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Posts Tagged ‘Wood moldings’

Circa 1850 Polymerized Tung Oil Varnish

Circa 1850 Polymerized Tung Oil Varnish

The original door on the house is a Queen Anne style that was unfortunately painted with the cheapest grade latex paint. This style of door can be found on many late Victorian Queen Anne styled Bay-and-Gable homes in Toronto.

After some research, Tung oil seemed like the the best possible finish.

Stripping layers of paint off the door revealed a honey pine stain on the exterior and a dark reddish stain that is the base coat on all of the interior wood work. This dark stain was used as the base for the interior Victorian tromp l’oeil faux oak finish. Paint stripping was time and I am loath to even recall the ordeal. I discovered too late that a carpenter in the area would have been able to  do the work at a reasonable rate, which I would suggest. Otherwise, you will be working with methyl chloride which is a very harsh chemical that is a VOC solvent and not terribly “green”.

First coat of stain applied

First coat of stain applied

Of course, follow usual guidelines when you suspect lead paint (see post on refinishing hardware). More environmentally friendly chemicals should be used if you are lucky enough not too have too may layers to remove.

First coat of Tung oil varnish

First coat of Tung oil varnish

I wanted as period a finish that I could achieve and that meant was very reluctant to use a polyurethane. The plastic coated look of polyurethane finishes are not very attractive to my eye.

After some research, Tung oil seemed like the the best possible finish.  Tung oil, the oil from a Chinese nut producing tree, has been used for centuries to water protect wood on Chinese sailing junks. The oil naturally polymerizes itself by linking up the molecules into chains creating a beautiful finish that repels water and allows the wood to breath. The finish is not “oily” in the least, is dry to touch and hardens to protect the wood. Best of all, with a light sanding, the finish can be touched up and renewed at any time.

I used Circa 1850 polymerized Tung oil varnish. Polermerized tung oil has been heated to encourage even more molecular cross linking during the curing process and has been traditionally used a Marine Spar varnish on beautiful wood hulled power boats.

Paint was removed using a few specialized scrapers for the moulding. Plenty of steal wool was used to remove paint and old varnish from the grain. This raised the grain of the wood which allows stain to be taken up. The door was sanded with 80 grit paper, then 120 grit paper, then 150 grit paper and finally 220 grit paper.

Entrance, The Frick Collection, NYC

Entrance, The Frick Collection, NYC

The 120 year old door had an amazing heart pine grain. Since it was a soft wood, a coat of wood conditioner was applied prior to stain to ensure the stain was soaked up within the wood in an even manner. Three coats of stain were applied allowing 24 hours of drying between coats. Then three coats of Tung oil varnish were applied scuffing the finish with fine steel wool between coats. A visit to the Frick Collection in New York provided the inspiration for our choice of stain colour. Of course, I had to make this enterprize more difficult than it needed to be, but the hue of the stain was perfect, very warm and complemented the golden hues of the aged heart pine of my far more modest door.

The result was better than anticipated and the stain and tung oil really brought out the antique patina of the aged wood.

Three coats of Tung oil varnish

Three coats of Tung oil varnish

Antique front doors are a bargain at most architectural reclamation stores. Partly because, many home owners are not willing to take the trouble to either refinish the original door or have  a carpenter fit in a suitable antique period door. Nonetheless, the very minor additional effort is worth the results. A big box steel door on a period home is an act that frees space in hell for lost souls. While I had the original door to work with, it can be great fun picking out the perfect door at your local salvage shop.

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I wanted to put up bead board in a small laundry room, but lost enthusiasm for the project after realizing I would need to spend a couple of hours nailing boards over my head. So perhaps I did not really need a pneumatic Brad nailer, but now that I own one, I have tons of ideas for more projects! As if there were not enough items on our “to do” list. 

The unremarkable "before shot" made worse by the "track lighting"...

The unremarkable "before shot" made worse by the "track lighting"...

Tools and Materials:

  • Brad nail gun
  • Mitre saw
  • Stud finder
  • Chalk line
  • Pine beadboard
  • Pine crown molding
  • Measuring tape

I choose a small room to gain some experience working with the nail gun.

