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If anyone has any good experiences or questions regarding wood finishes to share, I'd love to get a discussion going.  There is nothing more elusive than the perfect wood finish.  I understand that Gustav Stickley spent the remainder of his humble days up in his daughter's attic experimenting with wood finishes.  I've experimented with ammonia fuming, nitric acid, lye, and making my own varnishes from madder root and exotic rosens.  Let me know what you have done and what works!

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The perfect finish is at your fingertips.  Smell, look, touch, feel the house, understand the era, the designer, environment, and use.  The answers are always right in front of me.  All my blends are design to match, to bring the woodwork or furniture back to life, as designed.  After I chose the finish, my next task is to apply the finish correctly.  One can pick right finish and incorrectly apply.  From the lost formulas of Greene and Greene to Stickley, French Polish, etc.   Fun stuff

 

 

Picture copyright RM Design & Construction, Inc.  

Gamble House door restored 1980.  

That's inspiring, Randall.  Which finish did you use on this door and how did you apply it?

Randall Marder said:

The perfect finish is at your fingertips.  Smell, look, touch, feel the house, understand the era, the designer, environment, and use.  The answers are always right in front of me.  All my blends are design to match, to bring the woodwork or furniture back to life, as designed.  After I chose the finish, my next task is to apply the finish correctly.  One can pick right finish and incorrectly apply.  From the lost formulas of Greene and Greene to Stickley, French Polish, etc.   Fun stuff

 

 

Picture copyright RM Design & Construction, Inc.  

Gamble House door restored 1980.  

the finish is a Greene and Greene finish applied by hand.  I soak the door until they were fully feed, than I hand rubbed the finish until dry.  Each coat dried 48 hours, total 4 to 6 coats. The doors and screens original finish were damaged by water from the gardener, smog, black brass streaks from the screens, years of weather and neglect.  I was commissioned to restore the doors as originally designed by the Greenes.  No power sanders or any abrasive materials ever touch those door.
It looks great. did you soak it with pure linseed oil? how do you reverse the water damage? Do you use a solution to neutralize the wood and how do you remove the watermarks without sanding?

I am sorry the Greene & Greene oil formulation is a secret.

I removed the finish, water damage, dirt, etc. using an extra thick chemical stripper (wax free), paint thinner as a wash (never use water), and a very soft brass wire brush, 2 to 4 ot steel wool, and a paring knife, used as a cabinet scraper.  The wood is teak, an open grain wood.  Please do not use a soft wire brush on soft or closed grain woods.  Its difficult to give exact directions when restoring woodwork, I am always making adjustments, as needed.  I repeat the process as many times as the work requires.

This same technique was used on these painted pocket doors and woodwork (see enclosed pictures).  The doors had 4 coats of paint.  This project was completed last year on a craftsman home in Boulder. I used Solgel, extra thick (environmental safe "green" solvent) on this project, no brass wire brush, only a cabinet scraper, steel wool, the wood is clear fir, a closed grain wood. What you are seeing is the undisturbed patina and original stain. A few areas of the doors needed minor stain touch-ups (opps see below), as pocket doors will need sometimes. No lite sanding was require, the woodwork was a smooth as silk..  

 

Please note:  The pictures are copyrighted by RM Design & Construction 

  

Paul Flach said:

It looks great. did you soak it with pure linseed oil? how do you reverse the water damage? Do you use a solution to neutralize the wood and how do you remove the watermarks without sanding?
Beautiful. My first home was an Edwardian home that was scheduled to be demolished. All the fir trim was in place but was covered with countless layers of thick paint. I had a friend who did furniture restoration for a number of historical museums and he taught me his trade secrets for stripping and refinishing and his advice was the same as yours. He also emphasized how important it is to preserve the original patina and stain on the wood. this is partly the reason for initiating this discussion. I've seen way too many tragic restorations where an acid base stripper was used and the patina was eaten away or water-based strippers bloated the wood and turned them grey requiring excessive sanding. I have never heard of Solgel - is it a methyl-hydrate base?
Not sure what it is. I've used it for the last ten years.  Its design for lead paint removal, made from soy. Methylene strippers are fast acting strippers, Soygel is slow, but does not evaporate fast like methylene strippers.  I apply wait a few minutes, look for dry areas, and reapply and leave over night. When left overnight it will cut thru many layers.  It does cut thru latex quick.   The good news, its oil base, not water base.  Its expensive compare to a commercial Methylene stripper. 5 gallons of Soygel ranges around $250 list, commercial extra thick methylene stripper in 5 gallons is usually under $100  The only reason I use it is to avoid EPA issues.   

Paul Flach said:
Beautiful. My first home was an Edwardian home that was scheduled to be demolished. All the fir trim was in place but was covered with countless layers of thick paint. I had a friend who did furniture restoration for a number of historical museums and he taught me his trade secrets for stripping and refinishing and his advice was the same as yours. He also emphasized how important it is to preserve the original patina and stain on the wood. this is partly the reason for initiating this discussion. I've seen way too many tragic restorations where an acid base stripper was used and the patina was eaten away or water-based strippers bloated the wood and turned them grey requiring excessive sanding. I have never heard of Solgel - is it a methyl-hydrate base?

I am new the group and by no means a finish expert such as Randall clearly is.

 

My finish  does not get the coveted dark color immediately like Randall's, and this finish was not completed in using the same "pure" methods as his.  Since taking these the door has darkened quite a lot.  I could probably post a picture with the ebony trim around the panels at some point.

 

This finish is pretty simple.  A shellac sealcoat, followed by a stain glaze and three finish coats.  Once the finish was cured all the parts were hand rubbed.

 

 

Brad

Hi everyone,

For wood that is in reasonable condition, I've used a mixture of boiled linseed oil, malt vinegar, thinners and  methylated spirits, of equal measures. Applied with a cloth or a very worn steel pad if the grain is proud. May require several applications, but works wonders and brings out a natural glow in many lighter coloured timbers.

why the vinegar?  I know many uses for vinegar, never used it in a final finish.  Your formula would be deep penetrating and make the wood glow.

Hi Randall,

Why the vinegar? I'm not sure, it was "concoction" passed onto me by a fellow antique enthusiast and seems to work fine. I've used this on NZ native timber doors and on oak furniture and it looks brilliant. However, I would only use this formula on an existing finish that was in reasonable condition. There is no substitute for a strip down and refinish where warranted, a little "sweat equity" will always looks better.

here's a formula to play with.  Take white vinegar, pour into a jar, throw in some steel wool, place a cap on the jar and put it away for some time so the vinegar can dissolves the steel wool.  Never tried it, but after the concoction is ready apply the liquid to oak.  It suppose to turn oak black as ebony.  It suppose to be the technique that Mackintosh used when he turn his high back oak chairs black.  I hope my memory is correct on this concoction.

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