HGTV's Decorating With Style Project Instructions
Segment #307

Faux Bronze Finish On Plastic Shelving

By Maude Gold Kiser

I did this project on HGTV's Decorating With Style back in the '90s. I really wanted the segment to be about shellac, my favorite of all finishes, but they didn't need another segment on furniture. They did, however, like this idea I came up with for doing a faux bronze finish on plastic shelving, which incorporates both a shellac-based primer and shellac as a top coat. While you may not be interested in this project, itself, these instructions include some quite useful information on priming plastic to make it paintable, and applying shellac to wood and anything else. Click here to see what I'm working on now.

Not a very good picture, but you get the idea
Plastic shelving may be inexpensive, but it's also oh, so, ordinary. Here's a way to turn it into something interesting. This technique, of course, can also be used on any other surface. Don't let the number of steps or the length of these instructions put you off. This is a really easy project. I just added a lot of detail for those who may be unfamiliar with using some of the supplies.

Supplies All of these supplies can be found at hardware, paint, and crafts stores.

  • BIN Primer/Sealer--Don't substitute a different primer. BIN is a shellac-based primer that sticks really well to slick, smooth surfaces (without deglossing) and allows you to paint all sorts of things that paint usually won't stick to like glass, glossy paint, and Formica.

  • Zinsser Bulls Eye Shellac, Clear--You can probably also do this project with spray shellac, but I brushed it on and am only giving directions for that application. A pint of shellac should be enough to do several shelves.

  • Denatured Alcohol--To thin out the shellac. Don't ever use isopropyl or rubbing alcohol with shellac.

  • Paint--
    • Gleams Ceramcoat Acrylic Paint by Delta, Bronze (#02606)
    • Delta Ceramcoat Acrylic Paint,Green Sea (#02445)
    • Apple Barrel Acrylic Paint by Plaid, Nutmeg Brown (#20521)

    One bottle of the green should be enough to do several shelves and supports, but I'd get one of each of the other two colors for every three shelves you're doing. These should be available at any crafts supply store and in some crafts departments at other stores. If you can't find these colors you can substitute the bronze with a coppery-looking antique gold (most of the copper colors I found were too orange), the Nutmeg Brown looks just like melted milk chocolate, and the Green Sea looks like that color green that was so popular in the '30s and '40s (I have several cooking utensils that have handles this color). What you're after is the look of verdigris, which varies in color anyway.

  • A cheap little foam paint roller--Get one that comes with at least two of the foam covers (you might want to pick up a couple of spares if you're doing several shelves). Buy the cheapest you can find; they aren't worth cleaning after this project. A roller that comes with its own little pan is handy. Otherwise you'll need something like a one-course, frozen meal container to use as a roller pan.

  • An old T-shirt--Cut this into two (approximately) 12" squares so that when they're folded up they make about a 4 x 4 inch pad. You need another smaller pad (about 3 x 3) to apply the green.

  • 1 1/2"-2" brush--To apply the shellac.

  • 1" foam brush--See Step 4

  • 0000 Steel Wool--To knock the shine off the shellac. If it's still too shiny for your taste, you'll want to use 000 steel wool instead, so you may want to go ahead and pick some of this up, too.

  • Paste Wax--Optional. See Step 10

  • Ammonia--For cleaning your brush after applying the shellac. Denatured alcohol works, too, but ammonia is cheaper.


Step 1  —   Even if the shelves are new, it's probably still a good idea to wipe them off with alcohol to remove any residue that may be left behind from the manufacturing process. If they're used, clean them up with whatever cleaner you have handy. Crayon (or any other kind of wax) and grease should be removed with paint thinner/mineral spirits and mildew with bleach, but the BIN will cover any remaining stains. It wouldn't hurt to give the shelves a final wipe down with some alcohol, no matter how you clean them.

Step 2  —  Stir up the BIN, pour it in the roller pan, and then use the foam roller to thoroughly cover the surface of the shelves and shelf supports. The foam roller causes the surface to be somewhat rough, but you want it to be--it adds to the effect. It's exactly this reason that I don't recommend using a foam roller for any other application of this product (unless a rough surface is what you're after). The BIN will feel dry to the touch in a few minutes, but let it dry for about 45 minutes before you start painting. Use a little piece of fine sandpaper to knock off any pointy "peaks" in the primer that may otherwise get knocked off later when you rub out the finish, revealing the BIN below the paint.

Step 3  —  Wet the two larger pieces of T-shirt and ring them out well. Then fold each into about a 4" x 4" pad.

Step 4  —  Squirt some of the bronze and some of the brown paint onto separate plates (or whatever else you want to use that isn't too deep and gives you room to blot some of the paint off your rag). Then, starting with the brown, dip the flat surface of one pad into the paint, blot off the excess, and then lightly pat-pat-pat all over the surface. You want to cover it, but this is just the first level so you don't need to be terribly thorough. The paint dries almost instantly so you can proceed right to the next steps. Use the chisel tip of a sponge brush to get in around the little raised squares at the corners of each shelf where the supports attach, and then blend in using the edge of the rag.

Step 5  —  Use the other pad to do the same thing with the bronze paint. Then go back to the brown, and finish with the bronze. What you're after is depth and texture, so, you can keep going back and forth between the two colors until it looks interesting to you. It looked good to me after four layers. No matter how many you do, you want to end with the bronze.

