy where handled. Normally wood is fairly matt and in smaller scales in particular there's not really much point in trying to emulate a very subtle sheen; you can also contrast the matter areas with the dirtied portions, which naturally develop a little shine. This means that the wood would be pale, not dark brown or nearly black as is often seen in illustrations and although I prefer the way darker wood looks on a model the pale colour contrasts with the black or dark steel of the head nicely and you do become accustomed to it over time.

    Since we're mostly dealing with the natural colours of woods here are some references (warning: lots of pics), ash:


    For higher-status weapons some sort of protective finish could easily have been applied, at the simplest this could be one or two coats of a drying oil - linseed being most likely since it comes from the same plant that produces linen, which was widely grown - and there are primitive varnishes documented as early as the 11th century. The Romans I'm sure had varnishes as well, you'd have to check to be sure, but I doubt normally they would have bothered to finish mass-produced legion weapons (although the legionaries themselves might have done this on an individual basis).

    At the very least oiling, varnishing or waxing would give a 'richer' colour (I'm sure you know what varnished wood looks like :)) as well as providing some gloss. Do remember though that some types of weapons would be expected to be lost in combat so why waste time finishing them? Some colouring could have been used too - especially for those that were not considered expendable (any thrown weapon) or easily damaged in battle (e.g. pikes) - so warhammers, axes and other weapons used by a warrior elite or the nobility could have been dyed and varnished, even painted.

    For 1/32 scale you can certainly get away without painting grain on most woods used for weapons - if you examine it from an appropriate distance you often can't see any grain, e.g. here and here. I still like to suggest a little - subtly, so that you can't easily see it from more than arm's distance. These look like they are finished and as you can see this enhances the grain.

    I usually start with a pale creamy-yellow colour (mostly white, with some ochre and maybe a touch of a red earth like Burnt Sienna), then mix a darker version of this to do the grain. Dents/chips I then do with near-white and a very dark brown. For the grimy areas where the wood is normally handled in acrylics I build up the effect in layers with thin coats of light and medium browns and then switch to a dark grey to complete the right look.

    >18/19th century firearms battleground and parade ground.
    Now these were definitely oiled or varnished, and could have been dyed also; depending on the wood used and the finish applied these could be quite glossy. Underpainting with a medium brown colour, then lightly suggesting the grain thinly and carefully using a darker brown or black, followed by a light coat of a semi-gloss finish usually gives a good result. Sometimes I build the colour up over a paler underpainting and black graining in translucent glazes. Obviously for the larger scales you'd need to pay more attention to the detail and finesse with which the grain is applied.

    I think it's a good idea to use photographs of period pieces and good-quality reproductions to work from for maximum realism. Do also remember that wood tends to darken with age, so many surviving weapons are a lot darker than when they were new and reproductions usually seek to mimic this.

    Sporting and hunting guns, and guns made for the gentry generally, often use beautiful woods that were highly figured:

    Just to illustrate the difference between finished and unfinished stock woods:

    And for a laugh, not your granddaddy's flintlock :lol:

  6. Guy A Fixture

    Fantastic references Einion. Many thanks for your time and posting these. I've created a folder to have them handy.

  7. Vikingz Member

    Take this suggestion for what it worth but has worked for some of my applications of wooden shafts and oars for medium to darker woods.

    Apply color and rub method

    Step one- Starts off with light base color either acrylic or enamel in yellow or orange hue and let dry.

    Step two- Apply various(3-4) colors of oils in very small/light amounts across the shafts. Choices umber's siena's cadmium really options are endless all dependent on the wood choice.

    Step three- Apply a very diluted light wash of black

    Step four- I use a lint free rag its quick and easy but a stiff brush could be used here. The object is to mix all the colors together. Wipe up and down the shaft till I have coverage. The effect here is that by rubbing the oils off the base coats start to show thru that gives you the dimension with the hint of the various colors you chose.

    Step five- Back to normal and highlight.

    The reasoning in this method is that there are several colors in real wood/trees.
    This process has taken many years of just trial and error but and this point in time its effortless and so fast for me with great effect.

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