Wood finish recommendations for a wood clad FLW House

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pharding
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Wood finish recommendations for a wood clad FLW House

Post by pharding »

We are working on the restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright's 1940 Lloyd Lewis House. The house is 60% clad in Cypress siding. Originally the exterior wood had a spar varnish finish on the siding. The grain and tones of the the original siding would have been varied and quite beautiful. As we look at finish options, I would like to maintain that beautiful natural looking variation in the siding. I do not want something that looks paint like. The siding will be chemically stripped.

The trade offs with exterior finish systems is that more pigment in the wood finish system equals more paint like quality equals less maintenance. In my opinion on brick veneer FLW Houses Sikkens Cetol works great because the finish is used small areas like doors and windows. My concern is that with an expanse of stained wood siding the overall effect will be very uniform and paint like. Right now the leading candidates for testing are Cabot's Semi-Transparent Stain and Australian Timber Oil. Does anyone here have experience with Australian Timber Oil? Are there other finish systems that I should consider?
Paul Harding FAIA Restoration Architect for FLW's 1901 E. Arthur Davenport House, 1941 Lloyd Lewis House, 1952 Glore House | www.harding.com | LinkedIn

DRN
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Post by DRN »

Laurie Virr may have experience with timber oil...I'll ask him.

The Tarantino's did extensive work with transparent wood finishes at the Bachman Wilson house, the Richardson house, and their completion of the unbuilt portion of the Christie House. See their website:

http://www.tarantinostudio.com/

On the Resources section of the new and improved SaveWright website, under Wright Building Owners, is an article by Pamela Kirschner about her efforts with the Pope house cypress siding and sash.

https://www.savewright.org/resources/

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Wright's choice of unfinished exterior wood cladding leaves owners with a terrible choice: either let the wood weather naturally until it deteriorates to an unacceptable state, or begin applying one sort of preparation or another, leading inevitably to a maintenance regimen from which there is no escape. Boat owners will sympathize; others can't understand why the hapless owner doesn't simply paint, a solution which permits considerably longer intervals between re-coatings. Sadly, a painted Usonian is simply unacceptable.

I passed a townhouse today which was new less than ten years ago. Its street facade was partially clad with clear-finished boarding -- a handsome sight for the first couple of years. A second coating of clear finish appeared in year three or four; now the entire front is painted. Clear-finished wood cladding is a real luxury, apparently . . .

I wonder if unfinished mahogany is capable of looking good indefinitely. Are there any Usonians with mahogany exteriors ?

SDR

DRN
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Post by DRN »

The Dudley Spencer house has mahogany door and window sash, vertical mullions, sills, and upper fascia board....other high-end Usonians of the mid-'50's probably are similarly built. The exterior wood at Spencer was varnished every few years by Mr. Spencer until in his last years, when the wood was coated with opaque stain by his caregivers.

I've seen mahogany benches left unfinished weather....it goes grey and looks much like teak, but it seems to warp and check more readily.

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Contact T. C. Boyle, owner of the Stewart House in Montecito. His house, while in possession of its second owner, had become black with creosote. The third owner stripped the exterior and refinished it back in the 80s. It seems to be quite handsome from photographs. Bpyle may have come up with a doable routine. Although his house is entirely of redwood, so the same method may not apply for cypress.

dtc
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Post by dtc »

Paul,

See Affleck house in Bloomfield Hills Michigan (1940).
It is an all wood exterior with Sikkens, Cetol 1 & 23, very beauitful. They were restoring all the exterior wood in I believe 2000. Visited a couple times since then...It looks great.
Dobkins originally used spar varnish for years till he was tired of bringing in crews to scrape and sand failed varnish. He later used an opaque stain which
acted as a paint.
When I phyiscally removed the stain I found areas of the spar varnish that the crews did not attempt to remove. A word of caution about chemical removal,
does the LLoyd Lewis home use well water? One must be very careful with alkaline chemicals entering the ground water and changing the ph of the surface of the wood and water.

pharding
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Post by pharding »

I appreciate everyone's comments and input. Today we found further evidence of original spar varnish on the exterior of the Lloyd Lewis House. The interior wood is finished with shellac over the Cypress siding and trim. The finishes are quite beautiful. What most people do not understand is that with any clear finish, the wood gradually darkens as it moves toward a darker state. There have been some projects in my career that I have found endlessly fascinating and this is one.

Other very interesting projects that we are doing at present are a major synagogue expansion project and an accessory building for FLW's 1901 Davenport House. Its is vaguely like the garage in FLW's "Small House with Lot's of Room in It" project published in the Ladies Home Journal in June 1901.
Last edited by pharding on Sat Apr 22, 2017 6:41 am, edited 1 time in total.
Paul Harding FAIA Restoration Architect for FLW's 1901 E. Arthur Davenport House, 1941 Lloyd Lewis House, 1952 Glore House | www.harding.com | LinkedIn

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Almost black ? Shellacked cypress, indoors ? How interesting.

Pine and fir, and materials derived from them like particle board, take on the color of amber or honey when exposed to sunlight and daylight, indoors, whether clear lacquered (brushed or sprayed) or unfinished -- in my own experience. The color
reached its maximum within ten years, and remains the same twenty and thirty years on.

