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(How to Age Pine)
The country look is a very popular look, as seen in various magazines and home settings today. It is a warm natural, honey or caramel color finish given to pine.
You may hear it called "English country", "Irish country", "Country French", "Primitive" or "Natural". It is still our friend the pine tree, with all of its knots, showing its warmth and versatility as furniture. The look is a warm honey color with slight or drastic distress marks here and there. The look has a character all it's own.
You can create this country look without the task of trying to pick the correct stain and worrying about the stain blotching on the pine. Best of all you can do it in minutes!
The "country" look came about from furniture purveyors finding interesting pieces in old farm houses, convents, schools and churches all over Europe. The pieces were very interesting in design but were usually covered in 10 coats of paint.
To remove the paint quickly, entrepreneurs would place the painted furniture in a vat of caustic soda (lye) for up to 24 hours. This drastic action of course removes all the paint, loosens the joints and dissolved any glue if there happened to be any. After a day in this bath, the furniture was removed and hosed down with water and wired brushed to remove any last residue of paint particles.
The stripping away of the paint revealed almost all of the furniture was made of pine. The reaction to the lye left a grayish cast to the wood surface.
Today a visit to almost any antique shop, reproduction house or museum reveals the timeless beauty of pine furniture. It has survived and has a look all to itself. The look is a hand-waxed finish that brings out the natural beauty of the pine, knots and all. Look in almost any magazine dealing with furniture, and you will witness the look of old pine on many pages.
To create this natural "country" finish in your own shop is quite simple and fool-proof. Let's start with any pine piece direct from the manufacturer or reclaimed from an old barn or warehouse.
Most manufacturers deliver a furniture piece sanded to 100 grit, so the first decision we need to consider is based on this fact.
Any stain finish that we apply to a 100 grit sanding will appear darker than one applied to a 180 grit sanding. This holds true because of the sanding scratches being deeper from 100 grit paper, thereby holding more colorant, than the scratches from 180 grit paper.
Briefly sanding does this:
100 grit sand paper scratches the wood fibers to a particular depth, creating peaks and valleys. Sanding with 150 grit paper next, only removes the peaks or ridges of the previous 100 grit paper, scratching no deeper. Following up with 180 grit sand paper removes or lowers the peaks still farther but goes no deeper into the valleys. Removing the ridges from the previous sanding causes the wood to feel smoother and reflect more light .(It should be noted that scratches cannot be seen with the human eye at 180 grit).
We now have more microscopic valleys to hold our stains or colorants, but they are not that deep. This is why the same color of stain can look lighter on one piece than another. They were sanded with different grits of paper. An important aspect of finishing is that the piece should be final sanded completely with the same grit of paper. This will assure an even distribution of any colorant over the entire piece.
Pine is very susceptible to stain blotching for reasons that we will not get into at this time. Just suffice it to say that it does and it is a real pain with which to deal.
A perfect finish that will not blotch pine is this old caustic soda method. The basis for caustic soda is the chemical, sodium hydroxide. Sodium hydroxide is found in every bottle of liquid drain cleaner (Household Drain Opener, Liquid Plumber, Ace Professional Strength, et al.) only in a less concentrated form than the dip tank used by the entrepreneurs.
I have found that using sodium hydroxide in this way and mixing one part water to one part liquid drain cleaner (1:1) sets up the perfect base or undercoat for pine that will not blotch. This occurs because the sodium hydroxide oxidizes on the pine's surface when oxygen in the air makes contact with the liquid agent. No blotching will occur and you will develop a perfect even color over the entire piece treated.
The resulting color of the pine when the drain cleaner mixture reacts with the tannic acid in the wood will be a bright yellow. Do not panic. As the liquid dries the color will dull down to a gray-green cast. This is perfect! There is no need to neutralize this solution because of its low chemical concentration to begin with. If you build a country table out of old pine boards and then use new pine for the apron and legs, this technique is a must.
After an appropriate amount of time to completely dry, the piece is ready for an application of Light Brown Briwax. Briwax with its high bee's wax content, will fill the pores of the wood and act as a preservative. The carnauba wax in Briwax will develop a hard finished sheen.
Apply the Light Brown Briwax liberally over the pine, rubbing in a circular motion to force the wax into the wood's pores and then wiping with the grain to eliminate any streaks. Remember, a little wax goes a long way. Briwax will not leave any lap marks or streaks so you may start and stop as you like.
When the piece is completely covered with Light Brown Briwax you are ready to buff it out to bring up the sheen. Again, Briwax will be ready for polishing in about a minute. I use a cotton terry cloth and it works perfectly well. Also a natural bristle brush will cut the polishing labor in half if you have a lot of pieces to do. Natural bristles do not clog up and bring out the sheen in minutes.
