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    Easy Arts and Crafts Finish

    By combining water-based dyes with oil-based stains, you can mimic the rich, warm look of antique Arts & Crafts furniture, without dangerous fuming techniques.

    If you like the rich dark look of fumed white oak that is so common in Arts & Crafts furniture, most experienced woodworkers might tell you to fume your furniture projects with ammonia. Trouble is, this process can be cumbersome at best, and high-test ammonia is a serious irritant to the lungs. Here’s a simple method that lends white oak that same beautiful Arts & Crafts look, without all the downsides of fuming with ammonia.

    Prep Your Wood

    This process uses a water-based dye that could raise the grain of the oak, so sand your project to 220-grit, then wipe on a bit of water and allow it to dry to raise the grain. Go back with one more pass of 220-grit sandpaper and you should be in business.

    Dye the Wood

    Dying the wood warms it's color considerably. You may fear the dye is too striking at first, but don't worry, you'll go over the dye with a dark stain in a later step.

    Dye the oak with a water-based dye like TransTint’s honey amber. A dilution of 1 oz. dye to 1 quart of water should be a good starting point. Just be careful not to overdo the yellow color. Apply the dye quickly with a foam brush and wipe off the excess with a lint-free cloth. Once the dye has dried, you may want to go back and hit the project with 320-grit sandpaper, as the grain may raise again, ever-so-slightly.


    Stain the Wood

    The second coat of color, a dark brown stain, will mellow the out the tone of the dye and combine to form a pleasing, rich tone that mimics the look of fumed antique Arts & Crafts furniture.

    Use an oil-based stain like Minwax Early American to pop the wood’s figure and deepen the tone. Use a foam brush to apply the stain, leave it on for between 5 and 10 minutes, and then wipe off the excess using a lint-free cloth. Oak is a porous wood prone to stain weeping out from within. This can occur even after it’s been wiped clean of excess stain, so be sure to check back periodically to hit any spots where stain has weeped out of an open pore. Allow the stain to dry overnight.


    Seal in the Tone

    Amber shellac imparts even more warm tone to the wood, seals it, and provides a great base coat for the final coats of polyurethane.

    To seal the wood and warm up the tone even more, add a thin coat of premixed amber shellac that’s been diluted with a bit of denatured alcohol (a 50/50 mix usually gets the job done). Once the shellac has dried, scuff-sand the surface with 320-grit sandpaper and wipe off the dust using a tack cloth. For additional coverage, consider adding a few coats of a wipe-on satin polyurethane.



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     These techniques are a lot more easier and safer than the fuming techniques, used until a couple of years ago. Even if home-made furniture looks good, there are people who prefer the GLASSPEC furnishings and for good reason, they are among the most durable pieces on today's related market.

    Ron Clemens writes:


    I want to use this finish on a red oak bookcase I'm building.  I bought a pre-mixed amber shellac (Bullseye) as recommended in the article.  The can says not to use it under polyurethane, while the article says not only to do it, but that the shellac "provides a great base coat for the final coats of polyurethane."  So, can anyone explain this to me?  From looking this up in forums, etc., some say that there are bonding issues, while others say they've never had a problem.  Further advice would be helpful.



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    Ed Pirnik writes:

    Hi Giuliano:

    The order is: dye, then Minwax Early American stain, then seal coat with amber shellac, then you can polyurethane over it for a final tough top-coat.

    Hope that helps.


    Giuliano Gnugnoli writes: The word "Next" is slightly confusing. Is the "Second Coat of Color" the mentioned Minwax or is there another stain being used between the dye and the Minwax?
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