The last few years I have been getting more requests to “do something” with old furniture pieces, adding ornament, refinishing wood, repairing gilding, etc. I love working on furniture and the special challenges each piece presents. “originally published at the Ornamentalist http://ornamentalist.net”
One of the hardest things to work with is bright orange oak — a tough one because of the assertive grain among other issues. Oh yes, you can fill it and paint it, but why not find a way to work with it?
In this age of cheap laminate furniture, solid wood is something to be celebrated!
One project I had recently I took my inspiration from a midcentury piece of limed oak.
In the sixteenth century this finish was created to help deter insects and rot in oak beams and paneling, by filling the grain with lime or lead-white wax, but after a while it became a fashionable way to lighten up and enhance the the look of the wood. Sometimes called “cerused oak” this finish was also fashionable in Art Deco and midcentury interiors for furniture, floors, cabinetry, and paneling, and is now once again very much on trend.
Note: I am not talking about the pickled “slimy pink” whitewash that was all the rage in the 1980s.
A good limed finish shows the grain in contrast to the rest of the surface. The more contrast between the wood and the grain, the more effective the look.
I found many instructionals for liming wood on the internet but none with pictures. I like pictures! So I decided to share the process of transforming this orange varnish oak piece into something more fabulous and moderne looking
First, we need to strip off that varnish. I like Citristrip for this kind of thing. Let it sit for at least a half hour then scrub in the direction of the grain with a stiff stripping pad or brush.
Once you have removed all of the varnish, rinse the wood thoroughly with water, and scrub lightly with a brass brush. Brass will not discolor the wood nor be too rough.
If you are starting with raw wood, simply get it wet and scrub it a bit to raise the grain.
After it is dry, lightly sand to smooth out the top, and get all the dust and bits off with steel wool and/or stiff bristle brush.
You should then have a very clean oak surface with pronounced grain pattern.
Make sure your wood is dry, and let’s get some color on it!
Do not use stain. Stain will absorb into the softer (grain) part of the wood more than the rest of it. Instead you want to dye it.
Aniline dye will soak into all the wood evenly without leaving any kind of residue.
You may get it in powder form – like raw pigment but much finer ground – to dissolve in water or denatured alcohol. Aniline dyes tend to be opaque looking, leave no lap marks, and dry quickly.
There are also pre-mixed “super penetrating” dyes that use acetone as a vehicle and are very effective. If you buy this kind of thing, please read the MSDS carefully, and wear the proper protection.
In some cases you need 2 applications if you want to get a good solid color.
At this point what we have is a fairly matte and absorbent surface.
it needs to be sealed mainly to make it a bit slicker, which will make the following steps easier.
Shellac is perfect for this as it will not build up or fill the grain, and it dries quickly. And if the shellac is tinted black (or the same color as the dye underneath), it will add to the depth of the finish. In addition to keeping the color from migrating into the wax, the shellac makes it easier to lightly wipe the liming off the surface while leaving it in the grain.
Remember too much tint will slow the drying time of the shellac and add volume, so use just a bit.
Apply one or two thinned coats of shellac to your surface and allow to dry thoroughly.
Liming wax is available pre-mixed but I made my own by mixing clear microcrystalline wax and whiting. You can also use white powdered pigment or lime powder mixed into wax paste. Make sure the wax paste you use is a type that will dry fairly hard.
|Rubbing the wax into the grain and removing excess|
Next we fill the grain with this liming wax.
Cover the whole surface, use a liberal amount of liming wax and push it into the grain with steel wool or a soft cloth.
Immediately wipe off the excess with a soft cloth.
Let dry thoroughly. You can repeat the liming or go straight to sealing.
To seal this finish you need only add another layer or two of clear wax, and buff.
I have achieved this look using paints and acrylic finishes but I have to say using more traditional materials makes this far easier and the finish has more depth. It feels very smooth to the touch and is quite durable and very easy to maintain.
You may also try this finish with different colors. Keep in mind the more contrast the better the effect. And obviously, the nicer the grain of the wood, the more appealing the finish will look.
Read more about murals, ornament, and a muralist’s inspiration in general at Lynne’s blog The Ornamentalist.
For more references to decorative painting check out Lynne’s bookstore.
©Lynne Rutter 2011