When it first goes on, the board turns charcoal, or a warm tea brown, or a greenish gray. Then, by the time you’ve made it to the top of the piece, the color has already started to change and deepen. The graining comes out in front, almost like 3-D, and you see colors such as blue and purple and red that you hadn’t even noticed were there. It’s mysterious, unpredictable, and completely natural.
Iron-buffing is a practice not commonly used today, but one that we have fallen in love with. Says Dan, “The solution doesn’t dye the wood, but rather brings something out in the wood that was already there.”
It’s an old technique using simple ingredients and a lot of rubbing, as the name implies. You mix the solution – we use salsa jars that have been washed and cleaned, though any jar with a wide, low rim will do. You want steel scouring pads that don’t have any soap in them, and distilled white vinegar. Allow that to stew for a few days, and you have your solution. The color will almost look like blood.
To apply, use a soft cloth free from any synthetics. Cotton works best. Soak your rag, and brush over the wood moving in the direction of the wood grain. You are, in effect, soaking the wood. It can get messy, but there are no harsh chemicals involved, nothing harmful to breathe.
Iron-buffing effects different kinds of wood differently, which is part of the fun. It also effects parts of the same kind of wood differently, for example, the heart wood, sap wood, and outer layer of the tree will all accept iron-buffing differently.
We like to use it most with oak. White oak tends to run the darkest, often turning a rich ebony. Red oak tends to turn a coffee brown, as shown in the photos. You only need to apply the iron buffing solution once. Unlike dye or wood stain, it does not deepen with multiple applications.
Once the wood is soaked with the solution, allow it to dry. Follow that with a light sanding using 220 grit. You want to be careful not to sand off the top layer, or you will lose your color. Once the surface has a nice hand, you can then follow with your coats of oil.
The finished boxes here have a minimum of three coats of oil and a bee’s wax topcoat. This color range is only a representation of the fun you can have with iron-buffing. I like to think that part of the magic comes from handling a piece so many times with the intent to make a useful thing beautiful.