A description of the uses and characteristics of cypress wood.
¶ In buildings where it seems desirable to show in the woodwork the bold, strikingly artistic effects such as we associate with Japanese woods, we can heartily recommend cypress, which is plentiful, easily obtained and not expensive. For bungalows, mountain camps, seaside cottages, country clubs and the like, where strong and somewhat unusual effects are sought for, cypress will be found eminently satisfactory, as it is strong and brilliant as to markings and possesses most interesting possibilities in the way of color. Cypress is a soft wood belonging to the pine family and we get most of it from the cypress swamps in the Southern States.
¶ It is very like the famous Japanese cypress, which gives such a wonderful charm to many of the Japanese buildings and which is so identified with the Japanese use of woods. Over there they bury it for a time in order to get the color quality that is most desired, a soft gray brown against which the markings stand out strongly and show varying tones. This method, however, did not seem expedient in connection with our own use of the wood and after long experimenting we discovered that we could get much the same effect by treating it with sulphuric acid.
¶ This process is very simple, as it is merely the application of diluted sulphuric acid directly to the surface of the wood. The commercial sulphuric acid should be used rather than the chemically pure, as the first is much cheaper and is quite as good for this purpose. Generally speaking, the acid should be reduced with water in the proportion of one part of acid to five parts of water, but the amount of dilution depends largely upon the temperature in which the work is done. Conditions are best when the thermometer registers 75 degrees or more. If it is above that, the sulphuric acid will stand considerably more dilution than it will take if the air is cooler.
¶ Of course, in the case of interior woodwork, it is possible to keep the room at exactly the right temperature by means of artificial heat, but when exterior woodwork or shingles are given the sulphuric acid treatment, it is most important to take into consideration the temperature and state of the weather. Exposure to the direct rays of the sun darkens the wood so swiftly that a much weaker solution is required than when the work is done in the shade. In any case, it is best to do a good deal of experimenting upon small pieces of wood before attempting to put the acid on the woodwork itself, as it is only by this means that the exact degree of strength required to produce the best effect can be determined.
¶ After the application of the acid the wood should be allowed to dry perfectly before putting on the final finish. For interior woodwork this last finish is given by applying one or two coats of wax; for the exterior, one or two coats of raw linseed oil may be used. If the wood threatens to become too dark under the action of the acid, the burning process can be stopped instantly by an application of either oil or wax, so that the degree of corrosion is largely under the control of the worker. A white hogs bristle brush should be used for applying the acid, as any other kind of brush would be eaten up within a short time. Also great care should be taken to avoid getting acid on the face, hands, or clothing.
Outdoor Uses of Cypress
¶ In connection with the subject of cypress for interior woodwork, we desire to say something concerning its desirability for outside use, such as half timbering and other exterior woodwork. It is one of the most attractive of all our woods for such use because of its color quality and markings and it has the further advantage of "standing" well, without either shrinking or swelling. Naturally the sulphuric acid treatment that we have just described applies to this wood whether it is used indoors or out.
¶ Another use of cypress is found in the rived cypress shingle which give us some of the most interesting effects in exterior wall surfaces. These shingles are the product of one of our few remaining handicrafts, and our sole source of supply depends upon the negroes in the Southern swamps. These negroes are adepts at splitting or riving shingles, and when they get the time or need a little extra money, they split up a few cypress logs into shingles and carry them to a lumber merchant in the nearest town.
¶ Consequently, the quantity that is available in the market varies, as no merchant has any great or steady supply of rived shingles and has to accumulate them by degrees and store them, in order to be able to fill any large order. Being hand rived, these shingles cost about twice as much as the machine sawn shingles, but they are well worth the extra outlay if one desires a house that is beautiful, individual and durable. The sawn shingle, unless oiled or stained in the beginning, is apt to get a dingy, weather beaten look under the action of sun and rain and to require renewing early and often. But the rived shingle has exactly the surface of the growing tree from which the bark has been stripped; or, to be more exact, it shows the split surface of a tree trunk from which a bough has been torn, leaving the wood exposed. This surface, while full of irregularities, preserves the smooth natural fiber of the tree, and this takes on a beautiful color quality under the action of the weather, as the color of the wood ripens and shows as an undertone below the smooth silvery sheen of the surface, an effect which is entirely lost when this natural glint is covered with the "fuzz" left by the saw. These rived shingles are also made of juniper, which is as good in color as cypress and has proven itself even more durable.
¶ All cypress woodwork, whether interior or exterior, takes stain well; and if staining is preferred to the sulphuric acid treatment, very good effects may be gained in this way. We wish, however, to repeat the caution against using too strong a stain, as the effect is always much better if a very little color is carried on in each coat. We cannot too strongly urge the necessity of preliminary experimenting with small pieces of wood in order to gain the best color effects, and we also recommend that in finishing the woodwork of the room itself a very light color be put on at first, to be darkened if a deeper color is found necessary to give the desired effect.
¶ The reason for this is that a color which may be considered perfect upon a small piece of wood that is examined closely and held to the light, may prove either too strong or too weak when it is seen on the woodwork as a whole. Much of the effect depends upon the lighting of the room, and therefore it is best to go slowly and "work up" the finish of the woodwork until exactly the right effect is gained. After staining cypress woodwork it should be given either a coat of shellac or wax, or of wax alone, if the amount of wear does not necessitate shellac.
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