One of the most popular finishes these days is the so-called “shabby chic,” a modern term for what we used to call antique finish. Why would you want to take new furniture and intentionally make it look old? Strange though it may seem, there’s actually a very good reason.
Let’s say you have a spot where an antique would be just the ticket, but not just any antique. You want a certain style of furniture, in just the right color, with the perfect amount and type of wear; not too much, and only worn in the right places. You’d want a piece still in great structural condition that looks as though it was painted years ago, then was gently but regularly used. In other words, something that looks timeworn, but not bereft.
In September, I wrote that, while stain is often superfluous, especially on prime woods, it can be a lifesaver on plain or uneven woods. At the time, I promised I’d revisit the topic and offer a few tips on how to stain without making wood look muddy, fake, or painted. Well, today’s the day.
First, some basics. Stains can be colored with pigment, which is ground-up colored dirt, or with dye, which dissolves. Pigments are relatively large particles suspended in liquid, but dyes dissolve, becoming vastly smaller particles the size of a molecule. Here, size matters.
What should I use on my wood furniture? It’s a question I frequently get just after someone hears an ad promoting some spray polish that “works like magic.” Here’s the sad truth: if it is ridiculously easy to use, it’s probably not what you expect. Life’s just like that.
The problem with most spray furniture polishes is not that they are harmful to furniture finishes (they’re not), or that they don’t work (they do), but rather that they put you on a treadmill. No, not the kind your spouse has been trying to get you on since your weight began to inexplicably inch upward. The metaphorical kind.
Here’s how it works. Many furniture polishes add sheen or luster by coating the finish with an ultra-thin layer of some oily compound. It looks nice and shiny for a while, but the oily film soon attracts, and holds, airborne dust. Before long, it looks dusty again and cries out for more polish.
I got an interesting call about a finish problem the other day from a dear friend who is an expert antique restorer, among his many other talents. It was a bit grisly, but nonetheless an interesting poser. I thought I’d share it with you.
That’s been the question since woodworkers darkened oak by burying it in a pile of dung and urine. We have more pleasant choices these days. Stain and dye formulations have been made from ground earth, colored clays, acids, bases, plant extracts, coffee, tea, fruits, berries and, these days, from sophisticated synthesized colorants.
That means we can stain wood whatever color we like. Or not. Admittedly, there are plenty of times I favor leaving wood au naturel. However, there are also times when stain can do a world of good, and make my work greener to boot.
Whenever I have to spray fast-drying lacquer in the summer, I gird myself for blush. I’m sure you’ve encountered blush. It’s that whitish haze that looks like thin clouds trapped in the finish, and usually shows up when spraying during humid weather.
When things are going well, shellac and lacquer both dry very quickly because they cure strictly by having their solvent evaporate, and because very fast evaporating solvents are used in them. Normally, of course, that’s wonderful; I can spray quickly and have the piece dry quickly, a boon for those of us with less time than ambition.
The sun is out and the air is dry with barely a breeze to be felt. Yep, it’s the perfect weather for spraying finish, both solvent-based and water-based.
Winter mounts all sorts of obstacles to spraying. It’s too cold and windy to do it outdoors, and to spray safely indoors, you’ll need lots of temperate moving air to evacuate the overspray and keep both you and your projects in a healthy flow of clean air. Do that and you’ll quickly deplete the very expensive heat your household furnace has generated. It’s a real dilemma since most spray finishes, and especially water-based ones, are pretty persnickety when it comes to temperature.
The arrival of hot, dry weather reminds me that, though it may be tedious to work in, it’s perfect for the annual drudgery of the deck. Dry heat is aces both at quickly evaporating water used to clean and prepare the deck, and at curing the finish.
In my case, annual is an exaggeration because I don’t get to the deck every year. In fact, I’ve let it go so long that the finish has now given way to a piebald mess of dirt, mildew and bleached gray planks. No matter; it’s easy enough to rejuvenate.