How to finish the wood - and keep the patina?

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Forum topic by Jenine posted 04-06-2015 02:01 PM 16680 views 1 time favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Jenine's profile


146 posts in 1892 days

04-06-2015 02:01 PM

Hi all,

I just purchased a ton of beautiful reclaimed lumber from a 107 year old barn in Two Dot, Montana, and I need help selecting a finish. I really don’t like what I have tried so far, the wood lost its patina and it turned out REALLY dark.

I have read countless posts from others on the topic of finishing reclaimed lumber, but none have produced the look I am going for, and this wood changes drastically when finish is applied. This is my stack!

250 board feet of circle sawn 2×6’s and 400 board feet of weathered grey half lap siding…

Best part? I got all of it for $250! (there is more hiding behind me in the photo!)

To test out my new wood, I decided to make a Montana cutout for a friend. This is what the color looked like “raw”. I intentionally sanded it to give it that rainbow effect from the weathered grey to the weathered brown. I loved it.

Then, I applied the first coat of oil based satin finish poly, and disaster struck. The poly darkened it WAY too much and it looks horrible!! I wanted it to maintain the grey and light browns, and now it is black and brown.

This doesn’t happen with all wood of the same color. I know it doesn’t because I made one of these cutouts for myself using old fence boards from my garden. I used the exact same finish on that one and it turned out beautifully:

How do I make my much older reclaimed lumber look the same? What kind of finish would you use? It doesn’t have to be very durable because it will be hanging on a wall. But, I do want it to look finished. I like the wood to have a soft glow, much like the cutout of Montana that I made for myself. But, I also want it to not darken so much! What would you use? I have plenty to experiment on, so I will try out anything recommended!

-- - Montana sucks. Tell your friends.

20 replies so far

View bbasiaga's profile


1240 posts in 2164 days

#1 posted 04-06-2015 02:08 PM

I have heard the GF Water based topcoat adds no color and lots of protection. Maybe give that a shot?


-- Part of engineering is to know when to put your calculator down and pick up your tools.

View bondogaposis's profile


5039 posts in 2520 days

#2 posted 04-06-2015 02:29 PM

It is the grayish fibers that soak up the most finish as they are quite porous and that causes the darkening. If you sand through some of the grayish patina it will not darken as much. Experimentation on some scraps will give you a feel for the correct level of sanding to get the effect that you want.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Jenine's profile


146 posts in 1892 days

#3 posted 04-06-2015 02:34 PM

Bondo – you are right on, and weird I didn’t even think about that! It IS the gray wood that turned 100% black, and the brown just darkened. I will try sanding off more on a scrap and see how it goes! Maybe I will try sanding off more of it and then apply the water based topcoat Brian recommended.

I will be posting photos of how each experiment worked out so others can see what happens, too. I know this is a hot topic and I have yet to find a post that includes photos of how reclaimed wood turns out with different finishes.

-- - Montana sucks. Tell your friends.

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2859 days

#4 posted 04-06-2015 02:55 PM

Your second cutout pic looks like it was sanded more and thus finished lighter (less grey wood like Bondo said). Try some shellac or some water based poly as they should alter the color less than oil based finishes.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View Manitario's profile


2649 posts in 3052 days

#5 posted 04-06-2015 02:57 PM

Try sealing it first with a thinned coat of shellac; will prevent the blotching that you are seeing. After sealing it with shellac, I’d try just straight poly over it, preferably the water based poly.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View OSU55's profile


1915 posts in 2159 days

#6 posted 04-06-2015 04:28 PM

a water based finish will darken the wood less. A WB poly would be the 1st choice. Target coatings, General Finishes, and at the low end Rustoleum Ultimate are some brand names. One of the ways to test how much of the really dry fibers you have sanded away, and what color you will have with a solvent finish, is wet the wood with mineral spirits. It will allow you to test the look, evaporate, not raise the grain, and return to the “dry” look you started with. Naptha will do the same and evaporate faster.

View CypressAndPine's profile


62 posts in 1976 days

#7 posted 04-06-2015 08:42 PM

I second the Shellac. Just brush on the Zinser Shellac from the store. It will be enough for something hanging on the wall.

-- Cypress Jake, New Orleans

View Jenine's profile


146 posts in 1892 days

#8 posted 04-07-2015 05:46 PM

So, the experiments have begun. All boards have been prepped in the same manner. I brushed off the loose dirt, lightly sanded with 120 grit using a ROS and then vacuumed off the dust. I used a tac cloth to remove any remaining dust and then applied finish. Forgive the weird fonts in the photos, I am using a free picture collage app that was clearly designed for teenage girls :)

Water resistance: 2/10
Application: 8/10 (easy, not noxious/can apply indoors)
Cleanup: 8/10 (easy, soap and water)
Feel: 4/10 (wood is still very rough to the touch, doesn’t have that glow I am after)
Cost: $ (inexpensive)

Result: for my purposes, color results are good, but not perfect. I am looking for the least amount of color change possible. However, this is much better than the oil based polyurethane as far as color change goes.

