After long and careful consideration, I have concluded that I simply cannot host any workshops at The Barn this coming summer. The combination of the Studley book and exhibit, brutal winter aftermath with a mountain of things to do on the homestead, projects that have languished in the studio, and the need to wrap-up Roubo on Furniture Making (almost twice as large as Roubo on Marquetry) leaves me with no time nor energy to dedicate to workshops at the barn. I had planned on a historic finishing workshop in late June, but that will have to wait until net year. In September I will host a week-long workbench build for my friends of the Professional Refinishers Group web forum.
This is not to say I will be entering my long anticipated hermit phase. My presence and teaching elsewhere over the summer will be evident. Check these out.
Henry O. Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench exhibit – May 15-17, Cedar Rapids IA
Making New Finishes Look Old – Society of American Period Furniture Makers Mid-Year Conference, June 11-15, Knoxville TN
Gold Leaf and its Analogs – Professional Refinisher’s Group Groopfest, June 24-26, Pontoon Beach IL
The Henry Studley Book and Exhibit (breakfast banquet address) and Roubo Parquetry (demo workshop) – Woodworking in America 2015, September 25-27, Kansas City MO
One of the dominant aesthetics in the interior design world of my early days in the furniture trade in Palm Beach County, Florida, was the lightening or even whitening of wood furniture and paneling, presumably to reflect the bright sunniness that was numbingly constant outside, especially in the winter when those with the financial means escaped the cold, grim climes of (mostly) New England. This was manifest in what decorators called “pickled” finishes for wood surfaces. During my recent luncheon presentation in Palm Beach, one of the topics my hosts requested was to address this one.
Traditionally this was applied over either oak or cypress, and I recall finishing what seemed to be acres of it. In fact the “whitening” of these woods was accomplished by two unrelated techniques.
One technique involves the deposition of white material into the grain of the wood, and the other requires the deposition of a thin uniform layer of white translucence over the entire surface. Though I executed both techniques on both oak and cypress, you will see from the results that one technique worked well for one wood, and the other, the other.
“Liming” of wood requires the deposition of, well, lime onto the wood, or more precisely, into the wood. In these samples I planed and scraped the panels, then lightly scrubbed them with a brass brush to wallow out the grain. In the case of oak, it resulted in the emphasis of the ring-porous nature of the wood, while with the cypress it created a muddy, unremarkable effect.
Once the surface was ready I took some hydrated lime from the hardware store and prepared some very lean gesso from the lime, water, and about 2-3% 315 gws glue. I first soaked overnight and cooked the glue in the water, then added powdered lime to the desired consistency.
This was brushed onto the surface, making sure to work it down into the grain, and allowed to dry completely.
Since the gesso was very lean, I was able to remove the excess gesso, that is the gesso not down in the grain, with an abrasive pad rather than the coarse burlap of days gone by.
Following that I applied a single coating of paste wax, and when that was hard I buffed it with a piece of clean cloth. This is a nerve wracking step the first time you do it as the paste wax saturates the lime deposit, making it disappear. Never fear, as the solvent in the paste wax flashes off, the white will slowly emerge again. The effect in oak is dramatic.
For cypress, the presentation is fairly undistinguished.
Fortunately, there is a technique that works wonderfully on cypress.
As I presented my sample boards at the luncheon banquet on my recent trip to Florida, I began with two simple methods to enhance and modify the wood surface itself, even prior to beginning the application of any finish materials.
The first, and a very popular once again, was the coloration of white oak through the application of ammonia. In the first sample I simply brushed on liquid ammonia and left it to dry. The coloration is about what I expected, with the slight blotchiness and shallow penetration that would be the result of a light liquid application. The depth of penetration from the single wetting with ammonia was about 1/16″
A second and similar sample was that of white oak exposed to ammonia vapors. In this instance I prepared the six oak samples and placed them standing upright in a circle around a coffee cup warmer, on which I placed a half pint of full-strength hardware store ammonia. I turned on the coffee cup warmer to heat and vaporize fully the ammonia and placed a plastic bucket upside-down over the lot, and left it for twelve hours. I neutralized the ammonia with a light swabbing of white vinegar and left them to air out for a few hours, but there was no noticeable odor.
The result was the sumptuous almost-mocha coloration we have come to expect as the base for a lot of Craftsman furniture. An application of a couple coats of deep red garnet shellac would have yielded a magnificent dark reddish brown finish. I left the samples in their “native” state to make sure that the audience could see it in the raw. Just to see how effective the fuming was, I sawed a sample in half, and the entire 1-inch cross section was the same fumed color.
As a special treat I showed a set of samples that I did not prepare other than to cut them to size. These were pieces of “bog oak” from a crib dam on the Rappahannock River that had been submerged for nearly a century-and-a-half. The coloration and luster of these pieces as truly spectacular, and I cannot wait to make some furniture from the pieces I have.
A final “pre-finishing” step was, not surprisingly, burnishing with a straw polissoir. I lightly scraped the entire surface, then burnished one half of it. I demonstrated this one at the luncheon, bringing the mahogany surface to a desirable sheen in just a few seconds. I also noticed that these samples drew continual attention (caressing?) during my presentation, even after I had moved on to other topics.
After that we got down to the serious business of selecting and using a variety of finishing materials
Several months ago I received an invitation from a South Florida custom millwork and fabrication shop to speak at a luncheon banquet celebrating their 25th anniversary. At first I was ambivalent about the invitation as I didn’t know the folks, but Mrs. Barn was very enthusiastic about the prospect of a trip to the warm sunny climes at the tail end of a brutal winter in the mountains. As my correspondence continued with my host and the themes emerged for the presentation, I too warmed to the idea. By the time we plowed through the snow on our way out of town I was really looking forward to it.
The audience was designers, architects, and contractors, and I did my best to turn them into historic finishing enthusiasts. As I told them at the beginning, “My task is to show you a door, and open it just a little bit so you can see inside there’s a party going on. And the name of the place behind the door? The Finishing Room!” They were very receptive.
In the weeks leading up to the event I made dozens of sample boards so that every table had a complete set to fondle and admire as I talked about them.
In coming posts I will walk you through the samples I made.
It was great fun and reminded me how much I love woodfinishing, and the delight I will take over the next three or four years while crafting my gigantic Historic Finisher’s Handbook.
Thanks AWC and Catie Q for the invitation, you guys were great hosts and I hope to see you again! (and Mrs. Barn loved basking in the warmth and sunshine). I think late winter trips to Florida may become part of the routine.