Yukio Futagawa photos of Lewis, published in the mid-'eighties:



Image


Image


Image


Image

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Fifty years ago I had a part-time job, cleaning this cute little church twice a week. Its trim and furnishings were unpainted until 1967, when the varnish on the pews began to be sticky in all but the driest weather. White paint on everything, and new light-colored carpeting, spruced it up nicely -- not my idea.

https://tinyurl.com/mpyonze

It may be that some finishes darken because they absorb whatever air-borne (or other) soils are present, becoming part of the finish coat.

SDR

pharding
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Post by pharding »

My point to all of this is that wood color and finish color is not a static attribute, and it can take decades to settle down. Woods darken through oxidation and UV exposure. Some woods are more photosensitive than others. Wood finishes break down when exposed to the elements, for example clear exterior finishes like spar varnish. Softer wood finishes like shellac are dulled when dust and pollutants become embedded in the finish over time. On FLW houses, I personally believe that some of the houses that were refinished with a darker stain by well meaning homeowners originally had a lighter, more amber, golden clear coloration.
Paul Harding FAIA Restoration Architect for FLW's 1901 E. Arthur Davenport House, 1941 Lloyd Lewis House, 1952 Glore House | www.harding.com | LinkedIn

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Interesting photo of Lewis. I had never noticed the east terminus of the ceiling grill with the lights, how the slats respond to the changing direction of the ceiling boards. Obvious solution, of course.

When we moved into our new home, old house, in 1944, all the varnished wood trim was as black as pitch. It wasn't a bright interior with UV penetrating into it, but the wood had darkened remarkably in what was then a 30-year-old house.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

I guess that darkening is all due to the finish -- on fir, at least. I just inspected various Doug-fir surfaces in my room; it turns out I did not apply Deft lacquer to the side of a vertical-grain 2x3 that faces the west-facing windows, at a distance of about 20". That face has not darkened at all in twenty years, while the surfaces which are lacquered, including the opposite face of that stick, are amber.

I see no reason for finishing untouchable wood surfaces -- a ceiling, for instance. If the boards are planed smooth -- not with an abrasive planer, but with the knives of a rotary planer -- the surface would be very smooth and thus least likely to absorb dirt or to roughen over time. I suspect it is this sort of surface which Jack Hillmer reported being so entranced by, early in his career, on pieces of redwood, and which encouraged him to leave wood surfaces unfinished in his work.

The ceiling boards seen in Futagawa's Lewis photos seem (on the printed page) to have been smoothly planed. In the corridor photo, finish on the door, on the board with contains the knob but not immediately adjacent to that knob, appears to have bubbled.

(Futagawa's photos are usually well-presented in print. This corridor photo, interestingly, was rotated about 1 1/2º clockwise, so that the door opening at right would appear plumb -- making the plumb panel edge at the end of the corridor lean to the right, along with the horizon line at the center of the photo. Amusing.)

SDR

SDR
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Post by SDR »


CITYTYPE
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Post by CITYTYPE »

Spring 2017 issue of PRESERVATION (mag of National Trust for Historic Preservation) has the "recipe" that was used recently for the Pope-Leighey House.

The plans for the Weltzheimer House in Oberlin, OH, have this notation as the finish for its redwood interior: "1/2 colorless shellac mixed with 1/2 alcohol, then sand down. Repeat 2 times. Rub in beeswax and polish. Repeat 2-3 times." !!!

SDR
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Post by SDR »

I like that; it would have the effect of sealing the wood with soaked-in shellac, a hard substance, followed by dressing with a more fluid substance which would fill remaining pores and, with buffing, become a dirt-resisting topcoat.

My Danish woodworking master, Tage Frid, brought us another recipe, again for interior woodwork (i.e., furniture). In this case, oil is made to penetrate the wood; then, with a thicker coat, a surface is built up and polished:


Linseed oil, which is made from the seed of
the flax plant, is one of the oldest finishing
materials, and for many years was the most
commonly used. But even after lengthy dry-
ing, linseed oil never hardens through com-
pletely and, when used by itself, is not a
durable finish. For many years I have used a
three-step linseed-oil finish that is much
more durable than plain linseed. Allow 24
hours of drying time between each coat.

For the first coat, mix half pure raw linseed
oil and half pure turpentine. Put on a heavy
coat with a rag and allow it to soak into the
wood. (In between uses, I keep the rag in a
closed container with the linseed oil.)

The next day apply the second coat, using
pure boiled linseed oil. Leave it on for two to
three hours, then sand the surface with
some worn, fine sandpaper and wipe it clean.

On the third day apply the last coat. Mix half
boiled linseed oil and half japan drier. When
applying the finish, don't cover too large an
area at one time. For example, if finishing a
cabinet, first put the oil on one side, wait
about ten minutes, and apply it to the other
side. After ten minutes more, do the top. The
reason for allowing the time between is that
after a while the finish gets tacky — some-
times after twenty minutes and sometimes
after five hours, depending on the drying
conditions. When the finish gets tacky, you
have to work fast, because it will dry sud-
denly. If you haven't allowed the ten minutes
between areas, the finish on the last area will
dry before you have a chance to wipe it off.

When the finish gets tacky, use a piece of
burlap to rub the oil into the pores, going
across the grain. Then wipe the extra oil off
with a clean rag.

To prevent spontaneous combustion, put
used burlap and rags in an airtight container
or burn them.

On the fourth day, steel wool the surface and
wipe it clean with a rag. For a shinier surface,
sprinkle on some rottenstone and polish
with a piece of leather, going with the grain.
Rottenstone is one of the finest natural abra-
sives for polishing surfaces.


© 1979 by the Taunton Press, Inc

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