Urban Homesteading – Finishing Wood With Flax and Pine

Reader Contribution by Heidi Hunt
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When I was in grade school, my dad bought an old (very old) tavern table. It had a pine frame and a top made with thick slabs of lap-jointed cherry wood. The legs and stringers that made up the frame, as well as the top, were pinned together with hand-whittled pine pegs. The table still had the original milk paint on it, so it was sturdy but not very attractive.

After taking the layer of milk paint off and sanding the wood to a smooth finish, Dad put the table in the attic where it lived for about 15 years. At least once a year, Dad would go over the wood with the finest of steel wools, wipe it clean, and with a soft cloth put a light coat of linseed oil and turpentine mixture on the table. After 15 years of this treatment, the wood had a glowing patina that highlighted the table’s 250 years of service. The table has spent the past 42 years gracing my home.

All of this came to me this week as I was considering what finish to put on a wood-framed stained glass piece that hangs on my front porch. It doesn’t get much rain on it, but it is exposed to a few hours of afternoon sun each day. The wood was starting to look dry, so I needed something to restore the wood to its previous color plus provide water protection. Then I remembered Dad’s favorite wood-finishing mixture of linseed oil and turpentine.

Linseed oil is produced from flax seed. (Flax fibers are used for making linen.) Turpentine is made by distilling the resin of evergreen trees — usually pine. You can smell the aroma of pine if you get just a whiff of the turpentine. I put about a quarter of a cup of each into a pint canning jar. It’s strong smelling stuff, so it should be kept capped and stored in a cool location, such as a basement. I spread the mixture on the wood with an old paint brush — the bristles helped the liquid seep into the tiny cracks in the dry wood. I plan to put three coats of finish on the frame, between light rubbings with some fine steel wool. But it looks significantly better after just one coat.

Dad would be pleased.

Flax flowers from iStockphoto/Shewers

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