Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Making panels

I make my own painting panels. I do that for several reasons, the first and most important is that I want them oil primed. The panels you buy at the art supply store are primed with acrylic. Oil paint "sits " much better on an oil primer and it dries in less, feels better under the brush, and binds better with an oil ground chemically. The other reason is, I can make them cheaper than the commercial boards. Much cheaper.

I buy Masonite (hard board ) panels at a big box lumberyard that cuts them into 24 x 48 pieces they call handypanels .They are much easier to cut alone on a table saw . Putting a 4' by 8' sheet of hard board through a table saw alone is almost impossible. I set the fence to give me the width I want, in this case 18' and then I carefully feed my stock through the saw. My wife is inside so if I feed my hand in there too, I stand some chance of a rescue. Don't use a table saw when there is no one else around.

My table saw is a hundred and fifty dollar Sear special. I wouldn't want to build kitchen cabinets with it, but for cutting painting panels it works just fine. It also has folding legs so I can store it in between uses. I ended up with some left over material after cutting my 18 x 24 s so I used that to make 11 x14"s and 8 x 10" s. I wasted almost none of the hardboard.

Out in my back yard I have set up a couple of sawhorses with several 2 x 4s running between them and a scrap of plywood to set my tools on at one end. I do this about twice a year so I have the whole setup ready to be used when I need it.

Here are my materials for priming the panels. I have a can of oil-alkyd primer from Sherwin Williams. (Correction, the formula on this product has been changed and I am now using Zinsser OIL BASED primer. They are best known for shellac based primer, but I am using the oil based now.) I don't like the acrylic, but in some states oil based primer has been made illegal. If that's all you can get, it will have to do, but it is vastly inferior to the oil base. Acrylic gesso is the other choice. I dislike that stuff and I have seen it peel of off of a panel, but lots of people use it. It is a drag to sand, like sanding rubber.

I put the primer into a roller pan and thin it till it is like cream with mineral spirits. Then I lay it onto the panels with a foam "hotdog" roller. A hotdog roller is shaped just like a hotdog, that is it is rounded at the ends so it doesn't leave an edge mark behind. I buy the ones that promise a super smooth finish. I also have a plastic disposable roller pan liner , which I use over and over until I am forced to dispose of it when it gets too loaded up with dried paint.

Here I am happily rolling on my primer with a steak cooking on the grill behind me. I put a coat on lengthwise being careful to leave no raised lap marks in the primer. That's easy. The I throw them onto the grass to dry. I like to do this on a hot afternoon as it helps my drying times, and in a couple of hours they are dry.

Notice the panels are a little warped at this point. Thats because I have only painted one side, and that side has shrunk. When I am finished with the panels I will paint the backs with latex paint that I have left over from some household project. It doesn't matter much what color it is. This is important for another reason. I want to seal up that board as best I can. I have known people to paint the edges too, but I don't bother.

In an hour or so in the sun the boards dry enough to recieve a second coat. The second coat I apply across the panel, going the other way than the first coat. Then I let them dry in the sun again until they are ready to sand.

I use a palm sander with a piece of 150 paper on it. 150, seems to be exactly the right grade. You can hand sand these if you don't have a sander. The sanding goes real fast. The primer is made to be sanded. I can sand an 18 x 24 panel in less than a minute. That's why I used the super smooth roller .

Here is my whole setup for doing this.

The panels I make are a LOT better than the commercially available panels. I will show you in an upcoming post, my boxes for transporting panels.


Gregory Becker said...

That is how I make panels also.
However I didnt think of painting the back side with house paint.
On the side I wish to paint on I use a 50/50 mixture of acrylic gesso and light modeling paste. I apply it with a foam roller. It's as smoothe as vellum when I am done.
I can make about 20 panels for about 20 bucks.

Rae O'Shea said...

If you don't want to make your own panels, New Traditions and Wind River Arts both sell oil-primed linen on various supports. I'm sure they are more expensive than those you make yourself,but they are good quality.

Rae O'Shea said...

If you don't want to make your own, New Traditions and Wind River Arts both make oil-primed linen panels. I'm sure they are more expensive than making your own but you can get them.2

Tony Perrotta said...

