Solid Lacewood

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Ways To Finish 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 appreciate a natural colour whereas others prefer to add a stain or ammonia fume their oak furniture.

Whatever you do, the preparation of the wood is extremely 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 don’t want to use a paper of more than #120 grit. Once this is done you can wipe the furniture with a damp cloth, leave for 30 minutes 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 – pay attention to this to keep the colour absorption of the wood constant. The timber should now be smooth and free from dust, dirt and oils.

The variety 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 wood cut along the grain.

You will need to stir the stain in the tin before applying and also check how long you have to apply it. Oil based stains give you longer than water based ones. Use a lint free cloth and apply generous amounts in the direction of the grain, removing the excess. Try and 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 changes 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 as well on red oak either because it can end up with a green tinge. It is perfect 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 don’t use anhydrous ammonia. After about half an hour minutes you will see a colour change. For the best effects, leave it for 48 hours.

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 add 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 protect the wood from 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 uv light exposure which can crack the finish leaving white marks that are impossible to remove. This means that furniture with this finish has to be kept out of the sun’s rays 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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