How to Balance a Handheld Palette for Painting

Balancing a Handheld Palette

How to Balance a Handheld Palette for Painting

If you make a wooden palette or buy one available from your art supply store you might find that it is not quite balanced on your forearm and wrist. Today I’ll show you how you can make a counterbalance for your handheld palette to make holding the palette way more comfortable!

There seems to be two types of handheld wooden palettes on the market these days. Inexpensive palettes and expensive palettes. The inexpensive ones are nothing special and often show up at your art store in a variety of sizes. These inexpensive palettes tend to be oval in shape and while the small ones aren’t noticeably unbalanced the larger ones definitely are. I used (and still use) this medium-sized palette shown below:

my wooden paletteThis palette has 1000s of hours of use and it only cost me a around $7 or so. At around 14 inches across (the long ways) this palette doesn’t appear too unbalanced. But recently I wanted to try out a bigger palette so I bought another cheapo wooden palette this time much larger. This palette is so uncomfortable to paint with I can barely use it for more than an hour at a time. This new, large oval wooden palette is completely out of balance.

Why balance matters?

While I wouldn’t want to hold onto a heavy palette an unbalanced palette of any weight is far worse.

Why?

An unbalanced palette constantly twists your wrist and thumb. It’s annoying as heck and gets painful if you put in many hours behind the easel like I do. I’ll admit that a heavy palette is not by any stretch a desired trait but a little extra weight to balance out the palette should be an improvement.

We can do this by adding a counterbalance to the inside of our palette. Yes, it will add some extra weight but, in my experience this will only enhance the awkward twisting and pulling that an unbalanced wooden palette otherwise creates.   This is a great solution if you are limited on your palette selection nearby.  It’s something you can do right now to make your big-wooden palette more tolerable to hold.

Choosing Your Weights

Honestly you can get creative with any material you can find around your garage or basement. Have a bunch of old metal washers? You can epoxy them to the bottom of your palette to provide a counter balance.

For my large palette, I took a look at some of the wooden planks I had stored in my garage. A couple of months ago my father had dropped of some old, rough-milled planks. I am not sure what kind of wood they are but a few of them were noticeably heavier than any pine board that I had…much heavier actually.

After seeing the photos in this post, I’d love to know what kind of wood this is.. if you know please leave a comment below.

Anyway, I cut some blocks of this hardwood and placed them atop the inside edge (towards my body) of the palette while I was holding it. I was trying to calculate how much of the wood I would need to offset the twisting motion of the palette.

After deciding upon the chunk of wood I would use as a counterbalance I decided to clean up the wood a bit. I did this partly because I was interested to see what the woodgrain looked like. I also wanted to round off the corners so they didn’t dig into my forearm when painting.

I used a trim router with a roundover bit to do this.

 

Just a bit of sanding and I decided to finish this nice wooden counterbalance off with good ‘ol linseed oil. I reached for my container of boiled linseed oil which has driers in it. I wiped it on, let it soak in for a couple of hours and then wiped off any excess.  Hey we are not serving dinner on this block of wood, so one coat of oil works for me!

Below you can see the wood soaked in linseed oil, seconds after I applied it:

 

 

Attaching the Counterbalance

Attaching the counterbalance to the bottom of my palette was simple because both materials are made from wood. With a little bit of wood glue I had myself a nice functional counterbalance to my new, large wooden painter’s palette! And I must admit I love the look and feel of the oiled wood block I used to do the job.  I clamped them together to make sure everything was joined properly.

clamping counterbalance

Clips & Accessories

A modification I made to the counterbalance wood block was to notch out a section near the front, outer side of the block. I did this, because this is where I sometimes clip on my metal cups. You know those little metal cups that clip onto the palette and hold solvent, oil or any painting medium for that matter. I don’t always use these metal containers but when I do I like them to the front inside of my palette right about where the counter balance exists. So…. I just made sure to notch out enough room for the metal clips.

palette cups and counterbalance

If you’re thinking why doesn’t this guy just go buy a premium palette you are probably right but….

Premium Palettes

One of the problems with the premium palettes out on the market today is, well for starters they are quite expensive. And many of them have to be purchased online without getting to try them out first. I believe this seems awfully risky for a $50-$100 hand held palette. Yes that’s how much the premium palettes sell for and some of them are quite small too. Many of them are finished beautifully too… almost too beautiful. One could almost feel guilt smearing paint around them!

There are a few premium palette makers out there that claim to have completely balanced palettes, but the same problem persists… Do I want to spend a bunch of money on a palette when I’m not sure I will like it. I mean some of these premium palettes have some really kooky shapes too.

Besides…

I wanted a gray palette this time around.  I’ve really enjoyed doing all my pre-mixing on my gigantic glass palette, so this is only the next logical thing to try.

So I added two coats of a neutral gray oil paint to this gigantic experimental palette.  Just like my glass palette, I used a Munsell N5 color.  This means it’s a perfect neutral color, neither leaning towards blue or red and is a medium-value.  5/ in Munsell terms means a value right between white and black.  You really should learn more about the Munsell Color Space, it will change your life.

gray palette and cups

4 Comments

  1. Deborah Damgaard-Hansen says:

    Good solution! Thanks for sharing! I have a large but unbalanced palette, which I´d taped a few children´s wood blocks to underneath. NOT a long term solution. I´m going to paint it gray, and add a heavier block like you did. Then I´ll have “options.” ( I also have a large nicely balanced wooden one, better quality and almost too nice to paint over.)

    1. John Morfis says:

      Thanks Deborah. I know right?, some of the finished wooden palettes almost look too good to paint on!

  2. Deborah Damgaard-Hansen says:

    New question : is it gray oil indoor housepaint you used, or artist oil paint? How many coats? Did you varnish it also?

    1. John Morfis says:

      I added two coats of regular artist’s oil paint. I just let it dry for a long time 1+ week in between applications. I actually mixed up a Munsell N 5/ … I used my Williamsburg N4 + N6 to make quick work of it! No varnish, but I did add a very small amount of neo-megilp (Gamblin’s Alkyd) just to make it dry faster. The photo makes it look shinier than it actually is.

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