The Perils Of Fuming ( A&C drop front desk )

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Project by planeBill posted 12-11-2011 07:44 AM 4226 views 10 times favorited 25 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I had no idea this one would turn out the way it did with all the variations in color. I posted about this project before in a post about fuming on the finishing forum. The colors all looked pretty uniform but as I learned the hard way, it is not the color of the various boards in a project, but the tannin in them. Needless to say, I was very surprised when I pulled it out of the fuming box. I display it proudly in my livingroom none the less. It serves as a reminder as to what not to do, i.e., don’t pick at random, wood for a piece that is going to be fumed. I love the thing, it has some stunningly beautiful wood in it and it serves as or computer desk.
It has wedged through tenons on all of the cross pieces. I built the simple interior with just two drawers and a shelf inside. The drawer construction is very unorthodox and they are made of qswo as well. Hinges are from white chapel, wow, what quality hinges, they’re nice. Back is 1/4” oak ply , copper nailed. The finish is the LandarkNW oil that I have spoken so highly of before. It’s a really nice finish that you can vary to suit your tastes or the requirements of an individual piece as far as sheen goes. It smells good too.
This thing looked like this before fuming,

-- I was born at a very young age, as I grew up, I got older.

25 comments so far

View JohnnyB's profile


105 posts in 2355 days

#1 posted 12-11-2011 08:04 AM

Looks great to me! Interesting about the variability of fuming, but it might look intentional if you hadn’t mentioned it. How long did you fume it? The overall color is terrific. Nice work.

-- JohnnyB - - Sometimes determination can substitute for skill.

View planeBill's profile


506 posts in 2375 days

#2 posted 12-11-2011 08:19 AM

Thanks JohnnyB, that is 30 hours of fuming with 28% ammonia.

-- I was born at a very young age, as I grew up, I got older.

View pintodeluxe's profile


5620 posts in 2779 days

#3 posted 12-11-2011 08:29 AM

Great craftsman project! I just toured the Gamble House in Pasadena today. They have some great Stickley furniture there, and your work reminds me of his. I love the corbels and twin tenon details!
Excellent piece.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View BTKS's profile


1986 posts in 3430 days

#4 posted 12-11-2011 08:34 AM

A beautiful piece. I would not worry in the slightest way about inconsistencies in tone. That is wood, each piece is different. These pieces are gorgeous the way they are. Excellent craftsmanship, enjoy the piece for many years to come.

-- "Man's ingenuity has outrun his intelligence" (Joseph Wood Krutch)

View Jorge G.'s profile

Jorge G.

1537 posts in 2441 days

#5 posted 12-11-2011 09:01 AM

I think you are worrying too much. There are so many variables that I doubt you would get an even tone even if you had taken all the wood from one big slab. Think about it, rate of absorption, tanning content (which varies even within a board), temp, etc. If you were to control all o f these you could probably get an even tone, but wold most likely cost you a lot of money and/or would take you a year to fume all the parts.

I think you did a great job and it looks very nice, the tone variation does not bother me at all.

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View BigTiny's profile


1676 posts in 2854 days

#6 posted 12-11-2011 10:58 AM

You ever try lye as a finishing medium? Similar results to fuming with a lot less danger. I’ve used a solution of a teaspoonful in a pint of distilled water on cherry with fantastic results. 15 minutes or less to obtain full “aging” of the tannin, then neutralize with white vinegar and rinse with clean water and a sponge. Raises the grain a bit, so touch up sanding is required, like with any water based system.


-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View planeBill's profile


506 posts in 2375 days

#7 posted 12-11-2011 02:52 PM

thanks for all of the kind words folks. I’ll admit that I was expecting a more uniform result but never said I was disappointed, I have it very prominantly displayed in my livingroom, I was just suprised with the result was all. Well, I was actually disappointed that I didn’t spot the two little sections of sapwood right on the very front of the shelf, I was disappointed with myself about that.
I like to fume my A&C pieces just because that was the way most of them were originally done (from what I’ve read) and I’d like to do the same. I’m no stickler but like to be traditional when and where I can. I’ve fumed several pieces and always have had pretty uniform results and so was just suprised is all.
Pinto, I’ve seen some of your work and it is terriffic so thank you for the compliment. I love your work so that really means alot to me.
Big Tiny, I’ve read about using lye but have never put it to practice. Cherry fumes well too, that I do know and so does mahogany, but the mahogany is pretty darned ugly after in my opinion. I have some red oak that I have fumed too and though most folks say no red oak will fume, I’ll have to beg to differ with them.
Am I the only person who likes cherry in it’s “fresh” state? I love the way cherry looks before it ages and darkens.

