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All Things Ampersand

Ampersand 101: Unprimed Basswood Panels

For our third installment in our series of “101” articles about Ampersand “bords,” we are going to look at our most popular Value Series panel, The Artist Panel – Unprimed Basswood.  With so many new artists discovering and using our wood painting panels, the back-to-basics Ampersand 101 series is designed to introduce and explain the features and benefits of our different panels. But even if you are a seasoned Ampersand veteran, you will find information in these articles to inspire and hopefully encourage you to try or revisit a panel that you don’t normally use.

There is a plethora of raw wood panels on the market these days. In fact, the market has grown so much since Ampersand’s first commercial panel, that many manufacturers, large retailers, and distributors who were not in the panel business have introduced their own raw wood panels. Unfortunately, most of these panels are rough, poorly made, and contain inconsistencies that can ultimately compromise your artwork.

At Ampersand, our focus is panels.  They aren’t a side business or an afterthought. Our desire is to design and manufacture high-quality art materials that will inspire and protect an artist’s work for years to come. All our panels are made with quality materials that have been tested not only for durability, but also for performance with artists’ paints.

Prior to introducing The Artist Panel – Unprimed Basswood, we did a lot of research to understand the opportunities and limitations of raw wood panels in order to provide artists with the best plywood panel option. Most company’s raw wood panels use birch as the painting surface largely because it is inexpensive and widely available. At Ampersand, we choose our materials based on performance, not price. Accordingly, we choose to use basswood.


  • Tight, even grain means a smoother panel and no fiber-raising – requiring less priming, sealing and sanding.
  • Ultra-stable, will not give or flex
  • Sturdy 4mm premium basswood surface supplies superb durability when compared with other plywood panels.
  • No seams, distinct knots or “football patches.”
  • Ampersand quality at an affordable price.

Basswood is a premium, select wood that outperforms the typically used birch plywood in many ways. Because of its tight, even grain, moisture is not easily absorbed, preventing undesirable fiber-raising. It is inherently smoother than birch and is much easier to gesso and paint on. Knots and other defects are almost non-existent. Unlike other plywood panels, you don’t have to worry about fiber-raising or excessive wood grain given the fine, uniform characteristics of basswood that offer a more consistent, even finish and superior stability. It will not give, bend or flex.

The Artist Panel – Unprimed Basswood is handcrafted using a sturdy, non-flexible 4mm basswood top, sanded perfectly smooth and ready to seal and prime with the ground of your choice. Its minimal wood grain is straight and has a fine, even texture and a moderate natural luster. Basswood’s growth rings tend to be subtle, and its pale white to light brown color is uniform throughout the face of the wood.

Ampersand’s Unprimed Basswood panel doesn’t have plywood seams, knots or troublesome patches thus providing the cleaner, more professional look that artists’ want. Knots in wood can loosen over time and fall out, leaving a hole, whereas seams can move independently causing cracking and splitting in the finished piece. We inspect and select each panel to assure that it is free from these defects that could compromise your artwork.

All Brands are NOT the Same!

Birch veneers will exhibit more fiber raising
which will require more sealing and priming
of the surface, while basswood has a tighter,
more even grain and requires less sealing.


Beware of plywood with a veneer that appears evenly
finished, but is paper-thin. This type of plywood will
inevitably exhibit cracking once you prime the surface,
which will compromise your artwork!


Beware of large knots that over time can shrink
and dislodge from the panel leaving holes in your artwork!
Inspect your surface for these defects


Never use a panel with a “Football Patch.”
This is how some manufacturers cut corners to reduce costs.
Even with repeated gessoing, the patch will show through!


The Unprimed Basswood panel is available in a variety of sizes up to 18” x 24”, in two standard cradled profiles of 7/8” and 1 1/2” that are both simple to hang or frame. The support cradles are made with quality solid pine strips that add maximum stability and can be finished with paint or stain. The cradled back allows you to attach hanging hardware and display your artwork easily – without a frame! If you prefer to present your artwork framed, these two cradle options fit perfectly into Ampersand’s Floaterframes.

For ideas on how to treat the edges of the cradle and on displaying wood panels, consult this article on hanging and framing.

Ampersand’s Unprimed Basswood

Ampersand’s Unprimed Basswood panel is great for use with encaustics, mixed media and collage. Also, the tight grain of our basswood panels makes them the preferred choice for wood burning / pyrography and intricate engraving. Its smooth finish is perfect for mounting other art, prints or canvas and readily accepts most adhesives.

As a raw wood panel, The Unprimed Basswood panel is wide open to accept any type of ground: traditional powder gesso, acrylic gesso, and oil-based or alkyd primers. You can even use clear gesso to see the wood grain through the sealer and primer. Remember that all raw wood panels should always be sealed before applying your ground coatings to prevent support induced discoloration. For further instructions on sealing and priming, visit these previous blog posts:


Tips and Techniques

Sealing and Priming Wood Panels

  • Ampersand recommends two coats of either PVA Size from Gamblin Artists Colors or GAC 100 from Golden Artist Colors for sealing wood panels for artwork. This will prevent migration of the naturally occurring acids found in wood from causing discoloration in your gesso or painting. This unwanted change is known as Support Induced Discoloration (SID). All of Ampersand’s Museum Series panels that have our specialty coatings on them have already been protected by sealing the wood with our patented ArchivaSeal process.
  • Once sealed, apply the ground or gesso of your choice. Remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the packaging regarding how many coats are recommended.
  • If using encaustics or pyrography, you don’t need to seal and prime wood for your artwork. You can use these techniques directly on the wooden surface.


Try staining the Unprimed Basswood panel’s surface with ink to bring out the grain or even draw on it with pencils or graphic markers before applying the sealer. Then seal as recommended and collage or paint directly on the sealed layers (or a final application of clear gesso) to integrate The Artist Panel – Unprimed Basswood’s beautiful surface into your artwork!

2017 Fall Back to School Sale!

The Fall Back-to-School sale on Ampersand panels is going on now and runs through the end of September. Gessobord, Claybord, Scratchbord, our Artist Panel Series (Primed Smooth, Canvas Texture and Unprimed Basswood) and more on sale for up to 50% off at select retailers across the country.


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