Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Case of the Vapours

Among the aspects of chairmaking that I've been trying to address is the finish. I am generally an advocate of the painted chair. When using a variety of woods to serve a variety of functions, paint is a great way to emphasize the chair as a whole object. I have been making unpainted pieces for a while now, and learning a great deal about the differences in design and construction that follow. One of my goals, to spend more time shaving pieces and less time at the lathe, has led me to create chairs that are all oak, except for the butternut seats. The oak, besides splitting and shaving beautifully, has a feature that I am excited about, because it can straddle the line between painted and unpainted chairs. I am talking about fuming.

When exposed to an ammonia rich atmosphere, the tannins naturally found in oak darken. This darkening is a chemical process in the wood, and unlike stains, will not obscure the grain patterns. Anyone familiar with the rich dark brown of Mission style furniture will know what fumed oak has in store.

I hope to use this method to unite the silhouette of the piece while also showcasing the grain. I have made other pieces with fuming before, and enjoyed the transformative magic that happens.

Here is a cross section of a sample that I made. You can see that the color is actually in the wood.
Below is a simple setup that I am using to darken the wedges and pins to create a bit of contrast in the final piece. You can see that all you need is an airtight container and a bit of household ammonia. The idea is not to let the ammonia touch the pieces, but simply evaporate into the chamber.

Here is one of the wedges ,after about 8 hours time, placed next to a shaving made when forming the wedge. The color shift is obvious, but will grow even more so when oil is applied.

I have been having fun arranging the grain so that the rays will play a large role in the overall look of the piece. Once fumed, the rays take on a shimmering quality.

Below is Peter Mich working on his continuous arm chair last week. Peter had already made over 40 chairs. I was pleased that Peter saw the value in making a continuous arm with me, even though he had already learned to make one elsewhere. It gave us a chance to really focus on some solid technique.


Anonymous said...

where do you get your butternut for your seats. i live in ohio and can not located any

Peter Galbert said...

I get the butternut from Nick Cicchinelli at 315-323-4880. He is in upstate NY but can pallet and ship to anywhere in the U.S. Give him a call, he's a good guy and is working hard to meet the needs of us picky chairmaker types.