Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How To Make a Paint Box and Panel Support - Part II

This is the second in a series of posts on how to make your own portable painting palette and panel holder for plein air painting. 

After staining and coating the panels with 2-3 coats of polyurethane the next step is to attach the side trays to the center palette with some hinges.  I clamped the side tray/lid pieces to the center palette in their closed position then placed the hinges where I wanted them and drilled pilot holes for their screws.  Repeat this for the tray on the opposite side.

Once the hinges are in place I stuck one vinyl feet/bumper next to each hinge as shown below.  These provide a stop for the side trays to rest against when in the open position (second picture below).  This is important to ensure the side trays don't open past 180º.... because if they do then anything you rest on them (turps, brushes, cellphone) will slide off!

Now you need some way to attach your new paint box to your tripod.  I cut two "L" shapes out of 3/4" plywood (I'll call these the "hooks" from now on).  Since each tripod is different I suggest you hold up your new paint box to your tripod to get an idea of how big the hooks should be and where on your paint box they should be mounted.

Once the hooks are cut out you will need to drill a hole through them and into the side of the palette portion of the paint box.  I used a 1/4" threaded bolt that is 3" long to attach my hooks.  Therefore, I drilled a 1/4" hole through the hook and palette (see below).

Now these 1/4"x3" bolts will need to screw into something.  So, I decided to use a product called a "T-Nut" pictured below.  Basically, these are female threaded parts that have four spikes that bite into the wood and provide a strong hold.

I inserted one T-Nut into each of the 1/4" holes just drilled.  Insert them from the INSIDE of the palette and then use a C-Clamp to push the spikes on the T-Nut into the wood.

Now go ahead and thread the bolts through the hooks and screw them into the holes with T-nuts on the palette.

Now, take the palette box to a glass store and have them cut a piece of glass to fit inside the palette.  Cutting glass is easy and if you have a cutter and feel comfortable doing it then just pick up a piece of glass from the hardware store and cut it yourself.  You don't want the glass to fit too tightly or you risk breaking it.  I left a 1/32" gap around the perimeter of the glass.

I then took some grey oil paint straight from the tube and smeared it on the perimeter of the glass surface filling the gap between the glass and palette box and leaving a thin coating on about 1" of the glass.  I took a straight edge razor blade to scrape off excess paint from the glass and leave this nice straight edge before the paint dried.  This coat of paint serves two purposes - 1. filling the gap so paint and mineral spirits don't seep under the glass and 2. providing a surface for the puddles of paint to grip to so they don't slide across the slick glass.  Let this paint dry thoroughly before you start using the palette.

And here's how your paint box / palette should look when open! 

One other note:  I counter-sunk magnets into the ends of the side trays (pictured below).  When you close the trays the magnets pull together and keep the box closed and when the trays are in the open position, the magnets are a great place to stick your palette knife to.  I bought the magnets then drilled a shallow hole the same size for the magnet to sit in.  I then used a two part epoxy to glue the magnets into the holes. These "earth magnets" are strong so you need epoxy to keep them from pulling out when they stick to one another.  Magnets are a nice touch but are optional.  You could use a clasp or some other type of simple latch to keep the box closed when transporting.

That completes the palette / paint box.  In my next post I will show you how to make the painting panel support.
Closed palette box shown here hanging from my tripod

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How To Make An Inexpensive Paint Box and Panel Holder for Plein Air Painting - Part I

Ok, so here's a way to make a very functional, nice looking paint box and panel holder for under $80 bucks.  This is the type of setup I hook on to my tripod for painting plein air.

This paint box and panel holder can be made inexpensively and relatively quickly.  However, you will need to use a table saw, hand saw, drill and electric sander.  Please be sure you follow all safety recommendations for these is much harder to paint if you cut off your hands.

You can buy this type of setup already made from James Coulter and I highly recommend you do so because he makes great product and you won't have to labor over it to save a few bucks.  I however, happen to enjoy woodworking and love to customize stuff to my needs so I made my own.  Remember the adage: Do as I say, not as I do.

Here is a photo of the finished palette box and panel holder:

To make this project as easy as possible I'm using two Blick brand cradled panels for the palette box; one becomes the mixing palette and the other is cut in half to become the side trays / lid.

In this case I used 11"x14" panels but 9"x12" would make a nice box too.

The panels are shown below...the one on the right is in its wrapping still and you are seeing the front surface.  The one on the left has been unwrapped and I'm showing the back side here.  Note, when I took this photo I had already applied a grey paint to the inside of the back which I will discuss more below.

Cutting your panel
Take one of the panels and measure out and mark a point exactly half way along the long edge.  (14" long panel, so 7" is the midpoint - you're welcome.)  Cut this one panel in half at the midpoint mark you made.  You can use a handsaw but the table saw will give a precise cut.
The one panel after being cut in half

The photo below shows how the two halves will be oriented on either side of the second panel.  The second panel is NOT cut in half since it becomes the center of your palette box.  The backside of this panel becomes the palette where you will squirt out your colors and mix paint while painting.

One note: when you cut the first panel in half, if you used a table saw, the blade removed 1/8" of wood.  So, when you put the two halves back together they now measure approximately 13 7/8".  You will need to trim 1/8" of an inch off of the outside short edge of the remaining panel so it measures      11"x13 7/8".  That will make this bottom palette the same size as the two halves put together since they will become the lid to the palette when closed.  Sorry if that's confusing :-(

I prefer my palette be a mid-tone grey to help me better judge color mixes.  Therefore, I used some grey oil paint to tone this palette.  Simply paint it on the inside back surface and rub it in a bit with a cloth to  remove the excess  paint and reveal a bit of the wood grain.

The center palette with the two "wings" set out on either side.

Sanding, staining and coating with polyurethane

The cradled panels come nicely sanded but you might need to smooth the edges from the cut you made.  Just lightly sand the cut edges with 150 grit sandpaper so any splinters are removed.

Now, blow or wipe away all dust from the surfaces to prepare the wood for stain.  To customize the look, I chose to first stain the outside perimeter with a stain (red in this case).  This is optional...skip it if you want and just use the polyurethane.  After the stain had dried overnight I put a coat of polyurethane on all surfaces EXCEPT the grey palette surface that has oil paint on it.  The polyurethane probably won't stick to the oil paint and I will be putting a piece of glass on it later anyway.  You will have to apply the poly to one side of the panel at a time so that can dry before you flip them over to coat the other side.  The first coat of polyurethane will take a day to dry since it is soaking into the wood.  Subsequent coats will dry in six hours or less (depending on the temp and humidity).  I put three coats of polyurethane on. 

Here are the products I used:

Stay tuned for part II where we will cut some more pieces and assemble the box!

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