Stickley Mantle Clock’s Fumed Finish

Building is always the best part of the project as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think I’m too different from most woodworkers in that regard. Luckily, I found a finishing method that works great for the majority of the projects I build and I stick with it. I seldom tackle projects being built outside my “normal” hardwoods list. But since joining the staff here at Popular Woodworking magazine, I’ve built a few Arts & Crafts projects that dip just outside that list.

When finishing time rolled around for the Stickley Mantle Clock from the December issue (#173), I did what most woodworkers do. I revisited a number of Arts & Crafts projects that ran in earlier issues of Popular Woodworking and thought about duplicating one of those processes. However, I sit across from Senior Editor, Robert W. Lang – a guy that’s deep into different finishes for quartersawn white oak.

Bob suggested I go with an original finish method and fume the clock. I should what? Wouldn’t I have to build a tent, be bothered to find the correct ammonia and wait a few days for the project to change? And the smell! We work on the first floor of an office building. I could see the head of Human Resources dropping by to hand me a pink slip due to everyone on the floors above me becoming sick.

Needless to say, I was a bit close-minded. But after the process was explained to me, I bowed to Bob’s knowledge and decided the task was worth it – the great color of my finished project, not my job if I sickened the folks on the two floors above our shop.

We had some ammonia on hand from an earlier project, which made it easy. This ammonia is not ordinary ammonia that you purchase from a food or hardware store. It’s a product used to make blueprints. Chances are you can purchase the ammonia from a local blueprint company, or if not, you can find a supplier online, but make sure to check the price and the shipping cost. This ammonia should run you about $10 per gallon.

There’s a lot of talk about using household ammonia for fuming, but I’ve been told that’s not the way to go.  While it may work (and that’s questionable), you’re going to use copious amounts of the stuff, possibly refill your container a number of times and wait an extraordinary period of time before gaining good color. Even then, the results are suspect. Stick with what works.

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