Well, I finally did it. After endless comments from customers about not being able to find the shop and a recent encounter with a customer that went quite poorly due to the lack of signage, I broke down and decided to make some directional signs for the shop. We have a sign on our door, but it is hidden from the street and doesn’t really do much except to confirm that you are indeed in the right place just before you actually enter the shop. Everyone finds the building without a problem, but we need to help them find the door.
First, let me address why this took so long. All of our work has always been word of mouth. I built the business slowly, starting by working from my home shop, so I never really needed a sign. I usually visited customers at their house and very few visited the shop. As the business has grown, more customers find us on their own, and I would rather them not be mad at me before they get to the shop (or don’t get to the shop as the case may be).
In St. Charles, any directional signs 2 square feet and under, do not require a sign permit, so I am making that the size limit for my signs. Hopefully, that way I can put up the signs at multiple entrances without causing any problems.
I decided to use the cnc router to make the signs and mix in a little artwork in the design and construction, which is the perfect mix for me. Plus, I used some salvaged wood for the project, which makes me feel even that much better about it. The boards came from a set of bleachers I salvaged from an old gym. Most of them were straight-grained Douglas fir with a clear coat on them. Those boards were super nice and didn’t stay around the shop long. The boards I used for the signs were some replacement boards made from southern yellow pine, which were painted and were never going to be purchased in the shop, so they were the perfect pick for this job.
I still have a few signs to finish up, but click the link below to see how the first one was made:
If you are looking for a way to work out your frustrations, boy do I have a job for you. It also helps if you are looking for a backache and blisters as a bonus. This job involves the simplest of tools and the weakest of minds. It’s simple. Take some wood and whack away at it. Then whack some more. Then a little more. That’s all there is to it (at least to the first part).
The fun part for me starts after the grunt work is done. That’s when I get to stop complaining about the backache and blisters and let my softer, more artsy side come out. I get to play with my paint brushes and spray gun and try to make my recent work look like it has been there for a long, long time.
I may not enjoy it as much as the finishing, but the work that leads up to the finishing is really just as important. I usually start with White Pine because it is easy to work, takes a nice dent, and if the log isn’t new, it can have a lot of character. From a lumber processing standpoint, I like that it is easy to mill, the boards stay flat, and it is quick to dry. I also use White Pine because I can get long logs and the wood is lightweight, which is good for big beams that need to be installed inside without a crane. In instances where I can use a hollow beam it is especially lightweight.
For the job that I specifically reference for this post, I used solid wood for the mantelpiece and made up hollow beams to be applied on the bottom side of an already-finished vaulted ceiling. The solid wood looks slightly more authentic because it benefits from deep cracks that occur during drying. After all the pieces are done, the cracks, or lack of them, are the only way to differentiate between the hollow and solid pieces.
The first step in making new wood look old is adding texture to the surface. From tool marks, to bug holes and cracks, old wood has texture. The more texture that you add, the more authentic the piece will look. It is easy to identify a piece that is not legitimately old because it doesn’t have enough texture. We have all seen cabinets that are distressed by adding a couple of bug holes and a few dents and then sent on their merry way. They might have the right overall feel, but no one will believe that they are old. In this case, don’t hold back and don’t get lazy.
For this project the surface was finished with an adze, but I often hand plane or use rough cut lumber with band saw or circular saw marks. After the pieces were worked with my new-to-me antique adze (that I got for $27 on ebay), I sanded the surface until it was smooth overall, but still had pronounced tool marks. Bigger pieces like these are usually viewed from a distance. Don’t be afraid to make obvious tool marks. If using a hand plane, set it deeper and stop at the end of the cut to tear off the chip.
In old pieces of wood like these the corners are usually rounded, dented or busted of. My favorite tool to use for the corners is a drawknife. It quickly removes material and you can change the depth of cut by adjusting the angle of attack. Be sure to pay attention to the grain of the wood. If the drawknife wants to dig in turn around and work from the opposite direction. The same holds true for the adze, especially around knots, where the direction of attack can make the difference between producing a chip and removing a giant chunk.
