Is Fuming Oak a Good Idea?

      Fuming White Oak with ammonia gives inconsistent results, and the intent can be achieved using conventional techniques instead. October 19, 2013

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
We will be installing a quartered white oak room soon and the idea of fuming it has been brought up. The room is 16'x16' with 9' ceilings. Other than the already understood dangers and concerns about fuming with ammonia, should I have any concerns about exposed sheet rock? Are there any absorption or discoloration issues? What about off-gassing afterwards?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From Contributor F

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Why would you want to fume the oak? What are you trying to achieve? Anything that ammonia can give you in regards to color can be achieved in numerous ways with dyes, stains, shellac, and even dark wax. However, if you took all the wood for the room and put it in a sealed truck trailer with the ammonia I suppose then itís about as safe as can be, but you still have to finish it.

From Contributor K:
I fumed an oak table and achieved an effect that I couldn't have achieved with a stain or a dye. Because the ammonia reacts with the tannins in the wood, and the tannin content varies considerably from board to board and even within a board, we were able to darken the wood considerably while maintaining variation in color. I think you would have to work the wood first, finish sand it in place and then seal and fume the entire room. I don't know if the ammonia smell will linger, as I've only tried fuming in a shop environment. The fumes are incredibly noxious.

From Contributor R:
Who brought up the idea for fuming? It seems everyone does it at least once, but without question a competent finisher will be able to give you the same color and look with far greater control.

I have to agree with Contributor F on this one. I've put a number of oak pieces under the scrutiny of experts and had them pick the one that was fumed. They found it very easy to pick out because of the unique look. Of course you know where I'm going with this right? None of them were fumed.

Keep it simple. A basic regime with a dye followed by a stain will work wonders. White oak is one of the few woods I'll stain as opposed to glaze. Its density is perfect for this. By varying the dye you can achieve all sorts of effects while using the same stain color. A basic recipe would be: a golden yellow dye followed by a deep warm stain (something with a burnt umber base). Change the dye to a cool greenish yellow with the same stain and the shift is to a more neutral brown. Do yourself a favor and keep it simple.

From the original questioner:
That pretty much summed up where my thought process was going. I had mentioned the idea to the architect but followed it with "we probably won't go that way" and it got to the homeowner. Oh well.

As much as would like to experiment, the site is an active construction job site so the logistics of the process would be more difficult than itís worth. We have done smaller controlled pieces in the past and I think it does add a value that dyes and stains don't. The effort to result ratio at this scale doesn't pan out.

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