Interior Woodwork

Interior Woodwork & Wood Decor

Here Stickley gives general advice and tips for those wishing to use wood for interior decor and furnishings whether in the walls, floors, or in furniture.

¶ Many people prefer white enameled woodwork for daintily furnished rooms. When this is used, the best kinds of wood for the purpose are poplar and basswood, preferably poplar. One thing should be remembered in connection with white woodwork, and that is that it should be treated in an entirely different way from the typical Craftsman woodwork, which depends for its effect upon the beauty of color and grain and therefore emphasizes these by means of simple forms, straight lines and plain surfaces. When white enameled woodwork is used, the style of it should be more elaborate, as all the interest that naturally belongs to the wood is hidden, and the only way to obtain the play of light and shade necessary to break up the monotony of the white surface is to use moldings, beadings and similar ornamentation, after what is called the Adam style, which we find in the best of our Colonial houses.

¶ In considering interior woodwork one point should not be forgotten; that is the great interest that may be obtained by the right use of what, from a commercial point of view, is faulty wood. We all know the interest and charm of paneling and other woodwork that displays irregularities in the grain, such as knots, knurls and all sorts of queer twists. One of the best examples is found in the "curly" redwood, which is so greatly sought after in California. While the use of such pieces adds greatly to the beauty of a room, the selection of them requires much taste and judgment and absolutely demands that the personal attention of the owner or decorator be given to the work. It is never safe to trust the selection of faulty wood to the lumber merchant or its placing to the carpenter. The necessity of this care is rather an advantage than otherwise, because it is upon just such touches as these that much of the individuality of a decorative scheme depends.

Importance of Dry Wood

¶ We have treated fully the selection and coloring of the wood, but one practical detail that should be remembered by all who desire beautiful woodwork is that particular attention should be paid to having all the wood thoroughly kiln dried.

¶ Even more important is the necessity of having the house free from dampness before the woodwork is put in, because no wood, however dry and well seasoned, will stand against the dampness of a newly plastered house. In fact, the effect upon the woodwork in such a case is almost worse than when the wood itself is not thoroughly seasoned, for in the latter case it will merely shrink, while dampness in the house will cause it to swell and bulge. The drying of wood not only needs close attention but the aid of some experienced person, as kiln dried lumber is very apt to be uneven, and there is need of very careful watching while the wood is in the kiln to insure the even drying of all the boards, or the woodwork will be ruined.

Smoothing Wood

¶ Another thing that is worth watching is the final smoothing of the wood before it is put into place. After it leaves the planing machines in the mill it has to be made still smoother, and so most mills that furnish interior trim have installed sandpapering machines. These are convenient and labor-saving, but give a result that is very undesirable for fine woodwork, as the rotary sanding "fuzzes" the grain and, under the light finish we use, it is apt to be raised and roughened by moisture absorbed from the atmosphere. This does not matter when the woodwork is varnished, because the varnish holds it down, but where the natural surface of the wood is preserved great care should be used in the treatment of the grain.

¶ The popularity of Craftsman furniture and interior woodwork has created a demand for a surface that shows the sheen of the knife rather than the fuzz of the sanding machine, and some mills have met this demand by putting in scraping machines. These give better results than the sanding machines, but nothing equals the surface that is obtained by smoothing the wood by hand just before it is put into place. For this we use the hand scraper and a smoothing plane that is kept very sharp, as by this method the fiber is cut clean instead of being "cottoned out" and the sheen that naturally belongs to the wood is unimpaired. Although this means hand work, it is not very expensive because of the inconsiderable quantity of wood that is used in a house. Also the Craftsman method of finishing afterward costs so little that the slight extra care and expense incurred in obaining just the. right surface is well worth while.

Wood Floors

¶ In connection with the woodwork in a house it is necessary to give some attention to the floors, which come into close relation with the treatment of the walls. The best wood for flooring is quartered oak, which all lumber merchants keep in stock in narrow widths, tongued and grooved. We find, however, that a more interesting floor can be made by using wider boards of uneven width, as this gives an effect of strength and bigness to the room. These wide boards need not be tongued and grooved, but may be put together with butt joints and the boards nailed through the top by using brad head nails that can be countersunk and the holes puttied up so that they are almost invisible. When very wide boards are used it is best to build the floor in "three ply" like paneling. Plain sawn oak is also good for flooring, but it is more likely to warp and sliver than quartered oak and it does not lie so flat.

¶ An oak floor, whether plain or quarter-sawn, must always be filled with a silex wood filler so that its surface is made smooth and non absorbent. The color should be made the same as that of the woodwork, or a little darker; and after the stain is applied, the floor should be given one coat of shellac and then waxed.

¶ In rooms where the color schemes permit a slightly reddish tone in the floor, we would suggest that either birch or beech be used for flooring, as these may be finished by the sulphuric acid process, a method which is better than stain because it darkens the wood itself and therefore does not wear off with use.

¶ If a gray floor should be desired, we would suggest maple treated with the iron rust solution. In either case a coat of thin shellac should be applied after the chemical has been thoroughly dried, say 24 hours after the first application, and then waxed in the regular way.

¶ For ordinary floors a good wood to use is comb grained pine, which receives its name from the method of sawing that leaves the grain in straight lines, not unlike the teeth of a comb. This does not warp or sliver and is very durable; it may be treated with stain and then given the regular finish of shellac and wax.

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