The final finish on the kantele wound up being a simple, clear polycrylic coating. However, I had many other extensive ideas for finishing and decorating the kantele that I tested as part of the building process.
I thought I might use colored stains or dyes, acrylic paints and possibly inlays on the instrument. I tested Minwax water based blue stain and clear polycrylic coating and General Finishes water based blue dye and water based top coat as two choices for the basic overall finish. I wanted to incorporate colored wood grain within the overall visual design. At the recommendation of several finishing experts accessed online and in stores, I tested the stain and dye choices several ways in order to minimize the potential for blotching which is common when applying stains to birch. Minwax stain was tested in combination with a prior application of pre-stain conditioner, while the General Finishes dye was tested with a prior application of water. Both choices were also tested straight on the wood without any pre-applications. I also tested using acrylic paint, Pearl Ex metallic powders and several brands of water-based paint pens in combination with the Minwax and General Finishes products. I eliminated the idea of inlay because it would have required the purchase of several additional tools I didn’t have access to.
I had several ideas of decorative design possibilities for the kantele. One possible design mockup created in Photoshop is shown above. I also thought I might include Finish petroglyphs or figure elements from Finish shaman drums as design elements because of connections I made between these two simple yet powerful instruments. The reasons for this were interesting, but complex and beyond the scope of the blog at this point. Some samples of these drawn with paint pens are shown in the test image below.
I much preferred the General Finishes dye and top coat to the Minwax stain and polycrylic coating. The dye was the right color and created a sense depth and enhanced the wood grain, although some blotching was evident. The Minwax stain was dull and a less attractive color in comparison.
When I tested the top coats over the acrylic paints and paint pens I encountered some problems. The top coats smeared the paint pens. I tested acrylic varnish spray over the paint pens to fix them before applying the top coats but it affected the look somewhat and I questioned how varnishes would react with the top coats. I also learned from an acrylic paint manufacturer that the paints I intended to use should cure two weeks before being covered by the top coats. I did not have time for this due to work related deadlines, so I opted to not do a complex surface design.
Final Finish of the Instrument
I decided to save the General Finishes stain and top coat for a future project that I would have time to complete exactly as I desired. I used the Minwax Polycrylic coating as a finish over the bare wood. This was an unfortunate decision. Although the finish adequately protects and brings out the grain and beauty of the wood, it is very difficult to get a smooth, professional finish with this product. The first couple of coats worked well, but three minimum are recommended. The final coat kept bubbling and showing brush strokes. I repeatedly sanded and reapplied the finish (many, many, times!), following every instruction and recommendation on how to apply the product. I honestly spent several hours every day for a week re-sanding and re-finishing the kantele in an attempt to get a good finish. I finally gave up and accepted an imperfect result. While the finish is adequate, a close inspection will show the problem areas. So this is one aspect of the project with which I am a bit dissatisfied.