Airbrushing my Birger Sandzen-Inspired Carving for the Tilt-Front Laptop Computer Desk

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Blog entry by Mark A. DeCou posted 10-12-2007 05:56 PM 7722 reads 1 time favorited 16 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’m in the midst of finishing up a project I have really enjoyed. Sure, it has taken me two times the hours I bid, but I am happy with the result. Actually, it has come out better than I expected, which is always a nice surprise.

This is a functional-art piece I wish I wasn’t selling, to be honest. But, I have already spent all of the down payment. So, giving the money back is not possible, so the customer will get her desk.

There have been a few pieces I wish I could have kept over the years, this will be one of them. This customer has several that I wish I could keep, so that is good, and she lives only a mile away, and takes good care of the things for me.

In carving this picture, I knew that I was trying to show a style that reminds people of the work of the Kansas Artist, the Late-Birger Sandzen. His work was wild in color, thick in texture, and very busy in layout. So, if you see those things in my carving, I have succeeded.

To add some contrast to the picture, and to make it look like I want it to, I am going to airbrush a darker tint on certain aspects of the carving. To some carvers, this will be almost like torture, but this is my art, and I do what I want. Even my wife couldn’t talk me out of it this morning, so you probably won’t either.

Here is the Airbrush Rig I have. It is an Badger Anthem 155. I bought the accessory Hose Kit, and added my own Regulator, and In-line Air Filter. The whole rig is about $100.00 US. I just hook this rig up to my air line coming from shop compressor, a 30 gallon tank model I think. I could buy the small oil-less airbrush compressor, but I don’t like listening to them run, so I use my old shop compressor for the air source. My shop compressor is not “oil-less”, so the inline air filter traps all of the drops of oil that would otherwise make it to the airbrush tip.

I airbrush with the pressure regulator reading anywhere from 15-35 psig. I change the pressure a little, depending on what I am doing. If I want fine sharp detail, with little overspray, I turn the pressure down. If I want a wider, heavier spray, I turn it up.

I bought my Badger through the cheapest place I could find it on the internet, and it turned out to be the same place my friend bought hers also.

This source is Dixie Art in New Orleans, LA. Here is the link:

Dixie Art pays me nothing for the plug, just telling the truth.

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To have a tint to spray, I choose to use lacquer tinted to the color I want to use. In this case, I am working in Birch, trying to match an old set of existing cabinets with a yellowed finish. My first step was to take the old sample door, and some new scraps to my local Sherwin-Williams store, and had them mix up a gallon of wood stain to match the color. I am not going to put the stain on the raw wood, that would be a mess, since Birch Blotches so bad when staining. Also, it wouldn’t look like an old yellowed finish if I was staining the wood. So, the key is to stain the Finish, and spray the yellowed finish. I degress from my Airbrush project, but I wanted to give you some background into why the wood is so yellow in color.

Here is a tint kit I bought through Mohawk on the internet. I use it to make any color oil based paint, stain, or finish I want. I tried once to tint Acrylic paint, but it didn’t work for that. This kit is very handy to have around the shop for sure. I didn’t use this tint kit in this project since I let Sherwin-Williams do the hard work of mixing the yellowed finish tint. Many times I have used the Tint Kit, so I am showing it here.

Neither Mohawk, or Sherwin-Williams pays anything for this plug, but I’m willing take some cash, if they contact me. I have a paypal account we can use! ha.

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Here is a photo showing the difference in using the tinted yellowed lacquer to build a finish that matches the existing cabinets.

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Here is a shot of what I am using in the airbrush. I started out with thinned Deft Satin Lacquer, about 40% thinner, 60% Lacquer (I don’t measure it exactly). Added about 6 ounces of the Sherwin Williams Stain to the gallon of thinned Satin Lacquer, you see that in the old Watco Lacquer Can.

Then, in the glass jar, you can see the final tinted lacquer after I have mixed in some Minwax Dark Walnut Stain to the yellowed Lacquer. I add some more Lacquer Thinner to get the consistency I need for the airbrush. I don’t know how much, I just wing it, and hold up the stir stick and judge how fast it runs off whether I need more thinner. If the airbrush clogs up, I remix with some more thinner. Simple huh?

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Ok, now that the tint is mixed, and the solution has been poured into the syphon cup on the Airbrush and it is time to get to work. There are always some stomach “butterflies” at this point, but I press through the fear. Afterall, I could just stop and carve a new panel if I really messed it up.

It did take me about an hour to clean up the airbrush so it would work, as I didn’t clean it well enough the last time I used it. Don’t make that mistake. Another reason why I don’t do Video, it would be pretty boring watching me brush and clean the airbrush parts.

I start by darkening some things, like tree trunks, and shadows, to get a feel for the tint, and how it will work on the carving. Remember, since I am spraying tinted lacquer onto tinted lacquer, it will melt in, and combine into one color. It does not layer, like paint does. Lacquer melts into the lower layers, so the end result, is a darker tint. Often, it looks a little different after a few hours of letting it all melt together. I have scared myself in the past, thinking that I really messed up, only to find that the melting process saved me when I checked the work the next morning.

To stop this melting process, I have also sprayed a coat of Shellac. That allows me to put a new tint on top, and it won’t melt into the lower layers. I did not use Shellac on this carved panel.

To get the stone mortar to darken up some, I just spray on the tinted lacquer, and quickly wipe it off with my finger. This removes the dark tint from the surface, but lets it sit in the cut lines. After that has time to sit a few minutes, I go back and shadow in the whole wall, keeping in mind where my Sun is in this picture that is looking to the West.