Experience shows that two or three applications are necessary to achieve the museum quality finish that we are striving for. The first application of Briwax fills approximately 85% of the woods pores. The second application gives a slight build and fills 95% of the pores, while the third and latter applications completely fill the woods pores and give a beautiful sheen and polish to the piece. Additional waxing with Briwax only improves the finish, deepening its patina overtime.
These applications can be performed immediately after each other. It is not necessary to wait longer than two or three minutes. Contrary to myth, Briwax does not build up. The solvent used to emulsify the wax acts as a cleaning agent and always removes the last application of wax, whether 10 minutes or 10 years ago.
A Briwax finish, while admittedly not a space aged protectant, is the easiest of all finishes to repair. Cuts, scratches, watermarks, violent bruises are all fixed in a quick manner. Simply apply more of the colored Briwax over the affected area. Steel Wool (0000) aids in the application and feathering out of the affected area. If sanding is required to repair a major flaw in the piece, the finish is readily brought back with an application or two with the Light Brown Briwax. Remember, Briwax leaves no lap marks, it always fills in perfectly whenever you need to touch up the piece.
The pine furniture that we have just given our special aging technique will now be a beautiful shade of honey. The color will deepen with age and start to present an inner glow. You and your customers will try to guess how old this piece really is. Maybe with the appropriate dings, scratches and distress marks you can sell it as an authentic 1850's Victorian reproduction piece.
This aging technique is ideal for entertainment centers, armoires, desks, tables, stools, benches, wash stands, cupboards or any piece that lends itself to construction in pine. The finish will only get better in time and will be quite easy to maintain.
Furniture restorers and manufacturers use this technique to aid in the restoration of authentic pieces, to developing a line of reproduction furniture in the 90's. This procedure is also used extensively in the Pine Furniture Industry.
Here is what you will need:
- Sodium Hydroxide (Household Drain Opener, Liquid Plumber)
- Water (Mix 1 part Household Drain Opener and 1 part Water)
- An old rag (a brush will have the mix everywhere)
- For really big pieces, use a spray bottle to hold the aging solution or a bug sprayer also works well.
Steps for Aging Pine the Traditional Way
- Prepare the Pine piece for sanding and sand to 180 Grit.
Raw pine, completely unfinished.
- Do any distressing to the piece at this time.
- Prepare the "aging solution". Mix one part sodium hydroxide (Household Drain Opener, Ace Hardware Professional Strength, Liquid Plumber or any brand of liquid drain cleaner) to one part water. I use a glass measuring cup and add the drain cleaner first and then the water. If you have very big pieces like an entertainment center, put the solution in a bug sprayer and spray it on. I find that if I use a brush I get the solution everywhere, so use an old rag and wipe it on the surface. Also, you should use a rubber glove to keep the drain cleaner away from your skin.
- As the "aging" solution is applied, you will notice that the pine will turn yellow immediately. This is a reaction between the sodium-hydroxide, oxygen and the tannic acid in the pine. You can tell if you have missed a spot if it does not turn yellow.
- After allowing the pine piece to dry it will take on a dull gray-green cast or will look like nothing has happened at all. This color, after drying, depends on the tannic acid in the lumber which results from the geographical area of where the tree was grown.
The aging solution dries to a dull gray-green color.
When the piece is dry, let it set overnight if you are unsure, apply Light Brown Briwax in a liberal manner all over the area you want to finish. This first application of Briwax will give the perfect color, sort of a "honey or caramel color". Wait a few minutes and buff the wax out with a cloth or natural bristle brush. The piece will not produce much of a sheen on the first application, you are only filling the pores of the wood. Immediately apply Light Brown Briwax again, it won't take very much, and wipe it as far as you can... less is better. Wait a minute and buff out the piece. Now you will see the hand-waxed look begin to develop.
Apply Briwax Light Brown, notice the honey color.
Buff out the Briwax to a beautiful sheen!
The amazing thing about this technique is that every time you re apply Briwax to the piece it will get prettier. Briwax always removes the last application of itself and replaces it with a new application. So as oxidation causes any surface to dull over time, a Briwax finish is always presenting a clean and polished look. If the surface gets smudged, simply rebuff with a dry cloth. Every time you re-wax with Briwax you remove the old finish, you hand rub the piece one more time , and you apply a new finish. You have created a hand waxed piece with a museum quality finish!
Glorious "country" entertainment center by Nottingham Antiques, Atlanta, GA
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