-- I was born at a very young age, as I grew up, I got older.

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3710 days

#8 posted 12-11-2011 03:17 PM

Bill, you did an outstanding job on this. Welcome as a member of the school of hard knocks and fuming. Been there, done that. If you can’t get all of your lumber from the same tree, you will get these variations. As you already know, sap wood has no tannin in it. The method that I use for selecting lumber for a piece is to take cutoffs from the end of each board and number them, with a corresponding number on the board they came from, and fume these pieces. Then I pick the ones out that don’t match the rest. Beware of veneer, if you use it. Throw a piece of it in the fuming chamber also. By the way, maximum darkness will be achieved after about 24 hours, with 28% ammonia.

View planeBill's profile


506 posts in 2375 days

#9 posted 12-11-2011 03:28 PM

Thanks Tim. I do have a stock of wo that I bought from one of my wood guys that is a whole white oak rough cut and stickered for drying, it is not ready yet. I have not used veneer as of yet. I am however have just veneered to some legs for a coffee table which I do not intend to fume.
Again, thanks for the compliment.

-- I was born at a very young age, as I grew up, I got older.

View camps764's profile


867 posts in 2326 days

#10 posted 12-11-2011 04:51 PM

Wow! I agree with the other posters, that is gorgeous! I actually really like the variations and striping, at least from what I can see in the pictures. This is a very cool piece. As a novice I aspire to build things like this some day, great job!

-- Steve

View woodworm's profile


14462 posts in 3556 days

#11 posted 12-11-2011 05:29 PM

Beautifully built, love to having work with lumber of that awesome grain pattern.

-- masrol, kuala lumpur, MY.

View planeBill's profile


506 posts in 2375 days

#12 posted 12-11-2011 06:40 PM

camps764, please believe me, if I can build this, you can too. I am very much a novice as well. I just happen to be obsessive/compulsive. When I get ahold of something I’m like a pitbull with the mailmans leg, I refuse to let go. ( I would never let my pit bite the mailman ) I have to really like the piece and I fell in love with this one when I saw it. I think there was another person here who built the same one and his looked 10 times better than mine. I have only been building “furniture” for 7 months. I thank you very much for the compliment though.
woodworm, yes, I love working with wo the most. I love the way it looks, the way it feels, smells and finishes and when it has really crazy grain it is really beautiful. It’s hard on my chisels though. There are more beautiful woods to be sure but I think wo is right up there. I have limited experience with exotics.

-- I was born at a very young age, as I grew up, I got older.

View a1Jim's profile


117063 posts in 3543 days

#13 posted 12-11-2011 07:21 PM

You’ve done a nice job on this drop front desk and the other projects you’ve posted.Love the 1/4 sawn oak. I know folks like to follow the traditional way things were done(like fuming) when reproducing a period piece of furniture but for me I like using dyes to control wood color, you can blend woods so the all match with dyes even sap wood. If we only used all of the old traditional ways things were done we would drive cars with mechanical brakes and only use hide glue and linseed oil on all of our woodworking projects. All said and done we all build and finish furniture the way we like to and there’s nothing wrong with that. keep up the good work Bill.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View planeBill's profile


506 posts in 2375 days

#14 posted 12-11-2011 09:15 PM

Jim thanks for the compliment. I agree, all should do things in a way that suits them, not someone else or because thats the way someone else does or because it’s the way something has always been done. In my search for a mission finish though I found so many different recipies that only served to confuse me I thought, why not just do it the way the originators did it and be done with it. How could it be wrong if I followed the original method? I am really not sure that fuming was the only thing that was done to the original a&c furniture anyway. I have been reading some of the old Stickley catalogs and G S says they use fuming AND staining, so I’m still not positive it is correct. While my little projects may look like Arts and Crafts furniture they are far from it I’m sure. Besides from the joinery and the wood type, I am sure mine differ from the original stuff but they make me happy and I like having a place to share them.

-- I was born at a very young age, as I grew up, I got older.

View a1Jim's profile


117063 posts in 3543 days

#15 posted 12-11-2011 09:19 PM

I agree Bill you hit some very key points ,enjoying what you build and sharing what you’ve made,I’m sure glad you did and do .I look forward to more of your fine projects.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

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