After the hand tools, I like to hit the surface with a sander to make the surface look slightly worn instead of freshly cut. Sand more where a piece would have been worn from hundreds of years of use. Tabletops are worn where people sit, posts are worn where people grab them, and furniture bases are worn where people kick them. In this case, all of the work was up high except for the mantelpiece, which was the only one that would have any wear from use.
Once the surface is prepped, it is time to start the staining. A truly old piece of wood has many different colors, and if you try to stain a new piece of wood with just one coat of stain, it will look flat. Even subtle differences in the colors can add a lot to the final effect. I like to use several colors of dye stains, on the surface of the wood and added to my finish, to build up to my final color. In this case the final color was fairly dark, so I had a lot of room to work before things got too dark.
The first coat of stain was TransTint Dark Mission Brown mixed with a little water and applied with a brush to the dry wood. I worked the corners along the length of the beams to simulate the sapwood, which is naturally darker in the older pine. The extra effort on the corners also helps camouflage the seam on the hollow beams. The next coat was a very diluted mixture of Honey Amber and Medium Brown TransTint that I quickly sprayed with my hvlp gun to make the new pine color similar to antique pine. This is where the water-based stains shine. The lighter color and darker color bleed into each other and start to blend. If the color is too dark it can be lightened with more water, if it is too light just add more stain.
The next step was to seal the surface with two coats of tinted sanding sealer. For these coats, I added a little Medium Brown TransTint to the sanding sealer. This darkens the color overall, helping me sneak up on the final color. It also seals the surface for the next step.
After the sealer dried, I used a Walnut Minwax gel stain. The gel stain (glazing) over the sealer only slightly darkens the surface, but it will get into, and highlight, the cracks and crevices. This is a good spot to add even more contrast by varying the amount that you leave on the surface.
The gel stain officially takes a day to dry, but I spray lacquer over it almost immediately with no problems. This last coat can be clear if the color looks good already or TransTint can be added to darken it. In my case, all of the coats of lacquer, sealer and topcoats, were lightly tinted.
This entire process takes a little more effort than just applying one coat of stain, but I think the results are more than worthwhile, and now I can’t do it any other way. Once you see how authentic this process looks, especially in person, you won’t want to do it any other way either.
I love, love, love Eastern White Pine. First of all, I love the way it smells – it can make even the nastiest of shops smell like new. I love the way it cuts –it cuts great on the sawmill and in the shop. I love that it’s lightweight – even, the widest boards are easy to handle. I love that is dries flat – most boards can just be run through the planer without any flattening. I love that it is soft – I can work it with hand tools and enjoy every minute of it. I love that when it starts to decay it gets lots of bugholes and blue-stain – it’s great for rustic work. I love that it makes great planer shavings – I want to roll in them just like the animals that use it for bedding.
There is, however, one major problem with white pine, especially air-dried white pine. It’s name is pitch. Pitch is the sticky transparent yellow goo that can ooze from the boards. In lumber that has been kiln-dried at high temperatures to “set the pitch”, this is less of a problem. As long as the lumber stays cooler than the temperature that the kiln was run at, the pitch will remain hard. But, once that threshold is passed, the wood starts to get sticky. And, since air-dried lumber hasn’t reached a very high temperature in its life, the stickiness is almost immediate.
Now, couple this setup with a large job and large boards and a lot of surface to cover with a power sander and you have a recipe for potential disaster. In fact, some air-dried white pine will be so sticky that you’ll start to wonder if there is enough sandpaper in the world to get through the job. There is, of course, a secret to working with white pine and an orbital sander. The secret is turpentine or mineral spirits.
I read somewhere that turpentine is made from pine trees, and I figured if it came from pine trees, it should be a great solvent for pine pitch, which also happens to come from pine trees – and it is. A rag dampened with either turpentine or mineral spirits will clean the pitch right off of a sanding disc or off of lumber where it has built up. To make it work in an almost automatic mode, I keep a sacrificial rag next to me soaked in the solvent and simply run the sander on the rag when it gets clogged. Just a few seconds running the sander on the rag makes the sandpaper look like new.
As I now get ready to sand a project that is all white pine, with wide boards and big, pitchy knots, I know the first thing I will do is get out the mineral spirits. Hopefully, this lumber cooperates and I won’t need to use it. Happy sanding to all!
For fun, I have some photos of the wide white pine (up to 20″) being used for shelves that inspired this post.