Wood: Grains, stains, and lye washing

I’ve had a few comments lately relating back to a previous post “Real Scandinavian White Washing” that I wrote awhile ago. A couple folks were asking if I could post some comparison photos of the woods we used in the house.

We used three primary woods in the house (after much debate and hours of Pinterest):

  • White Pine – plain sawn for the main floor ceiling
  • White Oak – rift and quarter sawn for the kitchen cabinetry and main bathroom vanity
  • Douglas Fir – rift sawn for the window sills, doors and trim

All of these woods are in the same colour range, fairly light and soft. We do have some furniture with dark woods of walnut, cherry, and teak, but we wanted the palate for the house to be light and airy.

A couple things to consider about wood is how it is cut as this can dramatically change how the wood will look and how it will take stain or oil.

From Schenk & Co.

This image very nicely shows how distinctly different (in this case a red oak) can appear simply based on how it is cut. Plain sawn wood is the most common and affordably available wood as there is very little waste and it is easier to cut. However, oak is (or at least was) often desired as quarter sawn – giving very interesting “flecking” of the wood grain. A lot of heirloom antique furniture was made with quarter sawn oak. But this is only present on the very outer portion of the tree so it is generally less available.

We chose to do rift and quarter sawn white oak due to the softness of the finish. I was not interested in any “wild” grain on the kitchen cabinetry. Plain sawn oak reminds me too much of the 80s/90s golden oak craze, which gave oak such a bad wrap for a long time. Rift sawn white oak has made oak cool again.

We chose to do white oak on the lower cabinets, island and butcher block. This photo also shows the lye-washed pine ceiling.

For the white pine ceiling, we only had the option of plain sawn and to be honest I’ve never seen pine as anything else other then this cut.

White pine ceiling in the bedroom

Douglas Fir though might be one of the most interesting wood grains. It is DRAMATICALLY different as plain sawn or rift sawn. We chose to do rift sawn for the sills, doors and trim as it is more subdued. It also has a much tighter grain, making it appear pinkish in colour. However I built a little media box in plain sawn Douglas Fir – there is nothing plain about this grain though! It is bananas!

This is a media box I built in the basement for the TV. This is CRAZY wild plain sawn douglas fir grain. I like it – in small doses like this.
All of the doors on the main floor are rift sawn douglas fir. Comparison between the white pine and douglas fir.
Comparison of rift sawn douglas fir window sills next to the white oak window seat bench.

All of the woods shown we treated first with the WOCA wood cleaner to remove any crap, dirt, etc., and to open the grain to receive the next treatment. Everything was the brushed with the WOCA wood lye “white”. This is the key ingredient. The lye removes the yellowing agents from wood – these are the things that cause wood to discolour over time from white to yellow – as most lighter wood do (spruce, pine, fir, maple). The lye enhances the natural colour of the freshly milled wood.

NOTE: An important consideration here though is that you need to keep the wood out of the sun before treating it with the lye. Even a few hours, and definitely a few days, of exposure of the untreated wood to UV rays will cause it to yellow. The lye won’t be able to help you much if the process of yellowing has already started.

We were very careful to make sure the wood was covered and tarped during its transportation and we kept it in a dark area while it acclimatized before applying the treatments.

All of the white pine and Douglas fir was then treated with two coats of WOCA master oil “white”. The oil penetrates the wood and protects it from dirt and wear. I much prefer oil-treated wood over varnished wood. The natural hand that you get with oiled wood is far more pleasing to me.

The white oak cabinetry though was treated, after the lye, with a protective poly spray coating – standard for kitchen cabinetry. This is a clear coat so it does not change the colour of the wood, but simply provided a very strong protective layer to the wood.

I’ll plan to post a some house tour photos shortly to give you an idea of the space.

10 thoughts on “Wood: Grains, stains, and lye washing

    1. Not in my experience. If it is new wood that hasn’t discolored (yellowed) then it preserves the original natural color. For us, when we applied the wood lye to the fir it was hard to even notice any change at all. It does prevent it from yellowing over time which is what we wanted. 3 years later, even the fir in direct daily sunlight looks pinkish with not yellowing at all


  1. Your home is beautiful! How is your rift sawn white oak bathroom vanity standing up to the humidity? I’ve been warned not to install a real wood vanity in the bathroom, but have also read that rift sawn & quarter sawn do not tend to warp or cup like plain sawn wood can.

    I’m also wondering about those gorgeous rift sawn Douglas Fir doors- have you experienced any noticeable warping or movement with those?

    Thank you!


    1. Thank you. The white oak vanity has been fine. We had zero issues and not noticed any changes – we’re about 3.5 years in the house and that is our primary bathroom.

      The Douglas fir doors are also perfect still. They looks just the same as day one.


  2. I’d love to know if you’d had to re-oil the windowsills after time with the Master Oil? We had a hard oiled floor previously and I loved the finish but it was a disaster maintaining as it needed to be done fairly regularly in high traffic areas.

    Also did you use the Woca oil on the floors and how are they holding up?



    1. I haven’t re-oiled the sills. They’re not high traffic. All our floors are concrete. The stairs were done in Douglas fir. I think I oiled them in 4 times total but haven’t done them in the past 4 years. They’re holding up very well.


  3. Hi! I am so happy to come across your post. All the wood around the house is so beautiful. I am designing a primarily wood kitchen right now and I was wondering what kind of poly coating you used for the kitchen cabinets? We are testing maple and white oak (I think it will be plain sewn due to budget constraint) with WOCA wood lye white and trying to decide between oil finish and poly…. since its kitchen cabinets (both upper and bottom & some open shelves) I am slightly inclined to go with poly or some kind of matte finish for ease of cleaning, but find the oil finish to be so beautiful… Can water based and oil based be used after lye treatment? Thank you so much.


    1. Hey we used a lye wash on the white oak cabinets followed by a poly coating. It’s better for cleaning for sure. We used the oil finish on the window sills, doors and trim which do not get as much wear and are unlikely to get anything spilled on them


  4. Hi, all the wood in your house is exquisite! I came across your site researching lye on wood… We are designing kitchen cabinets now that we are planning to treat with WOCA lye (white oak or maple, plain sawn), I love the feel of oil finish but a little reluctant because it’s kitchen cabinets and ease of cleaning and durability is important… you mentioned using poly after the lye, could you tell me what kind of poly you used and if you had to do anything to the boards after lye was applied?


    1. After the lye was applied you just wipe off any excess. Let it dry for a day or so. We just used a standard poly spray coating. I don’t think it was anything special for the poly.


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