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Small gift projects for those you love are a lot of fun to make, and (hopefully!) a lot more fun to receive than things that are simply "purchased".

As an example, I recently finished a small stool that I picked up at a garage sale for $4. It was an ugly orange-y colored maple with a deep scratch and some water rings on the top. But it was perfectly sound and strong. I spackled the scratch and gave it a quick scuff sanding before base-coating it with an off-white latex that was left over from some other project (who knows which one?).

Since I wanted some fine cracking, I next I put a few touches of hide glue here and there. It was thinned with lots of water to keep the crackle small. Then I put on a fairly bright yellow glaze. In the spots where the glue had been, the cracks appeared, and I rubbed in some light brown artist's acrylic so they would show up a little better. Normally I would use artist's oils so as to not re-wet the cracks with a water-based product. But these were small areas that I could work quickly, and wipe off the extra, and it would be dry in a few moments.

Next came some quick pinstriping freehand in a green (that was left over from the videos) and a small rose stencil on the top, done in just two colors. It took longer to pick out the stencil (and cost more money, $6.00!) than the rest of the project combined.

Still, the whole thing was less than twelve dollars or so, took less than three hours, and looks great in a country sort of way. The hardest part will be deciding whose tree it'll go under...

Try something like this, -you'll love it, and somebody will love getting it! Other quick and easy projects might be an old picture frame, maybe with a favored photo or mirror in it. Small boxes (available at hobby stores) or small clock kits work well, too.

Are you on the other end of this; wanting a gift for your favorite finisher? Here are some ideas:

A bundle of disposable brushes such as "chip" brushes (wooden handles with natural bristles) or foam wedge brushes wrapped with a ribbon. (I won't be getting too Martha here, make up your own wrapping ideas.)

A box of rags, available at most paint stores. Ah, what luxury! (Probably best to give this to guys, who will genuinely appreciate the thought and usefulness; women don't seem to find the same romance in things this practical.)

A set of artist oils or acrylics. Usually 6-12 tubes of the most useful colors in a box, and usually selling for less than they would separately. Prettier to look at than the box of rags, -equally useful.

A good brush. Though you don't really NEED a whole lotta nice brushes, everybody always likes one more. It doesn't matter if it's a bristle or synthetic, generic housepainting brush or specialized artist's or faux finishing brush. If it's high quality, the recipient is gonna be very happy with this gift. You can't go wrong, and you can name your own budget.

Okay, one last wrapping idea. Whether it's paint and varnish related or not, empty paint cans make great containers for presents. I don't mean your slopped up used cans, I mean shiny, bright, brand new empty cans in pint, quart, and gallon sizes available cheap at most paint stores. Pop some surprise into it, press the lid on, and stick a label on it. (They're even legal to mail like that!) And after opening the present, the container is darned handy...

And of course, one last gift idea. I admit to being biased, but think a copy of my DVD's would make a great present!

From Dorian, some nice comments (thank you!) and a very good question about her whites turning yellow, -and we're not talking laundry here.

"The problem is, when working with white or near-white colors in oil-based paints, after clear-coating them with varnish, they turn yellow(ish). What's happening here?"

White (oil) paints have always had a tendency to yellow over time. Usually that's not a big problem, -it's a pleasing enough color itself. It is magnified in locations that receive low light, the oil in the paint needs sunlight to keep it light colored. You may have noticed this effect when removing a picture from a wall and discovering a darker colored patch left behind. (This happens less often now because most walls are painted with latex paints which don't have this problem.)

At any rate, furniture or trim or walls that are painted white and indoors will yellow with time. A room on the north side will have more trouble than a brighter south side will.

Now let's switch to talking about varnish for a moment. We're talking about the oil-based varnishes here; alkyd, urethane, or polyurethane. Although they're called clear-coats, they're not really clear. Just stare into a can of product and see if you can see the bottom of the can. You'll notice that it's anywhere from a little amber to a murky brown. Of course if you're looking through a full can, that's the equivalent of thousands of layers of brushed on finish, -but still, there's obviously a color to it even in the few coats we would actually use.

So now you can see that if we add a couple of "clear" coats of something that has an amber cast on top of something that ambers in low light (the white paint), we'll be doubling up on our ambers. But wait, it gets worse!

Even the "clear" varnish cuts down further on the amount of light reaching the paint beneath, making it yellow even more, especially a few weeks or months later.

What about top-coating (clear-coating) the white oil paint with a water-based varnish instead? Water-based products don't yellow, in fact, some of the clear products have a slightly blue tint to them. So the problem is lessened some-what, but not as much as you would think.

The water based "clears" are slightly more opaque than oil-based "clears," so they cut down a little more on the amount of light reaching the underlying white oil paint, which of course makes it more yellow...

Enough already, you say!? How can we win?

Well, some of the time, we can't. If you're highly desirous of creating a white white, faux marble (or other effect) in oil, try to change your mind. Learn to want and like a warmer, creamier white.

Or switch to water-based products, which will give you no trouble staying white.

The only problem you'll have is if, like Dorian, (and I've been in this position, too), you want to do a floating marble style in pure white. You'll remember that you can't really do a floated technique in water-base, only oil. So just do as I do when I see a shiny new tool that I don't already have; just try not to want it...

- Dave

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