So, you prefer the super smooth surface to paint on? Why? I make my panels also using the acrylic gesso, you are right it's not the best, too gritty. I have tried using oil prime but the panels are very slick, too slick for me anyway. Would leaving the surface unsanded help me with a little texture do you think? Love the blog.


Richard J. Luschek II said...

I make panels occasionally, but I so prefer painting on canvas. I usually glue canvas to the board. Though I have yet to find a full proof technique for that.
I was just using a thick PVC paste called Yes Paste, to glue them up on the raw wood. Sometimes it would come off later. Then I started priming the wood first, that seemed to be a bit better, but I still get some peeling back.
I roll on the paste thickly, lay the canvas on cut a bit bigger, I use a rubber roller, then I clamp similar sized panels face to face with spring clamps and let it dry. I seem to be getting better, and once the panel is in the frame it holds up fine, but I would love a better glue of this if anyone has ideas.

jeff said...

I make my own panels as well, and sometimes buy canvas panels.

I use a company called SourceTek who sell them in 5 packs and they are oil primed linen.

They also sell Miracle Muck which is what you want to use to make canvas panels. Yes glue will fall apart. I have had disasters with this stuff and have known others who have also had the canvas peel off.

I use RSG and whiting and sometimes I mix a few tablespoons of walnut oil which makes the gesso less absorbent.

Unknown said...

You answered my questions. I always wondered if masonite would warp if moisture got to it, but I am guessing the latex paint prevents that from happening.

willek said...

Hi,Stape. Panel making is a controversial subject. I always thought masonite was archival, but I read an article in one of the popular art magazines that claims there are many kinds of Masonite/ hardboard products and they are made by differing processes. I can't find the article but it went into great detail. I did not agree with some of the articles conclusions. I think these panels are terific supports and can be very stable compared to canvas.

I think the kind with a skin on two sides is best. and lately I am getting the 3/16 or 1/4 inch thick panels. The cheaper board with the rough back and one smooth side that is selling in Home Depot is of questionable merit in my view. It is very flexible and a small amount of moisture can cause it to swell and incur mold growth. Also, the kind of a paler color is less like wood and more like cardboard. Hope Depot does not appear to offer trade marked: Masonite brand.

You must cover both sides or cupping will occur. This is common practice in the furniture trade when making table tops. Theoretically, you should use the same paint for the back asa the front as there are differing rates of moisture transfer through different films.

You might save a buck getting the help at Home Depot to make your two free cuts on a 4 x 8 panel to make a 2x4 foot panel and 2 3x4 foot panels. The 4 x 8 panels are much cheaper than the handy panels.

I have been glueing 2 inch backing strips for around the perimiter of bigger panels. They stiffen the panel and give you a something to grab when horsing it around. I have not used oil priming much, but it seems it would be better on a stable panel than on canvas. I am satisfied with a higher grade acryllic gesso which I apply on canvas with a large angled spatula. I have been using carpenters yellow glue for glueing canvas to masonite panels with pretty good success. I laminate a 3'x4' with canvas, then cut it to size as needed. WillEK

willek said...

Guess what, I found the article!!

It is: "Ask the Right Questions About Hardboard" by Richard Thomas Davis, of American Artist's, Oil Painting Highlights. The only date on the cover is "Display until April 7, 2008" WillEK

Telepock= the indentation made on one's head after having been struck with a telephone.

Bob Carter said...

Richard, I glue oil-primed linen to hardboard using polyvinyl acetate (PVA) glue. This looks like Elmer's Glue-All, but it's archival. (Elmer's is not pH neutral.) PVA glue is a bit expensive (~$35/gallon?), but the jug I bought several years ago is still half full. I add a very small amount of water to each batch to make it the consistency of heavy cream. Then I use a disposable bristle paint brush (available from any hardware or home supply store) to slather it on the back side of the linen piece. I used to use a roller on the primed side to smooth the glue coating, but I don't anymore because it doesn't seem to improve the results. Smoothing it with my palms seems to do the trick. I stack several same sized panels, put a larger panel on top, and weigh everything down with a series of gym weights (5-25 lbs each, depending on size). The next day I trim the edges. Sometimes I end up with small gaps in the glue at the edges, if I'm not careful enough to really pile it on at the margins. Otherwise, they come out great.

jeff said...

The Masonite brand is no longer made.
Hard board is all that is made now.

What you get at Home Depot is the worse grade that is made. If you can go to a better lumberyard and see what they have.

