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Bleached oak.

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Mike.R

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I recently visited Alnwick Castle in Northumberland. The interior was a real surprise, decorated by Adam in the 18th century, it was remodelled by Anthony Salvin in the Italian Renaissance sale in the 19th century and is incredible.
The library is furnished in oak, finely inlaid with perhaps sycamore and is a very unusual colour. The oak is pale and unlike any oak I've seen before. So pale that the difference between the oak and the sycamore inlay is very subtle. The oak is not at all yellow and the medullary rays were silver.
This colour has been preying on my mind and I'd like to reproduce it. My thoughts are that
back in the 1860s when the library was installed the oak was bleached, possibly very white and over the next 150 years it has mellowed but not darkened at all.
I have little experience in bleaching timber, all of it unsuccessful. My go to book for old recipes is Adventures in Woodfinishing but when it comes to bleaching, George scares me with his tales of caustic filled swimming pools and Hydrogen peroxide.
I understand there are two pack bleach products, does anyone have experience with these or recommendations ?
 
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bob543

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Some have used 2 part hair bleaching products successfully
 

Mike.R

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Thanks for your replies. The library could be limed but not, I think, in the way we know liming these days.

Liming to me is achieved by rubbing a pigment of sorts into the grain and the library oak definitely didn't have that, however George Frank describes painting freshly slaked quicklime onto oak which is maybe the original way to achieve a limed finish. I've got a feeling it was used as a preservative.

Again, like caustic and hydrogen peroxide, I was hoping to avoid dissolving bits of me with quicklime but maybe I need get a grip and start experimenting if I'm to discover long lost techniques.

I'll start with the hair product and see how I get on, thanks. :)
 

Mark Karacsonyi

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Bleaching is simple. Build a frame and cover it with polythene sheeting. House the work within it and put a bowl of bleach. Leave overnight, or until you get to your desired colour tone, must be done in a well ventilated area. I buy my peroxide from a hunting shop it is stronger than that sold in the shops. The fumes do it all no need to get your work wet at all.
 

Bob Chapman

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Mark, have you actually used the method you describe? That's the way I would use ammonia to fume oak, but I've never heard of using hydrogen peroxide that way. Is this a technique I've missed?
 

Mark Karacsonyi

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Mark, have you actually used the method you describe? That's the way I would use ammonia to fume oak, but I've never heard of using hydrogen peroxide that way. Is this a technique I've missed?
Hi Bob,

Yes I have and do. It needs to stronger than the household stuff. Let me check the bottle tomorrow. It’s the stuff hunters use for bleaching their trophies.
 

Adam W.

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If this is what you mean, then it's gorgeous:
View attachment 112201
That looks like Quercus petrea from the Baltic states, which was imported into England in huge quantities during the 18th century and was used extensively for interiors after the great fire of London. It can be very pale in colour, much lighter than English oak Quercus robur.
 

Misterdog

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Wipe over with white emulsion pushing into the grain. Leave to dry. Sand to desired effect, then apply clear varnish lacquer.

Not for the purists, but it works without killing you.
 

pils

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That looks like Quercus petrea from the Baltic states, which was imported into England in huge quantities during the 18th century and was used extensively for interiors after the great fire of London. It can be very pale in colour, much lighter than English oak Quercus robur.
so, supposedly (I'm trusting the internet/tv as I've never been there), this is the library at Alnwick Castle.
That would explain the colour/tone difference. :] Interesting, thank you.
 

Pineapple

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I recently visited Alnwick Castle in Northumberland. The interior was a real surprise, decorated by Adam in the 18th century, it was remodelled by Anthony Salvin in the Italian Renaissance sale in the 19th century and is incredible.
The library is furnished in oak, finely inlaid with perhaps sycamore and is a very unusual colour. The oak is pale and unlike any oak I've seen before. So pale that the difference between the oak and the sycamore inlay is very subtle. The oak is not at all yellow and the medullary rays were silver.
This colour has been preying on my mind and I'd like to reproduce it. My thoughts are that
back in the 1860s when the library was installed the oak was bleached, possibly very white and over the next 150 years it has mellowed but not darkened at all.
I have little experience in bleaching timber, all of it unsuccessful. My go to book for old recipes is Adventures in Woodfinishing but when it comes to bleaching, George scares me with his tales of caustic filled swimming pools and Hydrogen peroxide.
I understand there are two pack bleach products, does anyone have experience with these or recommendations ?
Not at all sure - but an Antique Restorer friend "lightens" all timbers with OXALIC ACID. Oxalic Acid Crystals PURE GRADE Chemical Powder ALL SIZES including 1KG | eBay
( N. B. !!! - Add Crystals to Water - NOT WATER TO CRYSTALS ! )
- Then paint it on Outdoors & watch it until the timber is light enough,
- then rinse off & dry it well before lightly sanding or cabinet-scraping the raised grain flat again.
- Further info. = http://helios.hampshire.edu/~nlNS/mompdfs/oxalicacid.pdf
 

Adam W.

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so, supposedly (I'm trusting the internet/tv as I've never been there), this is the library at Alnwick Castle.
That would explain the colour/tone difference. :] Interesting, thank you.
I don't think they did much lightening of timber in the 18th century, but I'd be interested to hear otherwise.

Lye, as a mixture of wood ash and water, has been used for bleaching for millennia, so the materials and knowledge were readily available at the time.
 

Mike.R

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If this is what you mean, then it's gorgeous:
View attachment 112201
That's it ! Here it is in the round.



(As an aside, the ceiling is carved in yellow pine rather than plasterwork. The dining room, next door, has an unpainted carved timber ceiling which is truly something to behold.)

I do like the idea that the cabinet makers used Sessile Oak rather than Quercus Robur and on reflection I agree it's unlikely the whole library was subject to chemical attack before being installed.

Nevertheless, I've ordered some oxalic crystals and some two pack bleach and will report on progress.

The most frustrating thing is not being able to easily revisit Alnwick Castle but perhaps the next time I go I'll be able to make more sense of what I'm looking at.
 
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