Water resistance test results: can’t make out the water droplets? Me neither. That’s because they absorbed into the wood VERY quickly. Possible reasons: the polycrylic has been stored in my shop in excess of 1 year; my shop experiences drastic temperature swings from 30 to 80 degrees over the course of a year; only two light coats applied to very porous, old wood.

Final word: good, but not perfect in terms of color. Easy to apply. I would use this.

-- - Montana sucks. Tell your friends.

View Jenine's profile


146 posts in 1892 days

#9 posted 04-07-2015 06:04 PM

Next up: Annie Sloan Clear Paste Wax
Water Resistance: 6/10 (some absorption at 2 minutes)
Application: 5/10 (labor intensive – requires buffing; smelly, but not noxious – can apply indoors)
Cleanup: 8/10 (soap and hot water)
Feel: 10/10 (like running your hand over a stick of butter, without the grease)
Cost: $$$ ($40/can of wax which goes a very long way, $52 for the fancy application brush)

Result: Damn near perfection.
Pros: Colors and tones remain unchanged. It looks divine. Sheen is very controllable with buffing. Feels so good I couldn’t stop touching it.
Cons: Laborious application process. You use a big fancy brush to apply it in a circular motion, the goal being to force the wax into every pore of the wood. For this small piece of wood, it took 4 minutes to apply, then another 3minutes to buff off…not bad until you consider this piece is only 10” long by 7” wide. Multiply that 7 minute time investment 60 times over for a paneled bed. Perhaps a buffing disc would be a good investment if I did panels for a lot of furniture.

Water resistance test: pretty good, it didn’t start soaking in until about 90 seconds, and the results were fairly unchanged at the 3 minute mark. When I wiped it off, I couldn’t tell it had taken on water. I applied about 1/2 a tsp on the board (manufacturer recommends using VERY little wax) but perhaps a second coat would improve the water resistance?

Final word: I LOVE this, but I am “afraid” of all that buffing! Plus, it requires reapplication every couple of years, and annual buffing to restore the glow. Hmmmm. The expense isn’t too off putting because the brush is a one time investment and a can seems like it will last forever. Also neat: you can tint this wax any color you want by mixing it with a bit of Annie Sloan paint. I tried mixing it with a little gray and loved it. They also make a dark wax that ages things beautifully.

-- - Montana sucks. Tell your friends.

View Tennessee's profile


2886 posts in 2684 days

#10 posted 04-07-2015 06:28 PM

I been down this road. Got a load of grey weathered oak 4X4’s, and decided it would be cool to make a guitar or two out of it.
I did mine with shellac undercoat, followed by 3-4 coats of spray on nitro lacquer. Sanded it lightly every coat, preserving the patina without getting it too dark.
Since the wood came off a large shed, I called the guitar the Woodshedder. Sold pretty quick, like in a week.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View Jenine's profile


146 posts in 1892 days

#11 posted 04-07-2015 06:54 PM

Nitro laquer!? Gonna have to google that because your finish came out beautifully! Those are gorgeous guitars, wow! Not surprised you sold them out!

Just had a similar experience (although my project isn’t nearly as cool!!), I posted that Montana on facebook and 24 hours later, literally 10% of my friends have asked for one. What!?

Going to have to try your finish out!

-- - Montana sucks. Tell your friends.

View OSU55's profile


1915 posts in 2159 days

#12 posted 04-07-2015 08:58 PM

As far as the wax thing, I suspect about any of the furniture waxes could be used the same way. Also, Transtint dye can be mixed in with furniture wax to get a colored wax, and yes, the dye will transfer into the wood somewhat. Just a cheaper possible alternative.

View Tennessee's profile


2886 posts in 2684 days

#13 posted 04-08-2015 11:09 AM

Actually, Jenine, I have moved away from Nitro almost three years ago now. Had wear problems after heavy playing, and two complaints. Had to respray one, and decided no more.
Looked around, and settled on wipe-on Tru-Oil. Takes about 12-14 coats, but the final finish is rock hard, glass-like, and I can buff it out with clear coat car finish. Also nice to not be spraying nearly as much.

Here’s a couple of pics of the latest, with maybe one or two more coats to go before buffing it out. I like the open grain finishes, and almost all of my guitars are open grain finish gloss.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View Jenine's profile


146 posts in 1892 days

#14 posted 04-08-2015 02:33 PM

Whoa. Just whoa. Stunning!

-- - Montana sucks. Tell your friends.

View tmarknmsu's profile


3 posts in 1320 days

#15 posted 04-08-2015 10:19 PM

I was gearing up to do the same thing with old barn wood but for a coffee table. Would you recommend the wax for that or should I just try something else? I am worried about water rings, since most of my friends including myself probably won’t use a coaster

-- Mark, Denver, CO

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