We have a job coming up using Sassafras, and a lot of it. The customers reference material for color and finish is a typical (likely imported) piece of low end cabinetry that is dead smooth, tight grained and tight pore, wood (more than likely maple or some other cheap facsimile) which is stained and heavily toned to a dark color. Under very bright light (LED flashlight) you can pick up a deep burgundy color which around here is typical of trying to mask a low grade material (box store) into a deep cherry or deep espresso.
Needless to say, Sassafras is a wickedly open grained wood. Tons of cathedral grain. They are willing to having the grain and pores show through (and actually seem to like it) but getting it to an even, deep, dark, finish, yet with the deep burgundy tones is proving a challenge. Needless to say we are still trying to hit the end result in as few steps as possible (would love for a one and done stain and then clear but likely wont happen).
We have done a bunch of stain samples, stain and spray dye (Microton Cordovan, Red Mahoghany, and Dark Walnut, alone and mixed/thinned in various ratios) along with various ML Cambell stains over and under the dye. The Sassafras is so absorbent that even dilute stains/dyes go super dark especially wiped. Sealers leave everything super light.
Reminds me of working with eastern white pine with the lights and darks but then you add in massive pores and it gets more fun.
First, I'd make sure to get it in writing that they are fine with course grain showing when you submit samples for approval. Getting a deep burgundy on brown is not easy. You might a lighter base color, and a burgundy toner on top of that. A worse case would be bleaching the wood first.
I'm sorry if I'm stating the obvious..would it be at all possible to talk them into using another wood and save the sassafras for another job (sounds like beautiful wood)? sometimes doing the impossible is impossible. Good luck!
We will be ok on this one with regards to approval of the final, I'm just trying to get it close to where they want it.
To Nick's point, I have felt the same way with regards to the species being used. Around here getting nice sassafras is rare. It usually grows like a corkscrew, is relatively small. Seems a shame to bury it in stain and toner. But then I feel that way about most natural finished wood. We just ran a commercial interior in cherry and the owner and architect spec'd a stain that about made us cry to put it on dead clear FAS that landed 16' long and many boards 18-20" wide. But that's what they paid for so...
I think the time and expense of bleaching would not fly but would surely work.
The stuff is a dream to work. Easy on tooling. Sands beautifully and makes the shop smell great.
And I read a lot of the word "cheap" or "hiding" or "masking" in your writing when describing oter manufactured product. I think that your philosophy of woodfinishing is more than off, it's wrong. Step back and read what you write and look around. All that cheapness, those guys must be doing something right, they are mastering the wood and not the other way around. Projectionism.
Why the disdain for any "how would you achieve this finish" type of query? Are we all above asking the other guy what he did, how he did it, what can I do to make that work for me?
No, I would not use another wood. Instead, there's a lot to finishing and coloring wood that you are not getting.
Back to the samples that you've seen and disparaged, it's all about getting "that look". It IS all about "How would you achieve this finish?" There might be several steps of finishing instead of the common "stain & topcoat" - this stain & topcoat is the TRUE finish to disparage to look on with disdain.
You can't be a snob in the world of finishing. There's a reason that we color wood and the bottom line is the marketplace. It sells the product. It sells the work.
Washcoat. Layer your colors. Investigate glazes. Tone. Pad stain (hand padding). There's nothing new under the sun.
Behlen has some great, short youtube how-to videos on finishing.
I wasnt really talking about "guys" and I have no "distain" for stained or colored wood in any way. Your worst level reference (stain/spray) finish has been our bread and butter for 30 years. Its whats spec'd and is generally all thats paid for. Barely ever does a commercial or residential customer come through the shop wanting a simple topcoat of any kind or conversely willing to pay for a 9 step finish process. Thats just our market.
When I mention other "cheap facsimile" I am referring to what many compete against every day. A product using a natural material, usually of a lower grade to meet a price point, which is then basically buried in a process of stain and toner to make the entire piece, and every other piece coming off the line behind it, the exact same color and variation (or lack there of). It makes complete and total sense. Customer walks into the home center and looks at a cabinet on display and purchases a cabinet in a cardboard box which then must be exact with little or no variation from the display when opened. No news to any shop that commonly walks into a home where the owners believe they have Cherry furniture purchased from the large furniture retailers. The wood doesnt resemble Cherry, doesnt have the color of Cherry, likely isnt even really Cherry. But I agree, who cares, the manufacturer and retailer succeeded at a sale and have a happy customer bragging about their Cherry furniture. We (the small shops) would likely never get away with that. It however sets a standard for the end user that isnt comlpetely realistic.
I look at it as a middle ground in that area. We nearly always deal with customers who have no deisre for bespoke, fully custom, color and grain sorted and matched products (due to cost), yet they still need to be educated a bit that on a smaller custom level, at their price point, there are going to be variations due to the nature of the material chosen. A balance between their desire, or necessity, for custom work at a higher cost than off the shelf, while still remaining cost conscious.
The middle ground to me are furniture or cabinet catalogs (usually at the higher end) showing colors in a gradient. The gradient shows the darkest and the lightest possible color in the product you will receive meaning that within reason care will be taken but there will be color and texture. This doesnt work well with zero question returns lol.
I have no problem with spray dye, then wipe stain, tone til monotone, and burry this material in basically a half step below paint. I try to find a reasonable balance between the finish requested, the material choice made, and a tad of education/steering. That they may not have picked a material which will match the finish they hoped within their budget. As with anyone in business I am not going apply an level of finish with more steps than I am billing, or going to be compensated, for.
As far as all the "cheapness" being something they are doing right, I would say what they are clearly doing right is hitting a price point by having their product made overseas which again is smart business on their part. And again we arent really talking about "guys". My reference is to mass produced goods that are often now "the standard" in many customers mind.
None of the references I am referring to were likely made in a North American shop and if they were (or soon will be hopefully) they will not be sprayed at a human hand. We will meet the price point of the imports soon because there will be no humans processing the parts or spraying the finishes on production work.
All the big manufacturers of furniture and of cabinets are able to strive for and achieve consistency. The goal is uniformity, but within acceptable variations in color and grain appearance. A solid pecan Thomasville chair from a given suite has to fit within the color standard for that suite.
We don't have to follow their 30 step finish schedules to match what they make, and what they taught their overseas operators to make. But we do have to first uniform the woods, and equalize the starting points from which we want to build color and attain the same look that they have.
It's not that customers like sameness. It's not that customers even care for smoothness. But, for sure, they are apt to object to anything that they see that sticks out. They do hate rough. They notice the looks and textures that seem out of place to them, as well they should. And why? They know, either from their shopping experiences or intuitively that consistency is attainable.
Google "Furniture Factory Process of Multi-Step Finishing".
It's production volume versus one-offs, but the cabinet shop can still get it done, even without a production line.
No one is trying to mask anything. The MDF edge of a cherry dining table still needs a basecoat and glazecoat to blend in. Maybe it's me, but I don't consider this artsy part of the trade to subterfuge.
Please supply a picture of what you want your sasafras to match. I worked on sasafras just last week.
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