A pile of antique oak, and a wood snob with predictable products…
I admit, when a room pops up on a project that is going to be entirely finished in wood, I get giddy. Sometimes I even cut to the front of the line of painters interested in stain and oil finishes. As fate and schedule would have it, our entire crew is fully occupied right now with equally challenging multi-tasks as our project heads to the finish line. So, for the moment, I will be staining oak for the study.
Here is a drawing of a couple of the elevations in the room that I am working on, in close collaboration with the wood craftsmen who are milling and building it. There is an oak coffered ceiling – wraps, crown and a bead. The walls are entirely oak with raised panel details.
This room has been in concept form for many months, but in the past week has begun to take shape. This is one of the aspects of custom work that I enjoy most, especially when it is stain grade on a larger scale.
The process and products have to be tight, quick turnaround, and able to be duplicated with precision. Put these parameters on oak with a dark stain, and the stakes go up. Make it oak reclaimed from timbers from another century and it deserves full attention. Staining oak is no messing around.
Oak has never been among my favorite species to work with. There’s just so many bad and blah examples of it in the world. But this batch is different. It is reclaimed oak. Anytime I get the chance to work with wood that is at least 4 times my own age, I shut up and listen. It is an entirely different experience. Things that work on other species of typical vintage can leave the painter looking pretty silly in this context. So, figuring out the craft of getting from raw material to desired effect is a trip. Usually, good craftspeople in this situation can immediately identify 3-4 potential routes, and then start narrowing down, ultimately backing straight into the right one for the challenge.
Since it is very much part of my job to specify product for custom work, I gathered up some cutoffs from my carpentry colleagues who had begun to mill and mock up raw panel details. These authentic “drops” are the only accurate canvas for stain sampling. In sampling several stain types and tones, the oak revealed itself to be profoundly dry and open. Gel stain was the obvious choice, as penetrating stain would be prone to blotchiness in the desired color range, and I have just never been one for conditioner. The homeowner was drawn to and quickly approved an Early American gel option.
I started running the actual panel glue ups with gel stain onsite today. This is a critical step that alot of painters will miss, staining the flat panels prior to assembly. Gel stain doesn’t migrate to blindspots at all, like penetrators or dyes do, so the entire panel surface has to be stained in order to prepare for eventual movement of the applied square stock panel perimeter frames (see drawing). Make a whole room out of wood, things are going to move in time. No stripes here, ever.
The gel applied and dried with induced conditions showing remarkable depth and richness, the way only antique wood coupled with quality (and proper technology) stain can. I cannot wait to get back on them tomorrow and continue to prepare them for assembly and installation in the room. Nothing in this system will be sprayed. All hand applied. And a couple of my favorite clear products getting the call to action.
Finishers are far more challenged by fine stain grade systems than paint. And there is no doubt that wood finishing is misunderstood, even by professional painters.
The next step here is some clear brushing and a hand off to the carpenters to get some momentum happening in the room. Two coats of clear, sanded and handed before noon.(the erecta rack shown above is about half the panel batch currently in production).