Friday, April 4, 2014

Stickley Aurora Finish Recipe & Schedule

I have the main structure's joinery complete and I took a moment to consider gluing it up unfinished or pre-finishing and then gluing it.

Internal Debate

There's 84 separate parts.  Only the outside will be finished, I want the interior of the drawer bays to remain unfinished and clean.  That's a lot of corners to tape off and sand and stain and poly and a lot of parts to protect from a stray drop of stain or poly.  I pre-finished the bench project.  That's it.  I just decided.  I'm pre-finishing this one, too.

A New Color

C doesn't want the same Stickley Onondaga finish that I used on the bench.  She wants Aurora.  So I looked up the recipe in Jeff Jewitt's Stickley Finish PDF.  I like to buy the TransFast dye powder because it's a better bang for your buck, but in this case, they don't have Medium Brown in TransFast.

Jeff responded to my email within a couple hours pointing at Antique Cherry Brown as the closest thing to Medium Brown.  It took a few days to arrive in the mail.  In the meantime, I drove out to Marty's Barn Cellar to buy a pint of General Finishes Antique Walnut Gel Stain.

Do it for Science!

Sample boards and finishing experiments are hugely important.  Tiny little swatches of a finish don't reflect enough light so you never really get a true sense of a what that finish will really look like on a full piece of furniture.  I like to make big sample boards.  I took a 6" wide x 12" long piece of Quarter sawn White Oak and resawed it a few times into 1/8" thick blanks.  This way each sample board is the same wood grain and should absorb the dye consistently.

Jeff's instructions call for using TransTint liquid dye, 1oz. (by volume) to 1 quart of water.  The instructions on the jar of TransFast powdered dye call for using 1oz. (by weight) to 1 quart of water.  I decided to use this as a starting point.

I should point out that on my first attempt, I tried using teaspoons to figure out 1oz. by volume of powder.  This is problematic as you can pack the powder into the teaspoon and grab more or less each time, introducing inconsistency.  This first batch came out way too dark and I threw the whole sample away as a mistake.

In my second attempt, I got out my digital gram scale, zeroed it, and weighed out the appropriate amount of powder for the amount of water.  I'm not making a full quart for these tests.  I divided the recipe by 8 to end up with 1/2 cup of hot water to 3.54 grams of powder.  This maintains the 1oz. dye to 1qt. water ratio.

At this concentration I found the result to be a really dark red, surprisingly very close to Onondaga.  I shot Jeff another email asking if 1oz by weight of powder is equivalent to 1oz by volume of liquid dye.  It isn't.  The powder is usually more concentrated and needs to be diluted more.

So I doubled the water, tried another board.  1cup hot water, 3.54g dye.  Still too red.

So I tripled the water and tried another board.  1.5cups hot water, 3.54g dye.  Pretty close to perfect.

Dye stains tend to dry chalky, so it's really hard to judge how close the color match is until you get the top coats on.  For this reason it's really important that you carry the finish all the way through to the end.  I know, it takes forever.  I can't stand how long it takes, but trust me, it's worth it.... do your homework now, on scrap wood, before you go anywhere near your project.

And write down exactly what you're doing so you can duplicate the steps.

Always Experimenting

I'm running 3 to 6 mini experiments here:
  • 1oz to 1qt concentration - allowed to soak for 30 seconds before being wiped away
  • 1oz to 1qt concentration - applied and immediately wiped away
  • 1oz to 2qt concentration - allowed to soak for 30 seconds before being wiped away
  • 1oz to 2qt concentration - applied and immediately wiped away
  • 1oz to 3qt concentration - allowed to soak for 30 seconds before being wiped away
  • 1oz to 3qt concentration - applied and immediately wiped away
I just wanted to see if wiping the dye away or letting it soak had any impact.  It doesn't.

In the bench project I did some samples with and some without Boiled Linseed Oil.  But for this one, the decision is already made.  I already know that I prefer to add the oil.  It adds some depth and luster to the quarter sawn figure.  I allow the oil to cure for a day or two before locking everything in with a coat of Shellac.  Then comes the Gel Stain, let it dry, then 2 top coats and you're done.

Final Verdict

The triple-diluted batch is as close to Aurora as I can ever expect to get.  I'm 100% happy with the results and more importantly, so is my wife.  She has given me the green light on proceeding with the project.  :)

Final Aurora Finishing Schedule

  1. sand 100grit, 120grit, vacuum pores
  2. dampen with hot water, let dry
  3. sand to 180grit, vacuum pores
  4. mix the Dye (away from your work area and parts!)
    • 1 oz by weight TransFast Antique Cherry Brown aniline powder dye
    • 3 quarts hot water (just under boiling)
  5. apply dye and let it sit for a few seconds
  6. wipe dry with clean cotton rag
  7. let dry a few hours (it will look chalky and pinkish, it's ok!)
  8. lightly apply Boiled Linseed Oil, let soak for a minute or so, wipe dry
    • dispose of oily rags safely
  9. let dry for 24 - 48 hours until board feels dry to the touch
  10. apply 1 coat Shellac
  11. let dry a few hours or a day
  12. lightly scuff sand with 320grit
  13. apply General Finishes Antique Walnut Gel Stain across the grain, let haze, scrub with clean cotton rag
  14. let dry 24 hours (you should be able to lightly wipe with a clean cotton cloth and the gel stain won't dirty the rag very much at all)
  15. apply 1 coat General Finishes Arm-R-Seal Satin Oil & Urethane Topcoat (or polyurethane)
  16. let dry 24 hours
  17. scuff sand 320grit
  18. apply 1 coat General Finishes Arm-R-Seal Satin Oil & Urethane Topcoat (or polyurethane)
  19. let dry 24 hours or more
  20. rub with a grey non-woven synthetic sanding pad to an even, dull sheen
  21. apply an even coat of paste wax, let it haze over, buff to an even shine
  22. done

Here are some photos of the finished samples alongside the Stickley Factory samples.

Onondaga (left).  Aurora (right).

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