Two-step Display Shelf in Urban Quartersawn White Oak with Ammonia Treatment

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Project by jetnum posted 09-27-2011 10:45 PM 11823 views 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This is a simple two-step display shelf I made in a hurry for a client using urban quartersawn white oak. The display shelf will be used to display hand-crafted artwork at art shows.

There is nothing interesting about the joinery: very simple lap joints and screws hold the project together.

Of more interest is the technique used to finish the wood. The urban quartersawn white oak that I obtained for this project has a lot of character in the ray flecks that are characteristic of quartersawn oak. I wanted to highlight the grain and fleck patterns as much as possible. Internet research suggested fuming the wood using ammonia gas:

Finishing Quartersawn White Oak:

... but constructing a special fuming tent and using ammonia gas seemed way to complicated and unpleasant, so I decided to try just brushing household ammonia directly on the wood. The ammonia reacts with the tannic acid in the oak which results in a darker color. Because the tannic acids are more accessible in the open-pored grain of the wood and less so in the ray flecks, there is a tendency for this process to make the ray flecks really “pop” out of the wood.

As you can see in the photographs, I first experimented with small scraps to test the results of ammonia-treated versus untreated white oak. I then tried staining samples using a conventional Minwax stain and oiling with Tung Oil. My experiments convinced me that a brush-on-and-let-dry treatment with household ammonia would indeed result in better contrast between in the grain and ray flecks of the wood.

Note that the household ammonia I used also contained surfactants (soap) which concerned me but in the end does not appear to have impacted the finish. One note of caution: if you do use this technique, be sure to brush on the ammonia as quickly and evenly as you can over the entire surface of a board in order to avoid unwanted staining.

-- “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

3 comments so far

View B13's profile


463 posts in 3981 days

#1 posted 09-28-2011 06:05 AM

The top two boards really pop! a richer look to the wood. thanks! for the Info. sounds like a outdoors project.

View Cristof's profile


9 posts in 3725 days

#2 posted 10-06-2011 03:51 AM

Never thought of using ammonia. But makes sense on white oak since there’s so much starch in the fibers, the extreme ph would have an effect. I used heavy chemicals on the ash coffee table I built—both molar strength hydrogen peroxide and sodium hydroxide (lye)—to bleach the top. The first two times I did it I got a precipitate of little black flecks and the white color had a green-yellowish haze. I couldn’t figure out the problem. While watching TV that night there was a chlorine chemical spill on the beltway and there was a green-yellow cloud. It was the chlorine in the tap water. I changed to distilled water and the process went perfectly. Working with wood and chemicals is really a gas.

-- Cristof

View ShaneA's profile


7085 posts in 3886 days

#3 posted 10-06-2011 04:05 AM

Those are some nice looking boards. I love me some QSWO. Thanks for the info.

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