Sorry about the bald head, blame my parents.

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Another more close detail photo.

The Badger Anthem Airbrush sprays by pushing down on the finger button, and pulling it backward gently. The more it is pulled backward, the more spray comes out, and the wider the pattern that is sprayed. This does not work like a normal spray gun, where I just pull the trigger, and adjust the pattern with a knob.

With this push/pull back button, I can spray from a gentle mist, to a fairly sharp line. It takes some practice, as it is hard to get used to, but after a few hours, the feeling is natural, and it is sort of like riding a bike, it just comes back each time I use it. I’m not expert, and the more artistic a person is, the better they can use this tool. Also, using cut masks is a good way to paint, such as layering on clouds, or grass. I decided not to use the tint, as paint, only as contrast, as it was just my choice in this case.

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Here is a photo showing the carving in it’s raw Birch wood.

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Here is a photo showing the Yellowed Tinted Lacquer on the carving

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Here is a photo showing the final work, after the Airbrush work.

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Another shot, with the background blacked out.

Unit Installed at the Client’s home:

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If you would like to read more about this project, please see the following blogs:

Side Note:
If you like the hammered Copper Finger Pull on the door, I hope you will come back and read how I made that myself.

But, that is information for another Blog

Now, you can see why my projects take me so long to complete!

thanks for reading,
Mark DeCou

(This writing, photos, drawings, design, and sketches, are copyrighted by M.A. DeCou 10-12-2007, any use of this material is restricted without the express written authorization of the Author. Thanks for your help.)

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

16 comments so far

View oscorner's profile


4564 posts in 3732 days

#1 posted 10-12-2007 06:05 PM

Mark, the carving in the raw was beautifull and I thought that you would have used a stain at most and coat it with poly or shellac, but the airbrushing job is fantastic! Super choice and application. I’ve only airbrushed Tee shirts (when I was younger) and would have never imagined using an airbrush on wood.

-- Jesus is Lord!

View douginaz's profile


220 posts in 3423 days

#2 posted 10-12-2007 06:45 PM

Simply stunning Mark, You are a true craftsman. I don’t blame you a bit, I know I would sure hate to part with something with that much time and effort in it. Keep up the good work and Thanks for posting.
Doug in AZ.

-- If you need craft books - please visit our small business at

View Damian Penney's profile

Damian Penney

1141 posts in 3413 days

#3 posted 10-12-2007 06:47 PM

Wow, that’s great Mark, top notch.

-- I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it. - Pablo Picasso

View A.W. "Pappy" Ford's profile

A.W. "Pappy" Ford

98 posts in 3303 days

#4 posted 10-12-2007 07:09 PM

Absolutely exquisite, Mark! You’re my idol…

-- --==[ Pappy ]==--

View Mark Mazzo's profile

Mark Mazzo

352 posts in 3334 days

#5 posted 10-12-2007 07:12 PM


Again, another great blog entry. Thanks for the continued insight. Great work!

-- Mark, Webster New York, Visit my website at

View DocK16's profile


1178 posts in 3508 days

#6 posted 10-12-2007 07:42 PM

As always an exquisit piece of work. I thought I remember you writing in one of your blogs you were a good carver. I wish I had your “inability”. Many thanks for sharing your techniques.

-- Common sense is so rare anymore when you do see it, it looks like pure genius.

View TomFran's profile


2952 posts in 3415 days

#7 posted 10-12-2007 07:59 PM


You are a REAL artist. Great work.

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 3582 days

#8 posted 10-12-2007 08:36 PM

I had the perfect statement to “talk you out of it” (ha) but I guess that is too late now, huh? :)

the plain wood: amazing
the tinted wood: gorgeous
the airbrushed wood: magnificent.

Another wonderful “Mark DeCou” heirloom-to-be. Well done.
The carving, in my opinion, is PERFECT. There is such a fluid, peaceful “movement” in the picture.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14167 posts in 3404 days

#9 posted 10-12-2007 09:48 PM

Beautiful job !

From the digital image it has the look of antique leather.
thanks for posting this blog.

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6819 posts in 3401 days

#10 posted 10-12-2007 11:32 PM


Just a spectacular job!

I have an air brush I have yet to use. It was part of a barter at a woodworking show for an ezee-feed unit. A fellow vendor at another booth wanted to swap products.

It’s a great setup, but I just haven’t gotten around to using it. Maybe after seeing what you can do with it, I’ll be inspired to give it a shot!

As usual Mark, your work is perfection!


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 3736 days

#11 posted 10-13-2007 02:15 AM


View Sawdust2's profile


1467 posts in 3509 days

#12 posted 10-13-2007 03:23 AM

Why would you eve want to make an Adirondack chair when you can create such a magnificent desk?

-- No piece is cut too short. It was meant for a smaller project.

View WayneC's profile


12642 posts in 3519 days

#13 posted 10-13-2007 04:08 AM

Very wonderful work. It is always a joy to read your blog.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Bob Babcock's profile

Bob Babcock

1804 posts in 3507 days

#14 posted 10-13-2007 06:18 AM

Wow…stunning! You always take it to another level Mark.

-- Bob, Carver Massachusetts, Sawdust Maker

View Roger Strautman's profile

Roger Strautman

656 posts in 3555 days

#15 posted 10-13-2007 12:01 PM

Mark, I can’t say anymore than what has already be said. We all have a mentor and you are mine. Thanks!!

-- " All Things At First Appear Difficult"

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