Fumed Oak Experiment

I’ve been doing some finish samples on scraps of White Oak to figure out what how I want to finish the cabinet.  I’d previously done an experiment with dyes and gel stains that gave decent results.  My only complaint was that the ray fleck figure wasn’t as dramatic as I’d hoped.

Two Samples - Dyed and Stained

Two Samples – Dyed and Stained

I decided to try fuming some scraps to see how that would work.  I set up some offcuts on the floor and made a box out of 1/8″ MDF scraps and packing tape for the fuming chamber.  I’m using Janitorial-strength Ammonia.  I know there are stronger (and weaker) concentrations, this is what I could find at the local hardware store.

Setup for fuming samples

Setup for fuming samples

I pulled a sample at three hours, another a 7 hours — and then I went to bed.  The next sample came out this morning before work, at about 17 hours.  I left a few pieces in until this afternoon, clocking in at 24 hours.  This pic shows the range from zero to three, seven, 17 and 24 hours.  The color is progressive, although it’s not as clear in the photograph as it is in person.

Samples, no fuming on the left, then 3, 7, 17,and 24 hours

Samples, no fuming on the left, then 3, 7, 17,and 24 hours

Same samples, another view

Same samples, another view

I had a larger piece in with the samples that I pulled at 17 hours.  It’s fairly dark compared to the un-fumed sample.  I rubbed in a coat of plain linseed oil, gave it a quick topcoat of garnet shellac and a coat of brown wax.  Here is the comparison with the original two finish samples.  I don’t know if I like the fumed sample, I’ll need to look at it in the daylight.  The ray flecks seem more distinct, but it’s “brown-er” than I wanted.  Hmmm…

Fumed oak in the middle

Fumed oak in the middle


Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “Fumed Oak Experiment

  1. I wrote an article for FWW years ago about fuming White Oak. I used Ammonia from a chemical supply outfit. It was a dangerous concentration to work with but really did the job. You could watch through the polyethylene and see it changing. Removing the object (a bookcase) at the end was a toxic nightmare.

    The factories that produced fumed furniture didn’t mess around with low concentrations.

    It’s supposed to be a nut brown color.

    • Hi Tico, do you remember what issue the article was in? I have most of the back issues of FWW – a friend was a subscriber from the start and gave me his back issues.

      Do you think the speed of the fuming (e.g. concentration of the Ammonia) has a bearing on the final color? Or is it the same ultimate color, and it’s just a factor of fume concentration x exposure time? My guess would be the later.

      The janitorial Ammonia didn’t seem that strong, although I wore a respirator and was pretty careful with it.

  2. Hi Joe,
    that ammonia concentration is too low. I can’t remember mine but I think it was around 25% – dangerous stuff. I got the supplier (your part of the country) off of the David Marks website.
    When I fumed my clock I watched it change almost instantly.

    • I don’t know Ralph, it darkened it just fine. I watched a video of Mike Pekovich fuming an oak arts & crafts cabinet on FWW and this is what he used. Honestly, I don’t want anything stronger in the shop.

      I realized this morning that I really need to wait for the glass to arrive before I settle on the final finish — I need to be sure it looks good with the colors of glass I selected.

  3. General finishes stain will give you the look you desire and a hell of a lot safer 🙂

  4. Joe, it was issue # 110, “Bookcase Makes Waves” February 1995 under my “real” name C. Michael Vogt. That article was also compiled in their book “In The Craftsman Style.”

  5. Thanks for that link!

  6. Brent Kinsey

    Joe, would using an amber shellac instead of garnet change it to more of a red tone? I don’t have any experience comparing the two side by side. Would you be able to document the building of the shades? I am very interested in doing small stained glass pieces, but don’t know much about that. Great blog and great content!


  7. Hi Brent,

    I’d expect that amber shellac would certainly change the tone, I could do some experiments with that.

    I’ll certainly document building the shades — it’s a pretty simple process though and a nice compliment to wood. I got the red glass in today, but the rest of it won’t be delivered until next week (grumble, grumble). I’ll get started on the wood parts for the sconces this weekend.

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