Fundamentals of Fearless Finishing: Part II

~Finish_Color_OpenerFrom the time a tree is felled, light and air start changing the color of wood – some lighten while others darken. Regardless of what we do, over time (and given just the right amount of light and air), the color mellows to those earthy, woody tones we all love. If it eventually becomes pleasing to the eye, why would we ever think about coloring wood?

There are several reasons you might consider coloring the wood in your projects. Most of us aren’t patient enough to wait for our furniture to look good. Surprisingly, we want our work to be visually pleasing from the outset. Additionally, most of us want the various parts of our projects to blend in color from one to another. And, as woodworkers, we want to use a less expensive species, yet make it look like something more exotic. To achieve all of this, colorants become a necessity.

For many woodworkers coloring their project is the scariest part of the process. After all, if you blow it on this step, it’s often difficult or impossible to recover, right?

The best finishers understand wood and use a small group of skills to overcome the trouble spots. Learning how wood reacts to different colorants gives you an advantage when it comes to finishing and helps to overcome your fears.

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4 thoughts on “Fundamentals of Fearless Finishing: Part II

  1. I have read on several occasions that Stickley – among others – were fuming white oak in an attempt to match English oak. It makes sense, but I have learned to distrust convenient answers.
    Thanks Don

    1. Don,

      I have not found specific historic references stating that was the purpose, but it certainly makes sense. Given the idea that many of the designs of the period are reworked from Jacobean and William & Mary designs, your assertion certainly isn’t too far fetched. Much of that very early furniture has an old, dark colored finish. It stand to reason they would try to recreate the surface coloration similar to the way they adapted the designs. I’ll keep digging and let you know if I find anything.

  2. Chuck, this is the first I’ve heard of the pressure tank method of vaporizing ammonia. I have read a lot about the method, including George Frank’s classic Adventures in Wood Finishing, and tried ammonia fuming quartersawn white oak using 26% industrial ammonia. I did get color but it’s more of a grayish green rather than the deep rich brown I was hoping for so I had to boost the color with dye and/or stain or with BLO and amber shellac afterward. Can you provide a tutorial or a reference on the pressure tank method please? And ditto for Arts & Craft styles being reworked Jacobean and William and Mary styles. Where can I learn more about that? These are great examples of the value you’re providing with 360 Woodworking!

    1. Michael,

      I can’t recall the exact book in which I read about the pressure tank, but it was something I read early in my career. I’ll dig around and see if I can find the exact reference. The idea is to turn the liquid ammonia into a concentrated gas that penetrates the fibers of the wood. Just allowing the ammonia to flash off at room temperature in a confined space limits the concentration and results. Lots of people talk about the passive ammonia gas method (probably because it is much safer…ammonia gas is poisonous), but I’ve never seen any serious change in wood color.

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