Here at Woodworker’s Journal, we’ve been digging deep in our archives to put together our largest collection to date of almost-forgotten projects, articles, tips, techniques and wood science. But the archives where we’ve been digging aren’t exactly Woodworker’s Journal archives — at least, not really. Confused?
Longtime readers may remember when two different magazines — Woodworker’s Journal and Today’s Woodworker — combined into the publication you know today as Woodworker’s Journal. Once that happened, Today’s Woodworker ceased publication.
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.
I was reorganizing some paperwork the other day, when I ran across a file that contained letters, manuscripts and notes from master wood finisher George Frank. I worked with George when I was an editor at Fine Woodworking magazine. I was originally assigned to work with George because he and I were both Hungarians and so could converse in our native tongue. Over the years, George became not only a treasured colleague of mine, but I also kind of became his adoped grandson; he had no male children of his own. George passed away nearly 15 years ago, at the ripe old age of 94.
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.
But if it seems like there isn’t much new “under the sun” when it comes to stain and varnish, sometimes all it takes is a new player in the market with some fresh ideas.
In a recent conversation with our field editor Chris Marshall about project I’m working on that involves walnut (which I’ll discuss in an upcoming post), he told me a story about a unique finishing situation that he ran into. I thought it would be a great thing to share…
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.