Sunday, 27 April 2014

The importance of the wet finger

Bare wood - no matter if it is a new floor or a sanded down one - looks quite pale, dull even. Applying a finish - any natural finish - will bring out the wood-species natural colouring, which can be rather different than its pale beginnings.

Surprise, surprise!

This week we received a phone call from a lady, who had bought and installed reclaimed Oak wood-blocks. After sanding the floor down she'd used a tester pot of Osmo HardWaxOil and was very surprised to see her Oak floor turn pinky.
She had been expecting a warm honey colour, the typical characteristic colouring of Oak:
Oak after it receive a natural finish 
But instead her "Oak" floor showed a pink tone:
Red Oak, after it received a natural finish, looks pinkier than Oak Beech - unsteamed - with a natural finish will not look like Oak
(example 1: American Red Oak, Example 2: Beech - which belongs to the same family as Oak
When I asked her to do the "wet finger" test on a bare area of the wood floor the result was again a pinky tone, and not as she had hoped the typical Oak colour.
The result of this simple and oh so effective test told me the wood-species was something different than Oak. But it had been sold to here as Oak, she told me. Well, American Red Oak is Oak, although I'm not even sure the seller had known the difference him or her self, because as said in the beginning of this article: bare wood of different species can look pretty much alike, especially if the grain structure is rather the same.
The lady in question felt rather disappointed ("bummer" was the word she used after discovering the result of the wet finger test) and didn't really know what to do next, perhaps she will stain it an Oak colour now.

The importance of the wet finger test!
The importance of the wet finger test on bare wood
Especially when you are in the market for reclaimed wood blocks, no matter if it is on offer on Ebay, in a local shop or reclamation yard, you'll have to be sure the wood-species are as claimed.
Two simple tools you have to have with you: one finger and a piece of sanding paper.
  • For bare wood blocks: simply wet your finger and place this on the block(s). This will show you its natural colour after you applied a natural finish and could prevent disappointment afterwards. (After you bought the lot, cleaned of the bitumen, glued down your pattern, sanded the floor smooth and level and applied your natural finish - only to make the same discovery as the lady who'd called us in a panic!)
  • For "finished" blocks: use the sand paper to clear off the finish of part of the block, then do the wet finger test. The finish could be a stain, disguising the original species.
Also use the sand paper if an apparent bare block doesn't change in colour after the wet finger test - a sure sign there is a finish on the block.
(On Ebay it could be a bit difficult doing these tests, best is always to have a sample send out to you).
Know the result before you start
 As you can see, it is really simple to know the result of any natural finish applied to bare (sanded) wood long before you start all the hard work: use the "wet finger" test and never be surprised again!

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