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 tools...it 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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