Sunday, August 16, 2009

Stains and Oils

Below are my answers to some common questions about stains and oils used on baskets.
Weaver's Words - September 30, 2007

About stain, oils, etc.

When I used to weave a lot of reed baskets I if I were to stain them I always used one of the Minwax stains. Usually I would dilute the stains with mineral spirits/paint thinner as reed absorbs stain very quickly and you can end up with a very dark basket in short order. Also, by diluting the stains I could achieve lots of different shades. I would also sometimes mix colors to get ever more shades. A personal pet peeve of mine is to walk into a basket booth at a craft fair wherever single basket is the same color. It just makes all the baskets look generic to me, but as I said that is just my personal preference. 



I never used any "oil" on the bodies of any baskets that I make, I will use boiled linseed oil/turpentine on my handles and rims of my black ash baskets, but never on the weaving. There is a lot of misconception about things called "oils", these aren't oils in the way one thinks of mineral oil or baby oil. Oils such as tung, linseed, Danish, etc. are actually wood finished and seal the fibers instead of "moisturizing" them as I think weavers are intending to do to their baskets.



Here is what I found on the internet concerning these "oils": Tung oil is made from the pressed seed from the nut of the tung tree. Tung oil is considered a drying oil much as linseed, safflower, poppy and soybean oil. When applied it provides a tough, highly water-resistant finish which does not darken noticeably with age as does linseed oil.

Tung oil is also sometimes called “China wood oil”. It has been used for hundreds if not thousands of years in China to seal decorative and marine wood as well as porous masonry.

"Danish oil" or Polymerized Linseed oil is, in its unadulterated/pure state, a non-toxic, wood finishing oil, similar to Tung oil. However, like tung oil, it is often used in various finishes with the addition of solvents or other substances, that are often toxic. Polymerized Linseed Oil gets harder and more durable with age. Buff occasionally with a soft cloth. Now, I am not saying any of these or products that contain these are necessarily bad for your baskets, but I just want to make sure everyone understands that they aren't making their baskets more flexible, but are actually sealing their baskets from breathing. While they may make your baskets look wet, they aren't actually increasing the moisture level of them.

So to actually answer [the] question probably the only true best finish for your basket is NO finish at all. A light dusting with a soft brush and a mist with water is the best way to preserve you reed baskets. If you want to add color to your basket you can always use something water soluble like tea, coffee or other dyes. (The above does not apply to Nantucket baskets which traditionally have a hard finish applied to them in the same way a piece of wood furniture would be finished) 

NEVER OIL [OR STAIN] AN ANTIQUE BASKET! The only time you want to oil an antique basket is if you want to remove any value from the piece as you will destroy the natural patina of the basket.

Also never wash or soak an antique or even a new oak or ash basket. Use the method I describe above, use a soft brush and a light mist of water or even better rotate them through the bathroom so that the steam from the shower hydrates them.
Hope this helps answer a few questions out there.