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Metal Fabrication

Hurting Those You Love

Three signmakers offer advice on creating crackled finishes

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The rock band Nazareth said it best: "Love hurts/love scars/love wounds/and mars." Put into the context of signage, one may pose the question: Why would any sane signmaker want to abuse a poor, defenseless sign into which he’s poured hours of sweat and energy (blood and tears are optional, I suppose)? Time and environmental conditions will exact a toll on even the most well-made signs, so what would be gained from giving one the appearance of accelerated degradation?

Those who regularly work on crackle- or distressed-finish signs see the appearance of decay as a thing of beauty. For these craftsmen, an elderly looking sign evokes a bygone era, when signmakers used brushes, quills and paint.

Here are a few examples of signs that, whether by chemical or physical alteration, look as though they’ve already been subjected to the brutal trials of time.

A little varnish, a little paint

Rick Glawson, owner of Fine Gold Sign Co. and Esoteric Sign Supply (Wilmington, CA), has 24 years of gilding experience, with considerable experience in the fabrication of "antique" signs. His shop devotes itself solely to gilding, having sworn off other commercial signwork approximately 20 years ago.

According to Glawson, several methods produce a crackle finish. The first, simplest method is applying animal-hide-based glue, such as LaPage, under the final layer. When the glue is applied, it cracks to reveal the undercoat. This is probably the least reliable method, Glawson notes, because there’s no guarantee that the glue will truly crackle, as it may just create a crude, peeling surface.

"The glue is actually a layer below your finishing coat," Glawson notes. "If it doesn’t do what you want, you’re in trouble."

Another option is to use a glaze, which comprises equal parts linseed oil, varnish and turpentine, water-based crackling varnish and a patina finish. LeFranc & Bourgeois manufactures what many consider the best of these products, but the French company’s wares can be difficult to find in the United States.

After the sign has been primed and painted, the designer uses sandpaper or a 3M Industrial Adhesives & Tapes Div.’s Scotchbrite

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