Step 6  —  Put the shelves together before adding the green. Then, make a smaller pad out of your remaining piece of T-shirt (don't forget to get it wet and wring it out first). Using just the edge of the pad, very lightly start applying the green anyplace where there's a 90 degree angle, along the bottom edge of each shelf, and along the outside edge of the top of each shelf. Just barely dab it on there. You want to start out with just a "whisper" of green. Once you have a feel for it you can decide just how far onto the flat surfaces you want this "verdigris" to spread. Be sure to apply only a little at a time. Keep a damp rag handy to quickly remove mistakes; once it's dry it's hard to get off. If you do get more than you want on there and it doesn't want to come completely off, get it off as best you can, and then cover the area with more brown and bronze (remember to end with the bronze).

Step 7  —  It'll feel dry when you get done, but you probably ought to let the paint set overnight or at least for a couple of hours.

Step 8  —  Apply a clear topcoat of shellac. You can use any kind of clear-coat you like, but I always use shellac unless thereís a good reason not to. It's a beautiful, natural finish that's been around for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. Not only is it easy to work with (once you get the hang of it), but it's also so safe that it's used as a coating on candy and pills (if you see confectioner's or resinous glaze in the list of ingredients that's shellac).

Note  —  Soak your brush in a jar of ammonia in between coats and just shake it out really well before using it again (if possible, it's best to do this outside). Donít rinse out the ammonia, just shake off the excess. Rinsing your brush in water between coats will cause the shellac to get cloudy (a phenomenon known as blushing). The same thing will happen if you apply shellac when it's raining or very humid. If it turns out that you canít get back to the second coat until the next day, you can just leave your brush in the ammonia (although thatís probably not the best thing for a good brush, Iíve left cheap brushes like this for days). When youíre through, rinse your brush well in the same jar of ammonia (or denatured alcohol) and then wash it out with soap and water.

Applying Shellac  —   If youíve never used shellac before, get something you can practice on to get the feel of it. (I suggest practicing on wood and if you mess up just scrub the surface down with plenty of alcohol and 000 steel wool and start over). This is actually a real easy finish to apply once you understand its nature. The hardest thing about working with it is that it dries very quickly, but there are a few tricks that make this easier to deal with. I know this might sound like itís hard to do, but it really isnít. It took me hardly any time to get the hang of it.

  • First, thin the shellac 50/50 with denatured alcohol. Using a clear measuring cup is the easiest way to do this (afterwards you can clean the measuring cup with ammonia and still use it for cooking). Donít make up more than a cup at a time; a little goes a long way.

  • Now, hereís the trick to applying it. As I said, shellac dries almost instantly. By the time you brush from one end of the shelf to the other, where you started will already be dry. Load your brush up and just lay it on there with a nice smooth stroke and never, ever go back if you miss a spot. Each layer melts the one below it and any gaps (what they call widows or orphans) will blend in. Once you get the hang of it youíll know just how much time you have to mess around, but for now donít backtrack to cover these missing spots. Itís a real good idea to have a light that shines across (not above) the surface. It makes it much easier to see what you're doing.

  • Start back from where you ended (a pendulum motion is the best visual aid I can think of to describe what I mean), trying not to overlap with the previous pass as best you can. Work at a nice brisk pace.

  • Always try to have enough shellac on your brush to make it all the way across, but if you do run out of shellac in the middle, reload your brush, and then, starting a few inches from where you ran out, lightly sweep back into where you ended, then continue on (again, think pendulum).

  • By the time you get all the whole shelf unit covered, it should be dry enough where you started to begin a second coat. Conventional wisdom would recommend letting it dry for two hours between coats. If youíre impatient, though, as thin as this first coat is, it should be all right to go right on. Two coats is probably enough for this project, but if you want to do another (the more coats you apply, the more depth to the finish) you really should let it dry for a couple of hours between coats from here on, even though it will feel dry when you get done with each coat. Once youíre happy with it, leave it alone until the next day. Donít worry about how shiny it looks. Youíre gonna fix that with the next step.

Step 9  —  When refinishing wood, this step is called rubbing out the finish and thereís really nothing to it. Using 0000 steel wool, just lightly rub all over the surface. If you were working on wood youíd want to use more pressure and rub with the grain. In this case use little polishing-type circles and donít bear down too hard; youíre just knocking off the shine to create a gleam. If itís still shinier than you want it to be, switch to 000 steel wool. Most would recommend that you use mineral spirits/paint thinner as a lubricant for this step. It cuts down on the dust and makes it a little easier to see what youíre doing. I usually donít bother with this and just use a cloth to wipe the dust away as I go. When you get done with this step, though, wipe the whole surface off with mineral spirits or a tack cloth (from a hardware or paint store).

Note  —  With this project it shouldnít be necessary to steel wool between coats. The shellac is so thinned out that the next coat should melt away any brush marks or ridges (that are the result of overlapping your rows too much). If you were using a thicker mixture of shellac and working on wood, you might need to use some 320 sandpaper or 000 steel wool to smooth out irregularities in the surface between coats. You canít (and shouldnít need to) use sandpaper for this project, but if you should accidentally get any lumps (for example if some shellac dripped off your brush and you didnít notice it until it already had a chance to set) these can be melted by whisking them with a T-shirt pad just barely dampened with a bit of denatured alcohol. Do this really lightly with a sweeping motion or the pad will stick to the surface and make an even bigger mess. Then smooth the whole area out with some 000 steel wool.

Step 10  —  I almost always use paste wax to give a little added protection to the shellac, but in this project this step really isn't necessary; it just gives a little extra added gleam. If you do use paste wax, use a soft cloth to wipe on a very thin coat, wipe off any excess, allow it to dry just until it hazes over (work in sections or it will get too hard), and then polish it up with a soft cloth. Because of the texture of this finish you may not get all of the wax off with just the buffing cloth. This is also the case with any large-pored woods such as oak, mahogany, or walnut. To solve this problem I always go over any of these kinds of surfaces with a shoe shine (or other soft) brush. Do it right after polishing with the cloth or it gets much harder to do.

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