Appliques or onlays are an easy and beautiful way to breathe new life into old and tired furniture but there is no question that they can be quite expensive especially if you need a large number of them. In my quest for inexpensive DIY furniture appliques I have come across several tutorials that explain how to make your own onlays out of a wide range of materials from Plaster of Paris to papier maché to Durham’s water putty as well as joint compound, Portland cement and resin just to name a few. There are also a good number of tutorials that explain how to make your own casting molds. (Because large ready made applique molds can be even more expensive than the onlays themselves!) After months of experimenting with different materials I finally settled on a method of mold and applique making that works for me and I’d like to share it because it may work for others as well. In part one of this tutorial I’m going to talk about how to make your own molds because an onlay is only as good as the mold it springs from. I also must point out here that if you don’t want to bother making molds and you don’t want to spend alot of money on them either, Ebay sells a huge variety of inexpensive silicone molds that will work quite well for furniture appliques. Most of them are actually designed for cake making and sugarcraft but they can also be used with other casting materials as well. So if you want to make small appliques or create larger ones by assembling together several smaller pieces then this might be the way to go. Just make sure they’re deep. Some of the really shallow lacy molds I’m sure work fine for cakes, but they don’t work well for resin or plaster appliques. The mold for this little scroll can be found all over Ebay for just a few dollars.
This one inch rose mold cost $3.99. They can be used over and over to make hundreds of onlays.
For larger appliques or for replicating an existing piece when you need several of them to put on your furniture however, my favorite mold making method is liquid silicone. It’s alot simpler to work with than people think. I happen to like Pinkysil which I believe is made in Australia but it’s also sold in the U.S. on both Amazon and Ebay (disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Pinkysil or have anything to do with the company, I just like this product and it’s what I use) It provides a quick and easy way of making re-usable silicone molds. There are also several similar products such as Oomoo which works in pretty much the same way. I’m partial to Pinkysil because it begins to set in about 6 minutes so you don’t have to wait overnight for your molds to be ready. On the down side, Pinkysil sets so quickly that you don’t have much time at all to mix it and pour it, particularly if the weather is hot so you do have to work very quickly and there is no room for mistakes.
Most of the mold making silicones on the market come with two components which are mixed together in equal parts. But the first thing you have to do before doing any sort of mixing, is to prepare the container where you are going to make your mold. This is where you will place your original piece i.e. whatever it is that you want to make a mold of. You don’t necessarily have to use just one item, you can also use several small items and arrange them in a pretty pattern and make a single mold from them so that you can later cast your onlay in one piece. The container shouldn’t be too much larger than your original piece and ideally you should leave about half an inch all around between your item and the enclosure walls. If you leave too much space you will waste silicone. A Tupperware container is perfect for this purpose as it’s self enclosed and you don’t have to worry about seepage through any cracks or joints, however it’s sometimes impossible to find a container that’s just the right size to encase your original piece perfectly so you may have to make one. I’ve done this several different ways. One way is to use thin flexible cardboard to fashion an enclosure around an irregularly shaped piece. Last year a friend gave me this cute wreath which I thought would look nice on an art nouveau cabinet that I am currently painting. The problem is that the cabinet has two doors and I needed another wreath for the other door. So I made a mold of it to later cast an exact replica.
I set the wreath on a large smooth ceramic tile. Then I made an enclosure out of thin flexible cardboard and surrounded the wreath with it, following it’s shape as closely as possible. The cardboard was taped onto the tile with masking tape all around the outside edge. Then the entire inside edge was sealed with play-dough where the cardboard meets the tile so that none of the silicone would ooze out when the enclosure was filled. Inside the wreath I placed another smaller cardboard circle so as not to waste alot of silicone in the empty space within, again fixing it in place with masking tape. The inner circle was sealed in the same way as the outer circle, with play-dough.
Press the play-dough (or you can use putty) down against the tile to form a tight seal. After the mold sets, the playdough will just lift right off and is re-usable.
