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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.
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All of the doors on the main floor are rift sawn douglas fir. Comparison between the white pine and douglas fir.
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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.

And on and on we go…

The past few weeks have been filled with a number of started but unfinished jobs. These include, but are not limited to: extensive tile work in the bathrooms and kitchen, kitchen cabinetry installation, bathroom vanity, wood nook, window sills, waxing the concrete floors, hanging doors and many more smaller finishing jobs. Truthfully, almost none of these are done yet, so although things are looking closer to being complete (a lot are 75%-90% there), they are nonetheless unfinished. I intend to write a post with photos for each of the main rooms once they are done-done. Still, here’s an update on some of our current progress.

Tile work:

I REALLY like tile – probably a bit too much. Specifically it’s white subway tile. In our old house , I did a fair bit of tiling in two bathrooms and the kitchen using white subway tile. Working through this I’d gained some experience and confidence in tile setting, which really is quite simple, though the preparation work is certainly the most challenging and time consuming. I recall working on the old house, tiling the shower and spending two 15-hour days on it (I am a bit of a glutton for punishment then, and apparently I still am).

With this house, I wanted to do a lot of tile. The master bathroom I wanted to tile the shower surround and have a tiled wainscoting around the clawfoot tub and sinks. I also wanted to create a “wet room” or Japanese-style bathroom for the basement. And lastly I wanted a tiled kitchen backsplash. To pay someone to do all of that work would have been an absolute fortune.

To date, I think I’ve spent 15 full (8+ hour) days prepping, tile setting and grouting.

 

Kitchen installation:

As I’d previously written about our choice of woods in the house, we had chosen to use American White Oak for the kitchen. An attractive and functional kitchen was important to us. We had after all moved to an acreage for food. We want to know where our food comes from. We want to grow, cultivate, harvest and cook our own food. So it only made sense that the kitchen was the main focal point, or as Christopher Alexander writes: the natural heart of the home.

 

Master bathroom vanity:

We are still waiting for the countertop to be installed on this amazing custom vanity that our woodworker, Ryan Unger at Rhine Artisans, built. The counter was to be installed 5 weeks ago… and we are still waiting. Grrr.

 

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Wood nook:

We had wanted an accessible location for wood storage for the stove that would be out of the way and be able contain the mess. I did not want to be constantly going out to the shed in the dead of winter to collect wood for a morning fire. This little nook 20”x2’x6’ was the solution (yes that is more tile).

 

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Waxing the Concrete Floors:

For some reason, I’d been dreading this part and I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps it was because the concrete floors had been such a nightmare before. But in reality waxing the floors has been one of the easiest jobs we’ve done. We used a durable (read: unnatural, unfortunately) concrete liquid floor wax as the “sacrificial” protectant on the floor (yes we considered beeswax but I could not find a liquid version that would apply easily and be as durable). We did not want a highly glossed and slippery floor, but typically after waxing you’re recommended to buff the floors to a shine. I rented the buffer with the full intention to use it, but after applying a couple of coats of the floor wax using a microfiber wet mop (applying north-south then east-west to even out any lines), we looked at the floor and said, “wow… that’s… perfect.” It was shiny and smooth, but not glossy and slick. There were no wax lines and the floors looked just how I’d hoped they would after buffing. I ended up returning the floor buffer unused. I may have to apply a couple more coats of wax to the floor sooner than later, but it was so easy to do that I’m not concerned about that.

Window Sills:

We’d chosen rift sawn Douglas fir for the main floor doors, door casing, and window sills which we treated with wood lye and white oil from WOCA wood products (same way we treated our white pine ceiling). I love the finish these products gave highlighting the natural soft white and light pink hues of the wood. I wish I could say the window sills went in easily, but we have learned that the drywall is neither square nor flush making our wood worker’s job a real hair-pulling affair during installation.

Hanging Doors:

This is not a job that I’ve been doing. There is a real art and necessary skill to this job that I simply don’t possess and really don’t care to learn at this point. However one could get quite proficient at this with the number of doors we have. I was shocked (I guess I never really thought about it before) when the doors were delivered on three pallets! 24 doors. For a smaller house that seemed excessive. Now that most ­­of them are hung though it seems more reasonable.

My father had been hoarding 10 solid bronze Schlage doorknobs that he’d had since the 1970s. He’d intended to someday install them in his own house, but recently decided to give them to us. They are beautiful doorknobs – they really don’t build them like this anymore. I do love the contrast of the bronze on the white doors.

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Well we had long said that once we had one functional bathroom, a functional kitchen and waxed the floors that we could move in… And so, this past weekend we did just that…