This section is from the book "Spons' Mechanics' Own Book: A Manual For Handicraftsmen And Amateurs", by Edward Spon. Also available from Amazon: Spons' Mechanics' Own Book.
There are many cases where an article constructed of wood may be more conveniently and suitably finished by staining and polishing than by painting. The practice of staining woods is much less common in America and England than on the Continent, where workmen, familiar with the different washes, produce the most delicate tones of colour and shade. Wood is often stained to imitate darker and dearer varieties, but more legitimately to improve the natural appearance by heightening and bringing out the original markings, or by giving a definite colour without covering the surface and hiding the nature of the material by coats of paint. The best woods for staining are those of close even texture, as pear and cherry, birch, beech, and maple, though softer and coarser kinds may be treated with good effect. The wood should be dried, and if an even tint is desired, its surface planed and sandpapered. All the stains should, if possible, be applied hot, as they thus penetrate more deeply into the pores. If the wood is to be varnished, and not subjected to much handling, almost any of the brilliant mordants used in wool and cotton dyeing may be employed in an alcoholic solution; but when thus coloured it has an unnatural appearance, and is best used on small surfaces only, for inlaying, etc.
The ebonized wood, of late years so much in vogue, is in many respects the most unsatisfactory of the stains, as the natural character and markings are completely blotted out, and it shows the least scratch or rubbing. Sometimes, in consequence of the quality of the wood under treatment, it must be freed from its natural colours by a preliminary bleaching process. To this end it is saturated as completely as possible with a clear solution of 17 1/4 oz. chloride of lime and 2 oz. soda crystals, in 10 1/2 pints water. In this liquid the wood is steeped for 1/2 hour, if it does not appear to injure its texture. After this bleaching, it is immersed in a solution of sulphurous acid to remove all traces of chlorine, and then washed in pure water. The sulphurous acid, which may cling to the wood in spite of washing, dees not appear to injure it, nor alter the colours which are applied.
(1) Obtained by boiling together blue Brazil-wood, powdered gall-apples, and alum, in rain or river water, until it becomes black. This liquid is then filtered through a fine organzine, and the objects painted with a new brash before the decoction has cooled, and this repeated until the wood appears of a fine black colour. It is then coated with the following liquid: - A mixture of iron filings, vitriol, and vinegar is heated (without boiling), and left a few days to settle. Even if the wood is black enough, yet for the sake of durability, it must be coated with a solution of alum and nitric acid, mixed with a little verdigris; then a decoction of gall-apples and logwood dyes is used to give it a deep black. A decoction may be made of brown Brazil-wood with alum in rain-water, without gall-apples; the wood is left standing in it for some days in a moderately warm place, and to it merely iron filings in strong vinegar are added, and both are boiled with the wood over a gentle fire. For this purpose soft pear-wood is chosen, which is preferable to all others for black staining.
(2) 1 oz. nut-gall broken into small pieces, put into barely 1/2 pint vinegar, which must be contained in an open vessel; let stand for about 1/2 hour; add 1 oz. steel filings; the vinegar will then commence effervescing; cover up, but not sufficient to exclude all air. The solution must then stand for about 2 1/2 hours, when it will be ready for use. Apply the solution with a brush or piece of rag to the article, then let it remain until dry; if not black enough, coat it until it is - each time, of course, letting it remain sufficiently long to dry thoroughly. After the solution is made, keep it in a closely-corked bottle.
(3) 1 gal. water, 1 lb. logwood chips, 1/2 lb. black copperas, 1/2 lb. extract of logwood, 1/2 lb. indigo blue, 2 oz. lampblack. Put these into an iron pot and boil them over a slow fire. When the mixture is cool, strain it through a cloth, add 1/4 oz. nut-gall. It is then ready for use. This is a good black for all kinds of cheap work.
(1) 250 parts of Campeachy wood, 2000 water, and 30 copper sulphate; the wood is allowed to stand 24 hours in this liquor, dried in the air, and finally immersed in iron nitrate liquor at 4° B.
(5) Boil 8 3/4 oz. logwood in 70 oz. water and 1 oz. blue stone, and steep the wood for 24 hours. Take out, expose to the air for a long time, and then steep for 12 hours in a beck of iron nitrate at 4° B. If the black is not fine, steep again in logwood liquor.
(6) It is customary to employ the clear liquid obtained by treating 2 parts powdered galls with 15 parts wine, and mixing the filtered liquid with a solution of iron proto-sulphate. Reimann recommends the use of water in the place of wine.
(7) Almost any wood can be dyed black by the following means: - Take logwood extract such as is found in commerce, powder 1 oz., and boil it in 3 1/4 pints water: when the extract is dissolved, add 1 dr. potash yellow chromate (not the bichromate), and agitate the whole. The operation is now finished, and the liquid will serve equally well to write with or to stain wood. Its colour is a very fine dark purple, which becomes a pure black when applied to the wood.
(8) For black and gold furniture, procure 1 lb. logwood chips, add 2 qt. water, boil 1 hour, brush the liquor in hot, when dry give another coat. Now procure 1 oz. green copperas, dissolve it in warm water, well mix, and brush the solution over the wood: it will bring out a fine black; but the wood should be dried outdoors, as the black sets better. A common stove brush is best. If polish cannot be used, proceed as follows: - Fill up the grain with black glue - i. e. thin glue and lampblack - brushed over the parts accessible (not in the carvings); when dry, paper down with fine paper. Now procure, say, a gill of French polish, in which mix 1 oz. best ivory black, or gas-black is best, well shake it until quite a thick pasty mass, procure 1/2 pint brown bard varnish, pour a portion into a cup, add enough black polish to make it quite dark, then Tarnish the work; two thin coats are better than one thick coat. The first coat may be glass-papered down where accessible, as it will look better. A coat of glaze over the whole gives a London finish.
N.B. - Enough varnish should be mixed at once for the job to make it all one colour - i. e. good black. (Smither.)