Wood Finishing In Period Style
Discussion of the major types of wood finishing through the years.
¶ Fortunately it no longer is the aim of people to imitate expensive woods by staining cheaper woods. It is still true that when we want to stain birch or gum a deep rich red, or a warm dark brown, we use what is called a mahogany or a walnut stain, but that is merely color designation for lack of better names. Few people having a cheaper wood finished now carry the idea that anyone will think they have the more expensive wood. Today we want the color needed to complete the decorative plan for the room and we don't care to make birch look like mahogany, gum like walnut, pine or chestnut like oak. That was the idea of other generations and was a reflection of the period and spirit of imitation which ruled during the period of graining.
¶ The art of graining was highly developed and it is useful today for repair work where it becomes advisable to match up doors and odd pieces of trim with the general finish of the room, but as a general finish in itself graining has had its day. We are getting away from pretensions and shall now have more time and thought to devote to coloring our trim and cabinet woods to enhance their natural beauty, to finish them for their own beauty which in many instances fully equals far more expensive woods.
¶ Nature has woven into the fibre of each kind of wood a richness and variety of coloring which are ever pleasing to the eye. And in the exquisite grain and figure of woods she has traced patterns far beyond the ability and the dreams of the artist. Each wood has its own peculiar grain texture and figure. The best finishing is that which preserves to view these natural beauties and enhances them with color. There are but few woods which lack beauty of structure when the finisher knows how to make the most of them.
¶ A stain or natural finish which hides any of the natural beauty evident in the wood before finishing is not the best kind of finish, but we must sometimes sacrifice something to gain durability by using varnish coatings which are not completely transparent. And, of course, on cheaper grades of work the price will not permit the use of the high class finishing methods which make the most of the grain and color. In very cheap work we even must go to the point of mixing stain to partly obscure the imperfections of poor wood, knots, resinous streaks, etc.
¶ It will be interesting for a little while to trace briefly the changing styles in wood finishing, just to impress upon wood finishers the necessity for progress and continual study of the art.
¶ Going back only about forty years we were in a period when cheap woods were used for interior trim and grained in golden oak. This was true largely because the art of graining was flourishing, or perhaps the graining flourished because cheap woods were used.
¶ Next the popular fancy took to dark oak colors and dark walnut on real oak and walnut. The finishing was done largely by rubbing in hot oil coats. But with age these finishes became almost black.
¶ The swing of fashion took us back to golden oak, stained on real oak but with a high gloss and polished finish.
¶ A few years of golden oak and we came upon mission finishes, fumed oak, weathered oak, bog oak, etc., done on real oak, finished without filler to retain the open pores and given a dull finish, usually with wax. Then oak became expensive and another change was due.
¶ Furniture manufacturers now shifted to mahogany veneer, and wood trim followed to mahogany colors on other woods. Red mahogany with high gloss and polished finish was the rage. It was in this period that so much of the bleeding red aniline stains was used and which we are still fighting today whenever we try to enamel or paint over them. Today red mahogany is quite out of favor for wood trim and for furniture it has been darkened very much.
¶ White enamel finish on interior trim next climbed upon the stage and was very popular until it proved difficult to keep clean on much used parts such as door casings, stair treads, etc.
¶ White enamel gave way to combinations of white enamel and red or brown mahogany stained and varnished parts which took the wear, such as baseboards, quarter-rounds stair rails and treads, etc. Then light tinted enamels took the place of pure white and these combinations are still much in favor. But gloss finishes have given way to dull or satin enamel.
¶ Italian walnut came in after the world war and also the renaissance styles for furniture. Brown mahogany and walnut on gumwood, birch, maple and cypress for trim followed the furniture style.
¶ About this time, too, or a little earlier, the two-toned gray finishes, on oak and chestnut principally, arrived, silver gray, Austrian oak, and many others gained by use of gray stain and white filler on open-grain woods.
¶ Right now furniture is still walnut but in the lighter color tones, some of it bleached and called French walnut. The colors run from pale yellow to rich, light brown.
¶ Considering the close relation between furniture finishes and wood trim finishes in buildings it is well to note that just as automobile painting represents the highest art in painting, so also does furniture finishing represent the highest art in wood finishing. Consequently any methods, tools and materials about which the house finisher can learn from the furniture finisher are often well worth study when within the limitations of cost. The furniture finisher can do many things which the house finisher cannot because his surfaces are smaller, his woods finer and his cost not so limited, but there is much in common between these two craftsmen. As a matter of fact the demand for natural and stained house trim came as a result of furniture finishes and a desire to harmonize the two elements of decoration in a room.
¶ Furniture manufacturers have spared no time or expense in creating and reproducing fine finishes on wood. They have sent their expert finishers all over the world to study first hand the authentic period furniture and interior room designs of the so-called golden periods of decoration which are rich in the artistic works of master craftsmen. These experts have reproduced color, texture and finish of furniture and interior wood trim in ancient baronial halls, castles, cathedrals and other structures built during the rich historic periods of design and decoration.
¶ So, good furniture of modern manufacture offers a remarkably fine field for study for the finisher whose work is that of finishing wood trim of buildings.
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