AIR BRUSH TECHNIQUES – Joe Fleming, June 28, 2014

Joe brought samples of wood turned objects by different artists to show the variety of textures, colors and finishes obtainable.  Many were painted and some were dyed.



  1.  Metal acid dyes are color fast to UV light.
  2.  Aniline dyes will fade in UV light.
  3.  Prismacolor markers are alcohol based inks.  Tombow markers are water based.  When using dyes or markers, wood burn the outline so that th dye or ink will not bleed through the grain pores.  The wood burned line becomes a barrier for the dye or ink.



  1.  Opaque paint covers the wood grain.
  2.  Transparent paint does not hide the wood grain or knots, etc.  There are lots of sources for air brush paint.  Golden brand has transparent and opaque.  Grex “private stock” brand has both transparent and opaque paint.

Joe used transparent paints primarily.  Gramme Priddle apples gel stain with a toothbrush to get the material into the carved details and wood pores.  Gel stain can be opaque.



The most effective bleach is a two part bleach – sodium hydroxide (lye) and hydrogen peroxide.  This bleach can be obtained in paint stores and may be known as an “A + B” bleach.  Joe uses “Klean Strip”.  He mixes equal parts of A and B in a separate container, then applies it to the wood. (Some people apply part A first, let it dry, and then add part B.)   Once the wood is dry, another coat of bleach can be applied.  The bleach solution must dry between applications for the bleaching action to work.  He repeats the sequence until the wood color is gone.  It takes 3-5 applications.  Some other people place the wood in bright sun to get better results but Joe doesn’t do that.  Neutralize the wood with a 50/50 mixture of water and vinegar or just with water.  Joe uses a wet/damp paper towel to remove the chemicals.  Joe uses bleach so the wood color doesn’t bleed through the transparent paint and change the color.  This is really necessary in woods like walnut, cherry, pepper, acacia, etc.  Joe prefers to bleach all his wood before painting to get consistent colors.

Joe sands to 220 grit when the wood is dry.  Finer grit sandpaper will close up pores.  Use a sanding sealer before painting or dyeing.  Quick 15 is a good sanding sealer.  Bleach extra wood samples to test the paint colors.  Record the wood species and paint and date on reverse side of sample for future reference.



There are many tools to help you become aware of color mixing.

Michaels – “Color Mixing Bible”

Color Wheel – Magic Chart ) or call 541-929-7526

Magic Palette – “Color Mixing Guide” style #5324 for Golden Paints

Transfast dye powders – mix with epoxy

Transtint dyes are metal acid dyes

Liberon – metal acid dyes

Golden air brush paints are the right consistency for air brushing.




Air brush hand pieces

There are many manufacturers available.

  1. Master Air Brush:  $30 for the handpiece, $40 for the handpiece and cleaning kit available from Tri City Paint.
  2. IWATA model “Eclipse HP-CS” is the airbrush many wood artists use.  Cost is approximately $170.  West Coast Air Brush sells them used /refurbished for $100.
  3. There are many other manufacturers such as Paasche, Badger, Aztek, etc.
  4. Get multiple guns so you don’t have to keep cleaning.  Clean the airbrush with diluted cleaner.  Use a brush in the bowl to clean the needle.  Use alcohol as the last cleaning solvent on the needle.  Lubricate needle after each use.


Using Air Brush

Set compressor at 20 to 30 psi – use a combination filter/pressure regulator.  Use a double action air brush – 1 for air, 1 for color.  Depress trigger for air and slowly pull back the trigger for color.  Practice the technique with water color paper.  Wrap hose around hand and use 2 hands to spray.  For right handed people, hold the gun in the right hand and use the left hand to support the right hand.

Basic exercises:

Dots    Small/lg. dots   Lines           Arcs          Circles


To mix paint in the cup hold finger over tip and depress the trigger and let air into cup in order to mix paint.

Deep Black:  purple + blue + shading grey

Black:  purple + blue + grey

Seal open grain wood with sanding sealer.  Use paint filler (Liquitex) for larger pores.  Joe sprays a matte fixative on his final painted surface to protect it.

Ultra Shiny “Don Derry” Lacquer Paint Finish – See Joe’s procedure on website.

This finish produces an ultra high gloss lacquer finish on the object.  The process takes care and patience to produce.  After all the painting is complete, Joe uses many coats of lacquer to build up a finish.  Joe does not sand until after the last coat of lacquer.  Joe wet-sands with 400 grit wet/dry paper..  The “Sanding Glove” has a 5″ diameter sanding disk.  After the last lacquer coat, polish the lacquer with  Meguiars polishes in 4 steps: medium cut (first), fine cut (second),


Swirl Remover (third), and Show Glaze, (last).  Joe uses nitrocellulose lacquer from Hood Finishing (732-828-7850) HighGloss “Magna Shield” clear lacquer.



To transfer images onto wood, use a laser Xerox copier (not ink jet) to copy the image.  Place image face down on the wood and use a Chart Pak colorless blender pen to transfer the laser toner on to the wood.  Joe uses “Saral Transfer” paper.



To look at Joe’s resources list, go to, then click on Tips and Techniques, scroll down to “Coloring Wood – Resources” and open Joe’s file.

Dick Blick Artist Supplies has Golden paints, air brush supplies, and birch plywood sample boards – 8″ x 10″, 6 for $5.

Tri City Paint (San Diego) also known as on the web

West Coast Air Brush, Anaheim