Solid Cedar

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Finishing Oak Furniture

How To Finish Solid Oak Furniture

Oak is a stunning wood. Depending on the final look you want to achieve with it there are different finishes that can be applied, both in terms of colours and top coats.

Some people prefer a natural colour whereas others prefer to add a stain or ammonia fume their oak furniture.

Whatever you choose to do, the preparation of the wood is very important because it affects the quality of the finish. The first stage is the preparation sanding and this can be done with power tools. You shouldn’t use a paper of more than #120 grit. Once this is completed you can wipe the piece with a damp cloth, leave for half an hour and then do the final sanding. This should be without any power tools and with a paper no finer than #180 grit. If you sand too much it will make it difficult for stain to get into the timber. Note that end grains may need more sanding than along the grain – keep an eye on this to keep the colour absorption of the timber uniform. The timber should now be smooth and free from dirt, oils and dust.

The type of oak that you have will affect how well a stain takes. White oak will absorb more stain than red oak therefore you will need more of it. Quarter sawn oak will also absorb more stain than timber cut along the grain.

You will need to mix the stain in the tin before applying and also read how long you have to apply it. Oil based stains give you more time than water based ones. Make sure you have a lint free cloth and apply generous amounts in the direction of the grain, wiping off the excess. Aim to get the coverage as even as possible. Remember, the more stain you add, the stronger the effect.

Ammonia fuming is a traditional way to darken and enrich the colour of oak. It alters the chemistry of the pigments in the timber by oxidising the tannins. Sapwood doesn’t have much tannin so the process won’t work with this type of wood and it doesn’t work so well on red oak either because it can produce a green tinge. It is great for white oak. Fuming only affects exposed wood but it will also affect metal so keep it away from metal tools and remove metal finishings on the furniture.

You will need to put the furniture outside in a tent and expose it to the fumes of ammonia. You can use domestic cleaning ammonia, but avoid anhydrous ammonia. After about 30 minutes you will notice a colour change. For the best effects, leave it for 2 days.

Of course you can always have painted oak furniture and that will just involve you choosing the colour you want and carefully applying it in layers.

Once the furniture is the required colour you can apply the top coat. The final look that you want will usually either be a wax finish or a lacquered (varnished) finish. These are applied over any colouring.

The plus point of having a wax finish is that the oak can mellow naturally. The furniture will need to be regularly waxed though to keep it in good condition.

The benefits of having a lacquer finish are that the moisture will be sealed into the wood and a high-gloss finish can be achieved. That helps to stop the wood getting stains. It will however show up finger marks and can be easily scratched. If scratched, it will need to be sanded back and re-laquered. Polyurethane can be used in the same way but it is not advisable because it is susceptible to damage from ultra-violet light exposure which can split the finish leaving white marks that are impossible to remove. This means that furniture with this finish has to be kept out of sunlight which is not possible in most situations.

Beeswax and Danish oil give what is known as an unsealed wood finish, so chemical cleaners shouldn’t be used.

Whatever colour and top coat you go for, make sure it really is the right choice for your furniture.

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