Protecting Non-Painting Alternatives

Ask an Expert From: Products Finishing,

Posted on: 11/1/2002

Question: There are various "old world" finishes achievable without the use of traditional stains and paints.


There are various "old world" finishes achievable without the use of traditional stains and paints. The Craftsman school used to expose oak and, I think, cherry to ammonia vapor to achieve a reddish-brown "stain" on its furniture. This was almost pure ammonia—not the pure white stuff that you buy in the supermarket. Obviously, this application requires sophisticated air and chemical handling equipment today.

Another formula was to soak rusted metal in a closed bottle of vinegar (white) for about a month. After removing the metal you had a solution that would also darken oak to almost black. If anyone does any of this, he must remember to neutralize the ammonia or vinegar by flooding the surface with water, letting it dry and then topcoating the wood. The action of the water will raise the grain, and the wood will have to be sanded to get a smooth surface. J.B.


Thanks for the information J.B. Owing to the nature of one of the chemicals, I must issue the caveat, "Don't try this at home kids." And, you are correct, if done in a factory setting today, all applicable air and water quality regulations would have to be met. I can see them now, workers in bunny suits and fresh air breathing masks exposing oak and cherry products to ammonia vapors.

We're lucky, J.B., that we weren't born 100 years ago. Today we can go to the hardware store and buy all kinds of commercial preparation for staining and painting. If you don't want to brush on a coat of varnish, you can apply it using a spray can to protect the painting as well as the non-painting alternatives.

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