Fuming White Oak: Some Questions

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Forum topic by Ron Ramsey posted 09-28-2011 08:29 PM 5774 views 2 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Ron Ramsey

36 posts in 2539 days

09-28-2011 08:29 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question oak finishing joining shaker fuming white oak

I just did a test last night fuming four pieces of White Oak: 2,4,6, & 8 hours. The differences between the two hour pieces was subtle. The 8 hour piece and the unfumed sample, obviously, were the most distinct. I’m gearing up to build a set of kitchen style cabinetry for our newly remodeled basement serving area. I have three questions. Any expertise or experience that can save me time, material and headaches (that ammonia is nasty stuff) will be greatly appreciated.

1. Will plywood veneered by the manufacturer fume the same as the solid lumber pieces?

2. Will the thickness of the wood change the effect of the fuming?

The insides of the cabinets will be pre-finished 1/2” plywood. The face frames will be rift-sawn white oak and the doors will be Shaker style with 3/4” rift sawn rails and stiles with 3/8” quarter sawn panels.

3. Does anyone have a preferred finish that you use on fumed quarter sawn White Oak to make the rays pop?

I’ve read several articles and they all saw something different: oil, varnish, shellac, poly . . . . take your pick.

4. Are there some finishes that are preferred and some to stay away from for kitchen cabinets?

The cabinets will be used mostly for storing serving dishes, plates, glasses, etc. Not much in the way of pantry items.

5. My wife and daughter want the bar made from the same wood, i.e., probably rift sawn white oak. I’m thinking of edge gluing rift sawn boards (1 1/2”), similar to a work bench top, to make up the top. Any recommendations on that strategy or a preferred finish?

I’m looking forward to hearing your replies. Thanks

-- Ron Ramsey, Rochester Hills,

6 replies so far

View BobLang's profile


155 posts in 3424 days

#1 posted 09-29-2011 01:29 AM

Hi Ron,

1. The plywood will most likely fume differently than the solid panels. I’m assuming plywood panels in solid door frames. The color change is based on a chemical reaction between the ammonia fumes and tannic acid in the wood. It might help to brew up some tea and use that on the wood before fuming, but I doubt you’ll be able to get consistent color just by fuming. Only way to tell is to run a sample with both the solid and the ply and see what happens.

2. Fuming works from the outside in, thickness shouldn’t be an issue.

3. Contrary to popular belief, fuming does not make the rays “pop”. Just the opposite, fumed oak is more consistent in color as the rays and the surrounding wood change color at about the same rate. If you want the figure to be more flamboyant, use an oil-based pigment stain. With the stain, the rays won’t absorb the color as much as the adjacent wood.

4. The fumed surface looks pretty drab, and may lean toward gray or grayish green in color. Any shellac other than blonde will warm the color and make it more brown. After that pick a topcoat based on the level of sheen and protection you want.

If it were me, I wouldn’t fume this project. There are too many variables for you to have any control. If you want an authentic Arts & Crafts finish, you can come close with an aniline dye for even color, followed by amber or garnet shellac. Here’s a link to a blog post about Arts & Crafts finishes, and information about what you’ll have to do to even out the color.

Fumed Finishes

Bob Lang

-- Bob Lang,

View Ron Ramsey's profile

Ron Ramsey

36 posts in 2539 days

#2 posted 09-29-2011 01:47 AM

Thanks Bob for taking the time to respond. You’re right about the color. It came out grayish-green and somewhat drab. I’m a going to try some of your other suggestions.


-- Ron Ramsey, Rochester Hills,

View KnickKnack's profile


1090 posts in 3590 days

#3 posted 09-29-2011 10:24 AM

I’ve done quite a bit of fuming, so I could add the following, which you may already know…

  • I usually fume for 24 hours or more. In fairness, I’m usually trying to get as black as possible, but even if it doesn’t go very black the longer fuming seems to give a richer, deeper glow – it seems/looks like the very wood itself has changed rather than that a surface thing has been done.
  • Don’t forget to let the wood “gas off” for at least 24 hours before you glue it. I had one project where I didn’t, and I’m fairly sure it wasn’t a co-incidence that the glue joints were very very week – I had to redo them – which wasn’t hard since i could just pull the pieces apart
  • My experience (which isn’t that wide, it must be said) is that a first coat of oil (tung or linseed) seems to make a deeper finish with more lustre
  • This is very obvious, but each board, and even within each board, you might get a significantly different colour change after fuming – if you have a square panel and 1 of the 4 sides is significantly different, well, that might not look so good.

-- "Do not speak – unless it improves on silence." --- "Following the rules and protecting the regulations is binding oneself without rope."

View CharlesNeil's profile (online now)


2410 posts in 3894 days

#4 posted 09-29-2011 03:21 PM

I agree fuming is a pain, and unreliable, I fumed some white oak sometime back, as a test , then set about trying to find a stain that matched, what I came up with was General Finishes, “antique oak ”, it was a dead ringer , and being water base, no fumes and so forth

to pop the rays, basically any good clear coat will do, I personally like either a amber shellac as stated or a good oil Like Arm R Seal,,, ( dries well and very tough), you could also use the Arm R seal as a top coat, or any good finish , my personal choice would be the arm r seal for a wipe on, or Enduro-Var for a brushed or better yet sprayed finish…just my .02

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Ron Ramsey

36 posts in 2539 days

#5 posted 10-03-2011 03:19 PM

Thanks Charles. I’m intrigued by your formulas for using finishes to replicated the fumed look. My wife liked the linseed oil on the fumed samples. The same oil on unfumed samples was too light. But as you know, oil takes a long Tim to cure/dry. How long did the oil you used take to dry? I too like the arm-r-seal and enduro finishes. I’m going to try put the antique oak as you suggested. Thanks for the response.

-- Ron Ramsey, Rochester Hills,

View CharlesNeil's profile (online now)


2410 posts in 3894 days

#6 posted 10-03-2011 06:04 PM

Ron, thats what I like about Arm R Seal , is it dries fast, usually I can do a second coat in about 8 to 12 hours, not to mention its a urethane, tough as nails, I have it on some of my personal floors, as well on some brazzilian (sp) cherry stairs,, no issue , been down about 3 years now,, the thing I like about the stain besides the lack of fumes and all is color control, which I cant do as well fuming,, let us know how it goes,,

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