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How to lime wood

Liming Wood. (with video)

A few hundred years ago various types of woods, especially oak and ash and other hardwoods, were treated with a caustic lime mixture to protect it from the attacks of insects and worms.

Unlike softwoods, hardwoods contain pores which make them liable to attack by insects.

The more open the pores in the hardwood, especially oak, makes it more vunerable.

Later on the effect of the lime residue on the wood grain became fashionable so eventually it was used for solely decorative reasons.

Liming wood technique.Courtesy Liberon Limited Start with bare untreated surface. If it has been varnished or sealed with anything make sure that all traces are removed. (see Varnish, stain removal and bleaching wood)
Historically you should only lime open grain hardwoods such as Ash and Oak but with modern liming waxes there is greater scope to apply to some other partly-open or even closed grain hardwoods. Softwoods are generally unsuitable for liming.(see Identifying woods)

Mix up a suitable wax, from beeswax polish and white pigment or buy it ready-made as a proprietary Liming Wax.

With a wire brush( a suede shoe brush is ideal) gently open up the grain on the wood before you apply the wax.
Then with a small stiff brush work the mixture into the grain using a circular motion.
Leave to dry off for 10 to 15 minutes.

Using a firm pad of cloth rub off the surplus paste, again using a circular motion.

Leave for 20 minutes, then polish surface with a clean cloth.

Applying the lime mixture to the Oak.
The procedure in this treatment, which consists in filling the grain of the wood with a white (or, occasionally, a colored) substance, will vary according to the quality and price of the work.

This video from Little Brown Hare Vintage (UK) shows you how to achieve a limewashed type finish using Chalk Paint.

At its cheapest, liming can be carried out by applying a diluted latex/emulsion paint or a lime and water mixture to the bare oak, wiping off the surplus and wax polishing or varnishing; the result, however, is not to be compared with that obtained if better materials are used and a little more time and trouble are taken.

For the lime, a good paste distemper can be employed, but the best medium is one of the proprietary pastes which usually consist of a mixture of white pigment and wax.

The oak may either be stained in the usual manner or left natural, and must be free from moisture.

In good quality work, two coats of spirit varnish should be applied to seal the wood: because of the high cost of spirit varnish nowadays there are many cheaper good alternatives.

The first should be well thinned out to a consistency hardly thicker than that of water and the second only a little less thin.

When these are dry, brush or rub the prepared paste well into the work over the whole of the surface, leave for a short time and then, well before it hardens, rub across the grain with a clean coarse cloth so as to remove as much of the paste as possible, leaving the grain cavities filled. Allow the work to harden for at leastsuede shoe brush with wire bristles twelve hours and then seal with a further coat of spirit varnish, this time of normal consistency.
Instead of white, if desired, a coloured effect can be procured by substituting for the traditional paste a flat paint or distemper of any required tint.
This is treated in the same way as described above. Alternatively, gold, silver, bronze, or other metallic powder, bound with gold size or mixing varnish, can be employed to give attractive effects.

Care must be taken to rub off before the coating has taken on too hard a set and it may be necessary, after it has hardened, to clean up by rubbing lightly with fine- grade sandpaper on a block or pad. Dust off and seal as indicated above.

As a general rule, oak treated in this way is finished with wax polish ora tin of proprietary liming wax flat or egg-shell flat varnish; if either of the two latter is used, it should be: preceded by a coat of gloss varnish to supply the necessary body.

Should it be desired at any time to remove liming paste from oak treated in this way, the existing finish (i.e. the polish or varnish) must first be stripped.

In all probability the liming paste will come away with it, especially if the surface of the wood is scrubbed with a stiff nail brush. If it does not, this is because the work has been sealed before being finished and the solvent used for removing the polish or varnish has not affected the sealing coat.

If the latter is a spirit varnish, it will yield to methylated spirit, but if it should be a cellulose lacquer (frequently used for this purpose on furniture) it will be necessary to employ cellulose thinners or a good spirituous brand of varnish remover.

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