I just finished a Shaker shelf made with Flame Birch....this is my
first time using this type of wood....any suggestions on how to finish
it? ......I am interested in something that will bring out the figure
the best. I have very limited scrapwood to test with....
Thanks in advance....
Try TransTint Honey Amber (#6001) in a denatured alcohol solution. It
comes as a concentrated dye. Depending on the size of the project, I
usually half fill a bottle with alcohol and add the dye dropwise
(shaking it to mix it) until I get the color intensity I want. You can
keep testing it until you get what you want.
After the dye has dried you have several choices --- tung or "boiled"
linseed oil or a mixture of equal parts, linseed oil, varnish, and
turpentine. Let that dry.
Wax it with clear Briwax or Butcher's Bowling Alley wax.
It will really make the figuring jump out.
Bet my recipe looks pretty close to Joel's in the end.
I bult an entire desk top out of flame (as in on fire!) birch I was
lucky enough to come across. I sanded to 400 and got it all as smooth
Clean with a tack cloth with some thinner on it (no paper towels, socks
or flannel) made of an old T shirt or something along those lines. All
cotton, white, no synthetics materials or blends to dissolve or leach
To light off the grain, I used a formula I got right here about 7-8
years ago. Equal parts of boiled linseed oil, 3# cut shellac (Zinzeer
blond for me) and pure gum turpentine. (Pure gum as opposed
"turpentine" made out of who knows what). Stirred well, put in the
kitchen to sit overnight and then used the next day.
I put it on with a clean bristle brush pretty heavily and then wiped
any excess off. Not much as I rememeber as the wood was raw and this
basecoat/finsh is thin. Any place that needed a little more finish was
easily handled with a little on a piece of tack cloth. It made that
wood spring to life... it pentrated really well, and left the wood with
a beautiful honey color to it. All the flame showed beatifully.
Since it was going on desk top, I finished it with 5 coats of satin
poly, each coat thinned about 10% with mineral spirits and applied with
an 8" pad (no brush strokes).
The surface has worn exceptionally well and still looks great.
Minwax wipe-on poly if you are not going to change the color. Has the oil
the others recommend putting on separately for contrast, and will build to a
good finish you can look right into in about four coats on birch. You can
see the maple in this picture, couldn't find a birch example.
Whatever you do, _don't_ use satin varnishes. You want look through at the
wood, not at scatter in the finish. Same reason you don't want to scuff the
final coat with steel wool.
I get mine in Ashland, NH http://www.sharpslumber.com /
Steve is a great guy and has great prices. He is one of the few figured
lumber dealers that actually scale the knots and cracks OUT of the cost
of board for you. He gets it in whenever he can and typically charges
$6.00 - $7.00/bf depending on the figure. He usually has just the 4/4.
I am always looking for 8/4 but its hard to come by. The last time he
got it in I bought the whole log....its really beautiful wood. I am
going to save it until I come up with the perfect project for it. I
picked up 20/bf yesterday and he still had another 50/bf or so left.
Here are some examples of Flame Birch.......some of them really
Can't tell you where to get it, but it grows pretty much everrywhere
in temperate climate.
Generally there are two kinds of birch that grows really tall:
Silver birch or white birch, the tall, bautiful white birches,
swung by people like Robert Frost.
Sadly, they are nothing like bautiful in woodworking, toneless
and insignificantly patterned, and often giving a grey tone, no matter
what kind of finish you choose.
Then there is this other birch, that grows more squat and thick, altough it
also grows as tall, or taler than the white or silver species. Its main to
characteristica (for the amateur) are the foot of the stem (which has black
surface, more like a pine, on its lower quarter of height) and its twigs
that are hanging down, and I mean straight down, the outer half yard or so.
Also its branches are much sturdier and thicker than those of white or
Now, it needs a certain height and thickness to develop the flame structure.
It usually comes after the tree is full grown, and it seems to be the sheer
weight of the top that presses and crushes the wood in the foot of the
trunk, giving the waves and firelike pattern to the wood as it continues
to grow in width.
Sadly this is also the time when this tree is beginning to develoop
a bad core, due to age, and it starts with darkening the colour
of the center of the trunk, just before it start to rot.
So, real flame birch is a little hard to come by. My neighbor cut down
some really big ones this fall, and I managed to buy off him two
rootpieces, each about 10' long and 2' to 3' in diameter.
I am really looking forward to spring, whet I get to start turning
some bowls from that wood!
PS. The picture in Wikipedia of Silver Birch is not silver birch,
but this other kind. I suspect that the naming practice for
the different species of birch is rather subject to local practices
rather than botanical precision.
Silver or white birch is white or mainly white all the way down to the root.
We have "yellow" birch here in the US, which is prone to grain reversals
which produce the flame figure if cut properly. Sadly, I don't have any
pictures on this drive of the unspalted stuff, but you can see the curl
through the spalt in this log which was rolled for two years on the deck to
get even spalting.
It is as common a figure as its counterpart, curly maple in this area, and
runs virtually through and through. If you flat saw rather than quarter, as
here, it's more pronounced.
A look at the bark shows the thin yellow peeling surface characteristic to
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