Wood finishing is really not difficult or complex when you break down the components. There are four basic techniques to the art: Colored wood toners, stains, glazes and shading stains. Although there are many other techniques that make up the complete spectrum of wood finishing, this article focuses on these four basic coloring techniques, on which many others are based.
1. Colored toners
I will start with the colored toners. This medium is usually made with pigmented paste colorants that are added to either clear or white lacquer, with lacquer thinners added to reduce the viscosity. In some cases, the white lacquer is colored with pigmented colorants to produce a colored toner, and then those are added to clear lacquer to produce yet another color.
For example: A pink or flesh-colored toner typically is used to create various cherry, red maple and mahogany colored finishes. I would use a white lacquer tinted with Burnt Sienna paste colorant to produce that pink or flesh-colored toner.
By using the white lacquer, only a tint of color is needed to get the correct toner color. If the Burnt Sienna were used in a clear coat, I would also need to add a white colorant in order to get a good pink or flesh-colored toner.
Here as another example: If I want to do some light fruitwood, light oak or pine finishes, I could add some French Yellow Ochre to white lacquer and produce different yellow-colored toners. If I used a clear coating, I would need to use a lot of French Yellow Ochre colorant and also might need some brown Burnt Umber to darken it a little.
To produce all kinds of walnut colors, you can add either Burnt Umber or Van Dyke Brown into white lacquer. This will produce various tan-colored toners.
Typically, toners are thinned out so they have very little color, and they are sprayed in several passes of the gun to slowly build up the right background color. In most cases, the toner is translucent so the natural wood shows through. This makes the toner look more natural. In some cases, depending on the selected finish, the toner is made to be opaque. Then it is glazed and clear-coated. This, basically, is how faux finishes are produced.