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Staining with Fire

Posts: 843
Location: Western Kentucky
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This is a simple way of achieving a nice stained finish on open grained woods like hickory. Traditionally, it seems only the lower grade of hickory handles were treated with flame, maybe to harden the surface against abrasion a bit. In any case, I find this finish quite attractive on many axes and other tool handles. It also helps restore the appearance of weathered wood.

This is the bare wood.

The process is pretty basic. You simply ply the flame of a torch over the surface of the wood. Not too much, not too little. It takes a bit to get used to the technique. Start out gradually, with the flame farther away and moving quickly. Gradually slow down and move the flame closer to the surface as you watch for the pores of the wood to singe slightly. Try to keep the flame against the flatter parts of the surface, for sharp edges will burn much faster than the flatter areas. Alternatively, you may prefer the edges to stand out with a darker highlighting. Experiment, and pay particular attention to ways you can use the torch to create effects that differ from what you can accomplish with other stains and dies alone.

When the flame heats the wood, the moisture/sugars expand and leave the surface a bit rough. You may prefer this on a handle, otherwise you can gently sand the surface to make it smooth once again. If there are any areas that were darkened a bit too much, extra sanding can lighten it to match the rest. I like these sanding pads for this application.

I like Watco Danish Oil Finish Dark Walnut for when I want a little color in the finish. It does not darken hard woods too much, especially if finely sanded. It is a linseed oil based product which does not leave a thick coating on the wood. It can be applied for maintenance in the future as needed. The item can be handled after applying, but will be a little tacky for a few days until fully cured.

I think it looks at home on a vintage axe head.

Seriously Rick? Seriously? You might as well just read this tiny ad:
Special BRK JUST for the permaculture bootcamp!
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