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Staining, French Polishing and Varnishing.

A practical guide for the amateur and proffesional, including many valuable recipes.

This is the second of nine chapters on staining, french polishing, varnishing, colour matching and glazing wood and furniture, this practical guide is a must have referance for the amateur and proffesional alike.

Please be sure to Bookmark this page and use as your referance or go to the printable version and print this page.

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Chapter 3.

Colours and colour matching.

For success in staining three requisites are necessary: a knowledge of the art of staining; a knowledge of and familiarity with the characteristics of different kinds of wood; an acquaintance with the properties of stains and dyes, and the art of blending them so that artistic and harmonious effects may be produced.


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The art of staining and the nature of woods have already been discussed, but some further reference to the artistic effects produced by staining is necessary.

The three primary colours into which white sunlight is divided are red, yellow, and blue. But when you hold a prism before a screen, you see in addition to these colours four others, orange, green, indigo and violet. These four are produced by the overlapping of the three primary colours.

When two colours are mixed together and produce white, they are called complementary.

These colours are most important from the artistic point of view, because they form the greatest possible contrast. The following is a table of complimentary colours:




Cyan Blue.


Ultramarine Blue.

Greenish Yellow.




The following colours harmonise well. Red forms effective contrasts with blacks, whites or yellows, blues harmonise with whites and yellows, gold with blacks or browns, white looks well with any colour.

With these general hints in view, the beginner who wishes to master the art of staining should experiment with diligence with a view to gaining an exact knowledge of colours and their various shades. He should first procure a piece of white wood, mark it into a large number of squares like a chess board, then stain in the squares on the left hand with the colours red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. After this proceed to intermix the different colours, for instance, add a little orange to the red and produce a red-orange, and stain in the next square. Keep on adding more of one of the two stains until a range of tints has been obtained. Then try another combination until all the squares are filled with a variety of shades.

Another range of tints may be obtained by applying the pure stains in the first squares as strong as possible. After this dilute them with a little water or spirit, and apply the mixture to the next square. For the third square dilute further by using more of the spirit or water, and so on. In this way you can obtain a colour register of all the shades required in your work, and you can plan it according to your taste.


For this purpose you must obtain an ample selection of stains, dyes and colours. You should be able to get these from any oil dealer or chemist, who will no doubt give any special information or directions about the nature of the wares they sell. As said in a previous chapter aniline dyes give a fine range of colours. Dolly dyes, though more expensive than those sold loose, are very powerful stains, and a quarter ounce of each is all that is needed at first. To make the colour of the aniline dyes fast, vinegar must be mixed with the water. Carefully label all bottles or jars in which the colours are stored, and do not expose them to dust or dirt.


When staining small articles of furniture, such as fretwork, some very fine effects can be obtained by applying one stain over another of a different colour. Deep blue with striking effectcan be used over any bright colour. Furniture treated in this way gains a richness of colour not obtainable in any other way. Many possibilities lie in the judicious use of stains, that to the decorator with artistic perceptions are both alluring and practicable.

Uniform Colouring.

When, as it sometimes happens, a piece of wood to be stained is darker in some parts than others, it is necessary to bring the wood to a uniform colour. To do this either the darker parts must be bleached or the lighter parts darkened. For bleaching the dark parts, a strong soloution of oxalic acid must be prepared. This is done by dissolving 2 ounces of the acid in a pint of boiling water. Apply this to the parts of wood you wish to lighten in colour. If the stain is deep, two or three applications of the solution may be necessary. When this has been done, coat the parts affected with vinegar, this will neutralise the effects of the acid.

The darkening of parts of a piece of wood which is patchy in colour may be accomplished by the use of lime or ammonia, but many stainers do not trouble about this, as they find that giving an extra coat of stain to the parts affected answers the purpose. The same object may also be by deepening the natural colour of the wood with red oil and other colouring matter.

Floor Stains.

The cheapest stains of any colour are made with aniline colours dissolved in hot water. Many of these may fade, but yellow, red, and brown, especially when covered with a coat of linseed oil, will last for a very long time. Any shade may, of course, be obtained by mixing.

Light Red Floor Stain

Boil a third of a pint of madder to a quarter pound fustic to one gallon of water. Brush the work when boiling hot until properly stained.



Oak Floor Stain.

Wash the wood carefully in a solution of one pound copperas dissolved in  one gallon strong lye-water. When the wood is dry after saturation, oil it, and it will look fresh for a year or two. When it fades, restain and oil. The hands must be protected while applying the stain, or they will become blistered.

Dark Oak Stain.

A simple brown stain in imitation of dark oak for use on common spruce or white wood, is one pennyworth of permanganate of potash dissolved in one quart of water. This produces a useful shade, which becomes darker with each successive application.

Staining Wicker Work.

Baskets are generally coloured with water stains, and the cheapest for this purpose is possibly bismark brown, one ounce of which is sufficient to stain many dozens of small baskets. This operation can be done quickly and effectively by using a vessel that will hold enough water to dip the baskets in. Fill the vessel with hot water and stir in enough of the dye to get the required shade. Then before the water has time to cool, the baskets should be quickly dipped one by one in the solution. Where baskets are to big to be dipped, the dye should be poured over them with a ladle. As the stain becomes exhausted, it should be strengthened from time to time by the addition of freshly made stain.

The following proportions of colours and directions are given for staining basket work,

Blue, Dissolve three ounces Bengal blue in four pints of boiling water. The fluid should be stirred and filtered through fine cambric.

Red, Dissolve three ounces of coral red in five pints of lukewarm water.

Violet, Dissolve three ounces of methyl violet in one gallon of lukewarm water.

Golden Yellow, Dissolve three ounces of naphthaline yellow in half a gallon of water.

Dark Walnut, one pennyworth of nut galls, one pennyworth of Vandyke brown, a quarter pound of potash, a gallon of water. Crush the nut galls and mix with the potash in a pint of water, then put in the Vandyke, mix well into a paste, and add the rest of the water. This may be used hot or cold.

The quantities here stated give a heavy stain, and may be diluted with water to get the shade required by the user. When the baskets are quite dry, give a coat of hard spirit varnish.


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