Thursday, February 7, 2008

More thoughts on an Arts and Crafts Finish, My Recipes

I have received many emails about how I finish my furniture. As part of the "fuming oak v. dyes" series that I'm working on I'm going to give you my favorite "recipes" for finishing quartersawn white oak. Now I can't claim to have devised these recipes or techniques on my own, I think I've read every woodworking book on Arts and Crafts techniques, and If I find a magazine with anything "mission" or arts and crafts in it, I buy it. I've also searched through the forums and websites for good ideas. Some of the best that I've found are Jeff Jewitt's article at woodcentral, and his article at Fine Woodworking. There are many articles in magazines and books, some I've seen invlove roofing tar, some as simple as a single stain. Taking ideas from all these sources I've come up with a method that works for me and gives me a finish that, to my eye, compares to that of antique Arts and Crafts furniture that I've seen.

These are my color sample pieces, I recommend making some of your own so you can experiment with different dyes and stains and then have a good idea of the finished product. I write the steps on the back of each so that I can reproduce it. From left ot right the base colors are undyed wood, honey amber, golden brown, medium brown, and dark mission brown. I use transtint concentrated dyes as my base coat, I disolve these in pint bottles of spring water. A lot of articles recommend distilled water, I've never had any problems with spring water and the bottles are very convenient but I would avoid tap water as any chemicals in it could change the color. You could also use denatured alcohol as a base, this would eliminate the grain raising effect of the water, but many sources say that the color will be more likely to fade. I've never tried using alcohol as a base, mainly because of the lack of fumes when using water as a base.

Here's my recipe, it works for me, and I've changed it over the years, and if I come across with a better idea I will change it again so please feel free to comment if you have a different technique.


  • Sand piece to 150 grit and clean with tack rag or vacuum.

  • Wipe a good coat of dye on, be sure to cover all sides and keep dye from puddling in corners and at base. Leave to dry for at least 24 hours.

  • Lightly sand to remove raised grain with 220 grit, avoid oversanding especially at corners and edges.

  • Pad on a 1LB cut of amber shellac or sanding sealer.

  • Using a 320 grit sanding pad gently rub surface, clean with tack cloth or vacuum.

  • Apply Brown Mahagony Gel stain being careful to not cover too large of an area because once dry its very hard to wipe off. Once the gel starts to haze rub it off with a clean lint free cloth, I prefer old T-shirts. This gives you a warm rubbed in look. Let dry overnight.

  • Pad on 2-3 2LB cut coats of amber shellac, I tightly fold a square of T-shirt material, then soak it in the shellac and squeeze out excess, rub it in until it starts to drag then let dry. The coat of shellac should dry in 30 minutes or less. Repeat until you get the build you want.

  • Again, using 320 grit sanding pad gently rub surface, clean with a tack cloth or vacuum.

  • Take a few minutes to go over the whole piece with your clean hand, checking the surface for any rough areas or holidays.

  • Using a clean square of T-shirt rub in a thick coat of Watco Dark Liquid wax. Avoid plain or light colored waxes as these may leave white residue in the pores of the oak. When the wax is dry buff it out with a clean square of T-shirt.

Once the wax is dry you are done. This is my favorite time of a project, when you carry it in the house and place it in just the right spot, stand back, enjoy the view and accolades from a grateful family, and go start something else.



Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort. - John Ruskin








4 comments:

Margaret said...

Thanks for the great instructions! This will definitely come in handy next time I need to refinish anything!

Mikey said...

I think you've nailed the original A & C finish, your stuff looks great!

Christy said...

All the finishes that I've seen on your pieces are fabulous! Especially on the "spotted wood" you use! Sorry, I don't know the appropriate term for it:)

DanC said...

Great finish, thanks for sharing the recipe.

Dan C.