Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Fuming" the gun cabinet

I haven't posted in a week or so, but that's not because I haven't been working on the gun cabinet.

I finished all the building process this past week and now it's time to start the finishing process. I'm doing a little different process then is normally done when finishing. Usually we would pick out a color of stain to use and stain the entire cabinet before applying the actual finish, but I will be "fuming" the gun cabinet instead of staining.

Note of interest: Ammonia fuming is a traditional process for darkening and richening the color of Oak. Supposedly it was discovered by observing the way that oak beams in stables were darkened on exposure to the fumes from horse urine. Thanks to Haber and Bosch, we can now do this with convenient ammonia, and I don't need to keep a horse in the shop! modern times, ammonia fuming is best known through the work of Gustav Stickley ( Stickley Furniture).

And you ask.....How do I do it? The first thing I have to do is build a "tent" or "box" big enough for the cabinet to fit in and be able to seal it off pretty tight. This I did on our back porch pad using some of my scrape plywood along both sides and one end. I did a double layer of plastic across the top and down the other end ( this I will use for the door to be able to put the cabinet in.

If you look closely, you can see I already have the cabinet in the "box". You don't want the box any bigger then it needs to be so you can get the best concentration of fumes from the ammonia

You're not able to see in the picture, but I removed the doors, drawers, drawer fronts and all the hinges and drawer slides. Ammonia could be corrosive to the slides and hinges. I also didn't want any of the doors or drawer fronts to be covering part of the cabinet (this would leave a tan line when fumed.) I will have to do the doors, drawer fronts and shelves in the next batch.

Now it's time to put the ammonia in the box. I used 4 plastic open containers and filled each about a 1/3 of the way.

You'd think I was working with nuclear waste or something the way I'm dressed, but just following directions. I placed one container on each side of the cabinet and one in front and one behind the cabinet. Once they where in place, I closed the box up and sealed if off the best I could.

How long do I leave it in there? I read anywhere from 12 to 48 hours, but once it gets to a certain point, it will not get any darker. I did a little experiment before I did the cabinet. I took 3 pieces of oak and put them in a small sealed container with some ammonia so I could see the reaction from different times. I took the first piece out after just 6 hours and was surprised how much it had changed. It had such a warm brown look to it. I took the second piece out after 12 hours and could see a difference from the first piece. I left the 3rd piece in for 24 hours and when I took that one out that was quite a bit darker then the first two. I sprayed all three with the Lacquer I will be using for the finish to see what the final result was. Wow! there is no way you can achieve that look with stain. I was impressed!

After comparing the three samples, I liked the second one the best.(12 hours). Not too light.....and not too dark...... But just right! So here I go with the big piece. Boy was I nervous! If I screw this up after all the work I've put in it, I'm not sure what I'll do.

It's 8:30AM and it's in the "box". I'll come back at 8:30 tonight and see what I've got! Not really, I checked on it a couple times during the day and when I pulled it out at 8:30 PM ,I compared it to the samples I made and realized that the tone was about the same as my sample @ 6 hours, so I figured the size of the box compared to the small container I had the samples in and the amount of ammonia compared to the size, it would just take longer to achieve the same tone........So back in the box and sealed it up again. This time I pulled it out after a total of 24 hours of fuming and Wham! there it was. The look I wanted.

I pulled the cabinet out and decided it was time to do the doors, drawer fronts and shelves. This was a little tricky because you can't just lay them down, because it won't fume if it doesn't get air circulation around it, but I hung the upper doors and used some special painters pyramids to support the drawer fronts, shelves and lower doors. Back to the box, added a little fresh ammonia and sealed it up again. This time I left them for a straight 24 hours and then checked them. Perfect! This is so cool.

Sorry, I'm not posting any more pictures until it's delivered to Pennsylvania! The rest has to be a surprise for everyone. BTW.....It's been raining for the past 2 days and I haven't been able to do any spraying, but it is suppose to clear up by this week end and the clear finishing is easy. I've ordered the hardware and as soon as I get the upper doors finished, I'll take them to the glass Co. and let them install the glass.

It won't be long now!!

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