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Custom Made Furniture: All about Stains and Finishes

Custom Made Furniture: All about Stains and Finishes

It is hard to resist the urge to create or alter a piece of custom made furniture. Especially when there are more television shows, magazines, and websites than ever before about the subject. People want to feel in charge of what they are working with. They want to feel like they have some say in their own home by making or at least altering a piece for themselves. The idea in and of itself is harmless enough. The problem, however, lies in its execution.  People who don’t know how the properties of the tools that they are working with, or how to apply them, means a greater likelihood of making a lot of mistakes. So, we are going to remedy that to talk about the properties of wood, how stains work, and what finishing actually means for custom made furniture.

Image by armennano from Pixabay

General Properties of Wood

There are some things about wood that people know in general. Like how it can come in different colors, shapes, and sizes; how it can always float in water without any extra weight. And how incredibly flammable it is. But a lot of people don’t take into account other factors. For instance, wood is absorbent. If there is nothing to seal the pores, then it will absorb as much water as possible. Wood is also a byproduct of what makes living matter exist, cells. It is still a plant, so it will have things like cellular walls.  That means that it can grow or shrink depending on how thick they are and how much moisture they are exposed to. Some of them leave off specific odors.

All of these factor in on what you are planning to do with your custom made furniture.  You want to check to make sure that you understand what the properties of the wood are, what you can do with it, and how it is going to react to what you are wanting to do.

Wood Staining

This is the fun part of designing custom made furniture, and the most creatively challenging. There are a variety of stains out there on the market with a custom base and pigments that are bound to it.  The two main bases that are in wood stain are much like any artists paint kit. There is a water base and an oil base. Each of those has its own properties with both positive and negative traits.  Hunker.com explains these traits very well by separating the categories.

Oil-Based Stain Traits

  • Requires 72 hours or more to dry.
  • Penetrates deeper than water-based.
  • Doesn’t clean up with soap and water.
  • Won’t raise grain.
  • Turns amber color with age.
  • Requires between four and six hours to recoat.
  • Can’t be cleaned up with soap and water.
  • Requires natural bristle brush for application.
  • A gallon of oil-based costs about $25 at the time of publication.
  • Slightly flexible to move with the wood.
  • Emits more fumes than water-based.

Water-Based Stain Traits

  • Dries in 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Easy to clean up with water.
  • More available colors than oil-based.
  • Can raise grain.
  • Stays clear.
  • Can be recoated in two hours.
  • Cleans up with soap and water.
  • Dries harder than oil-based.
  • Costs about $40 per gallon, at the time of publication.
  • Emits fewer fumes than oil-based.

Finishing for Custom Made Furniture

There is a difference between staining and finishing. Staining is optional, mainly for the purposes of adding color. Finishing, however, is practically a requirement for any wooden artwork. After all, as I mentioned earlier, wood is prone to being flammable, can get too much moisture, and a whole heap of other issues. So, you need at least some sort of productive coating to at least help your custom made furniture last longer.

However, its a little more complicated than just using the first finish you see. There are at least 10 different kinds, but can be lumped into two categories, each with their own intended purpose.

  • Penetrating finishes are meant for seeping in and drying inside the wood.
    • Penetrating finishes are easier to apply and leave a more natural look.  But they are hardly long-lasting.
  • Surface finishes are going to dry on top of the wood.
    • Surface finishes are more durable but don’t have that natural look that some people want in their wooden furniture.

Some of them will require the use of a cloth, others will need a brush. Some of them might require wet sanding to get the dust that settles on the top. Others will have odd properties like linseed oil, that can get sticky in moisture. Or will have an oil base like Polyurethane. So, you will want to figure out what sort of environment your custom made furniture will be in. How people will use that furniture, and how much preservation it will need.

All in all, if you know the properties of what you are dealing with, you are far more likely to know what you want.