Paint or prime the beadboard first. This will ensure the tongue and grove of the boards are fully covered as it will be hard to get into any uneven joints once the boards are up. For this project, I used a lower grade pine that was meant to be painted. Using the nail gun will also ensure that you do not split boards and that you do not leave hammer marks or nail heads that need to be putty filled.

Snapped chalk lines

Snapped chalk lines

To put up a bead board ceiling, I first used a stud finder to locate the ceiling joists and then snapped a chalk line to mark their location. The beadboard should be installed perpendicular to the joists so that you get solid wood stock in which to nail.

It is recommended to leave around a 1/4 inch gap to account for expansion of the boards. This gap will be covered by your trim. If the beadboard is going to be installed in a humid room, then you may also want to back prime the boards so they are less susseccible to expansion.

If your ceilings are not true (and chances are they arn’t true) then you may want to account for the irregularity to ensure that the bead will line up and run parallel with the trim molding. This room is a small “scullery” and I did not bother with the added fuss and the slight irregularity is not noticeable at all. The first board should be face nailed, but after that board I “toenailed” the boards to hide the nail heads within the tongue and grove of the beadboard.

Mitre cut the crown molding

Mitre cut the crown molding

Some boards may be so warped that you won’t be able to use them on long stretches, but can be salvaged to work around light boxes. I tried to keep the alignment of the tongue and grove as tight as possible so there were no obvious gaps.

Once it is all nailed up, then it is time to cut the crown molding. I thought this would be easy, but the experience brought back my regrettable experience of high school math. How to cut a mitered corner is a post in itself… there are some good guides online and your saw’s owners manual should give you the angle degrees you need for the right cut.

Not the hardest work to get a classic period look

And done

Using the Brad nailer is fun, quick and easy, just do not forget the ear and eye protection. Beadboard looks great in an old house and gives it some Victorian character where there would otherwise be drywall.

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Industrialism resulted in the wide availability of architectural millwork that was once only available to wealthy clients building the best of homes. Late Victorian or “High Victorian” millwork was the most elaborate and suited popular Victorian revival styles of the time including Queen Anne and Eastlake. Hull (2003) refers to the period 1890-1910 as the “Golden Age” of American architectural millwork. During this period wood was plentiful and cheap and there existed the right mix of artisans, craftsmen, and manufacturers that produced styles that were ornate, elaborate and expressive. According to Hull, the end of this great period of millwork followed the Depression era, when wood was no longer affordable and modern options, such as hollow core doors, became widely used, marking the end of historic millwork.

Many of the early millwork companies started off as lumber yards and success and growth was the result of industrialization and proximately to the railroad (Hull, 2003). It is probably no coincidence that my old Vic was built in 1889 by a local lumber barron whose business was located near the railway in the emerging industrial city of West Toronto Junction.

The Victorians did not consider most softwoods to be noble enough to stain and hence most pine interior trim would have been painted or artistically grained to reproduce the look of solid English oak.

Wood mouldings were produced from various hardwoods and softwoods with hardwoods, such as Oak and Mahogany, limited to the public rooms in grander homes. Characteristic of Victorian domestic culture, there was a strong demarcation between public rooms, that received the most ornate moulding, and the private spaces of the house that received more modest treatment (Webb, 2002). The ornate, thick and deeply milled door and window casings made mitre work more challenging for carpenters. Corner blocks, while seen as added ornamentation to contemporary eyes, were used to increase the efficiency of building wood casings and avoided highly precise mitre work (Webb, 2002).

The Victorians did not consider most softwoods to be noble enough to stain and hence most pine interior trim would have been painted or artistically grained to reproduce the look of solid English oak. Frequently the original painted graining is preserved under subsequent layers of paint. Patient restorationists can use methyl hydrate on a cloth to rub down to the original painted grain that is protected with shellac (Nigel, 1997).

Hull, Brent. (2003). Historic Millwork: A Guide to Restoring and Re-creating Doors, Windows, and Moldings of the Late Nineteenth Through Mid-Twentieth Centuries. Wiley.

Hutchins, Nigel. (1997). Restoring Old Houses. Firefly Books.

Webb, Kit. (2002). The Victorian House. London: Aurem Press.

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