As far as figuring out how much of the silicone to use, the best way to measure volume is to fill your enclosure with rice or lentils or whatever you have on hand (I’ve even used vermiculite to do this) and spread it evenly over the original piece allowing it to cover at least half an inch above the highest point of the piece. Then pour the rice into a measuring cup and that will tell you how much of the silicone you are going to need to mix for that particular piece. Remember to divide that amount in half because you will use equal amounts of part A and part B. So for example, if your rice measurement equals half a cup then you will use one fourth cup of Part A and one fourth cup of part B. For this 7 inch in diameter wreath shown here, I used the entire contents of a 500g package of Pinkysil. If you end up mixing less than what you needed don’t worry. You can mix a bit more and pour it over the first batch. Silicone will stick to itself and both batches will join together automatically.
Another important point is to fix your original piece in place to the bottom of the enclosure otherwise it may begin to float upwards when you pour the liquid silicone over it and your whole mold will be ruined. I usually just stick a few globs of play-dough to the underside of it and press it firmly down to affix it. Remember to always place your original piece FACE UP.
Once the mold form is ready and your original piece is fixed in place, mix the two components of the silicone according to the instructions on the package. You must mix until no streaks remain. Then pour the mixture over the original piece in a thin stream all in one spot. If you pour it all over throughout the enclosure you will cause air bubbles in the finished mold which will ultimately show up in everything you cast later, so allow it to spread by itself and then let it set until it’s completely firm. The setting time varies from brand to brand. As I said earlier, I use Pinkysil. It’s really, really fast setting so if the temperature where you live is on the cool side then you will have approximately three minutes to stir and mix it well and an additional three minutes to pour it. However, if the temperature is warm (and I found this out the hard way) those six minutes are significantly reduced. With the first batch I made, I mixed and stirred for about three minutes as per the instructions, but to my horror the stuff began to harden and set right in the mixing bowl. I frantically tried to pour it quickly into the prepared container but by that time it was much too thick and stiff to pour. It ended up in the garbage. So if your temperature is around 80 or 85 degrees farenheit, then you have about one minute to mix it and one minute to pour it. That’s it. I have read that Oomoo is much slower setting so I guess that might work better for some people.
After the silicone has set completely, peel the cardboard off gently and lift the mold up off the tile. You may have to pry it loose from the tile with a spatula. Most things don’t stick to silicone so you shouldn’t have any trouble removing the cardboard. I’ve never had any problem with sticking. You will need to remove the original piece which will now be encased within the mold and that’s when you will be able to see the cavity that is left. It’s often necessary to trim the thin excess pieces and little flaps of silicone with the scissors so that the mold cavity is completely open.
Here is another way to enclose your original piece for mold making. I made this enclosure out of strips of left over plexiglass. This works well if you just want to make a square or rectangular mold. Take each strip of plexiglass and hot glue a smaller piece to one of the ends at a 90 degree angle. You will need four of these.
You can now adjust the size of your square or rectangle to make it larger or smaller by moving the plexiglass strips closer or farther apart. Hold the pieces of plexiglass together with clothespins or large clips.
Seal the four corners with play dough or putty on the inside, making sure to press down to form a tight seal.
Then place a strip of play dough all along the outside bottom edge and press down to seal tightly.
Place your original piece inside of the square, face up. Don’t forget to fix the piece in place with a bit of play-dough so that it doesn’t move around. Then pour the liquid silicone into the enclosure making sure to cover the original piece by at least half an inch. Plexiglass is very easy to remove from the silicone once it’s set just by prying it loose gently. There is really no limit to the number of molds you can make. Almost anything can be used to make a mold, a brooch for example or a wooden onlay etc. and later cast to produce large decorative furniture onlays or dainty little appliques that can be used to embellish pictures frames, mirrors or scrapbooks.
In part two, I will talk about casting materials and explain how to actually cast the appliques in your molds. Meantime, here’s a really good little video that talks about how to make silicone molds for shabby chic appliques:
French Country Cottage for Feathered Nest Friday
My Romantic Home for Show and Tell Friday