Tag Archive | stain

How To Turn New Wood Into Antique Beams

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 mantel beam prior to staining.

The mantel beam prior to staining.

The hollow beams (U-shaped) are made with three boards joined at the corner with miter-lock joints.

The hollow beams (U-shaped) are made with three boards joined at the corner with miter-lock joints.

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.

My antique adze from ebay.

My antique adze from ebay.

Hewing the beams takes time and patience. The grain is especially tricky around the knots.

Hewing the beams takes time and patience. The grain is especially tricky around the knots.

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.

The center beam has been hewn with an adze.

The center beam has been hewn with an adze.

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 edges of the hollow beams are stained dark to simulate the sapwood. This treatment also unifies the corners and makes the individual boards look like one beam.

The edges of the hollow beams are stained dark to simulate the sapwood. This treatment also unifies the corners and makes the individual boards look like one beam.

The second coat of stain darkens the wood and blends the dark spot stains.

The second coat of stain darkens the wood and blends the dark spot stains.

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.

The seal coats are also tinted to darken the color slowly and add depth.

The seal coats are also tinted to darken the color slowly and add depth.

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.

Glazing brings out the tool marks and irregularities in the surface.

Glazing brings out the tool marks and irregularities in 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.

New 100-year-old cherry; It is (no) lye!

Some woods stain great – some don’t. Oak, walnut and elm come to mind as the great ones. They stain easily and consistently, with no blotches or uneven color. On the other end of the scale are woods like maple and cherry, which are also consistent – consistently frustrating. Hard maple is the worst of the worst, with some of it taking almost no stain (I compare it to trying to stain a piece of glass) and other areas, like end grain, sucking up all the stain in the can. Anywhere that the grain simply changes directions is a spot for blotches to show up.

Right up there with maple is cherry. Although you can get some cherry boards to stain perfectly, many will look like a first-grader did it (and not the one first-grader that pays attention in class). The other problem with cherry is that it is usually expected to be at least medium-dark, which means the wood has to be darkened up somehow. I have a few recommendations for hard-to-stain woods, but for cherry, I have a trick. If you know it, don’t say anything yet.

This secretary was made from curly cherry and darkened with lye.

I don’t remember where I first heard of it, but I was told that lye darkens cherry. That’s right, lye, like the soap or Drano. I didn’t know anything about lye, so I did a little research. And, after using it many times, I can tell you that a little research is all I needed. It is amazingly simple and produces awesome results.

If I want a nice medium to dark cherry and don’t need to match a specific color, I will use lye before anything else. Lye is great because it does in seconds what would happen naturally in a very long time. It chemically changes the color of the wood, allowing all of the figure to show through without blotches. The new color created by the lye also goes below the surface to provide a measure of safety when sanding between coats of finish.

I use Red Devil lye (drain opener), which has apparently been discontinued. Lowe’s carries a crystal drain opener that is 100% sodium hydroxide (the active ingredient) or lye. I, however, have never used this product, so I cannot attest to its effectiveness.

To use the lye, simply mix with water. I use about two tablespoons to 16 oz. of water as a starting point. Test on a sample cherry board to see how dark it comes out – the change will be almost immediate. Add more lye to darken the color or more water to lighten it. To apply, use a nylon brush (natural hair brushes will melt away) to saturate the surface of the wood, keeping a wet edge and let it dry. That’s it.

Handle the lye mixture with caution and follow the safety instructions on the label. Specifically, wear rubber gloves and safety glasses, and make sure you have adequate ventilation.

Treat the wood as if you were using a water-based stain, by raising the grain before applying the lye. After the lye is dry, the wood can be finished and requires no treatment to neutralize the lye. I like to apply an oil finish before the topcoats to make the surface shimmer and really show off the magic of the lye.

No matter how you finish the piece, I think you’ll be amazed at how easily and quickly you can have a piece made from new 100-year-old cherry!

White Wood, Sap Wood and Spalted Wood

Lately I have gotten a lot of questions about spalted wood and white woods. The main question I get about white woods is usually, “What white woods do you have?” They really are asking, “What species do you have that has a wide enough sap ring to produce white boards?” The customer usually ends up buying maple, but it starts a discussion about where white woods come from and what to look for in your purchases.
Every tree has heartwood, which is the center of the tree and sapwood, which is the outer layer of the tree, just inside the bark. The sapwood is white. Sometimes it is tinted a little, (poplar, for example, is slightly green) but it is always very close to pure white. The heartwood is always darker. Sometimes, it is only a shade darker (basswood) and sometimes it is chocolate brown (walnut) or even black (persimmon). This sapwood layer is thin in some trees and very thick in others.

This hickory was cut quickly, before it could spalt. Hickory often has sapwood that is thick enough to produce all white lumber.

Lumber that we consider white woods will have a much thicker ring of sapwood when compared to lumber that you would normally think of as being darker. Here is the trick, the sapwood needs to be thick enough to produce a reasonable amount white lumber. This is very often the case in species such as maple, ash, and hickory. In these trees, the sapwood is thick enough that we can use use it. In darker woods like walnut, cherry and oak the sapwood is usually only about and inch thick and is trimmed off like fat from a choice piece of meat. Within, the white woods it is possible to have a log that is almost entirely sapwood or a log that is almost all heartwood. It is most common that the white wood log is about half and half.

Recognizing the sapwood layer is the key to understanding the defects that can happen to white woods. Typical defects in white woods are end stain, sticker stain and spalting (although this is typically considered a positive among furniture makers). Sapwood is a live layer of the tree and will degrade or decay. I compare this layer to fresh produce. If exposed to hot and wet conditions the white wood will start to darken, then spalt (early rot) and then rot. In the same conditions, heartwood will not spalt and it will only very slowly rot. When purchasing white woods, pay attention to the color of the boards, especially if cut during the summer. If the logs are stored for a long period before cutting the ends will typically be darker. If the lumber is not dried quickly enough, it will have an overall darker color. And if it is dried on sticks that don’t allow for proper drying there could be sticker stains, which are dark stripes across the boards that very often do not plane out.

This is a good example of spalted silver (soft) maple. It shows the darker heartwood with minimal color change and the lighter sapwood with the dramatic spalting characteristics that woodworkers look for in light woods.

When shopping for spalted wood or looking to make your own, simply make sure that the log has a thick layer of sapwood, since this is the only area that will spalt. The maples spalt the best because of the sugar in them, but I have also seen good spalting in poplar, hickory and sycamore. I have even had some very nice spalted oak before, but again, this was only in the sap wood. All of the boards looked perfectly normal on the heartwood sides, except for some worm holes. Just remember white woods are sapwood and only sapwood spalts.

This dresser was built with WunderWoods lumber by customer Steve Palmer. It is a great example of consistently spalted lumber. This log had a lot of sapwood, which made some nice wide spalted boards.

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