My personal favorite for panels is Baltic birch 1/4 inch for small panels or 1/2 inch for larger ones.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Make sure you paint the back, that's important.

Stapleton Kearns said...

They are both of good quality and expensive.I prefer the ones I make anyway, although a friend gave a panel
he had made recently with Causens 12 on it and I liked that.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I have made some that are too slick. But that hasn't been a problem of late. Yes I like panels a lot. I have even considered making cradled panels for the larger pieces.
If you leave them unsanded they have a sort of orange peel surface, I don't like it much but you might. The oil prime is a little thirsty and that pulls the paint of the brush nicely.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have always had problems with canvas adhering to the panels. It seems like under some adverse conditions they come loose at the corners or shrink. Or ziz and hiss like the Austrian self sharpening razors.
But I am perfectly happy with the smooth panel surface. It may even be my favorite support.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I have had mixed results with miracle muck too. We used to use it to make wide cloth covered liners back in the days of the Conestoga wagons.
Source tek makes a nice panel too.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Sealing up the back is essential. The latex seems to work fine.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The light skinned hardboard is different I Think.The stuff I buy is dark.I also buy the heavier stock, the thin flexes way to much.
In the old days we used to worry about whether it was "tempered" or not. the tempered was impregnated with some sort of oil that was possibly going to migrate through your paint. We always avoided it.
I think that the oil prime puts a pretty solid seal on the board.
I used to have the guys at Home depot cut my paneld. When I got them home they would be 3/8ths off. I tried standing over them and checking their work with a tape measure but they resented that. So I now cut my own. I want them to be exactly the size they are supposed to be.
I don't think I would recomend using the oil primer on a canveas. The stiff support is fine I have been doing this for years and have never had a problem.
I distrust the acrylic gesso. I don't want water in my paint. It contains hydrogen you know!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Was Patrick Swayze on the cover of that issue? I don't suppose you would be willing to scan it and email it to me would you?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Bob: that is a good way to use up the scraps of canvas you have left over around the studio. Gluing canvas down is easier than doing gesso or primer sometimes.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The Baltic birch is nice. Have you ever tried mdf? I have heard of people using that too. I have never tried it.

Unknown said...

What I want to know is, How was the steak?"

oddly enough, the word tonight is:
"grilt" - what happened to your steak.

willek said...

Who is Patrick Swayze?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Don't you shop? He is a celeb who is on the cover of all of the scandal mags.I don't think he paints.

Stapleton Kearns said...


The steak was excellent.We have been experimenting with various marinades. That one came from Gourmet magazine.

Grilt= combination of greed and guilt. as in " he felt grilt,but took the enormous bailout, all the same"

jeff said...

I have never used MDF but I have heard that it is prone to moisture problems. I knew of one painter who had the stuff blister on him and the ground lifted.

It's a lot heavier than hardboard so I have always avoided it. If I use hard board I buy the tempered stuff and hit it with alcohol and then sand it to get any of the slickness off.

I have found that tempered works better and if your using oil primer all the better.

I like real gesso made with RSG.

Baltic is the best as it's light and strong, but a little pricey.

I go back and forth, if I can find good quality hard board, which seems harder to find these days since the Masonite company closed down.

Unknown said...

I wouldn't use MDF. That stuff soaks up water and swells like a sponge.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The one time I looked at MDF I ahd it recommended t me and it seemed to thick and heavy. I think sign painters use it though. I am happy with the panels I am making now.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Short sell MDF stock.

Tony Perrotta said...

Yes indeed the darker masonite is better than the light skinned type. The light type is very soft and almost like cardboard. Hardboard should be Hard ! I find that depending on where you buy it it varies in thickness by small amounts, it might be 1/8th or a little thicker or thinner. Go with what Stape says get the thicker 1/4 in. it doesn't warp half as bad as the thinner stuff. I have not found any glue that really holds canvas to panels well. If you were to really rough up the panel by sanding it edge to edge maybe it would bond better.. ? Lot of work then. I guess if one insists on making their own the work is worth it to sand the panels for the canvas to adhere properly.

Michael King said...

I just tried a panel I made using the Zinnser oil primer and it makes a huge difference when compared to acrylic gesso. I didn't have to fight the paint. It was so nice. Thanks for the info on this!!