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Thread: What causes the patina on 19th century workbenches?

  1. #1

    What causes the patina on 19th century workbenches?

    "Long time listener, first time poster."

    I LOVE the orangey brown patina with its satin sheen on 100+ year old workbenches, wooden planes, etc. While I'm not necessarily looking to replicate that on my Roubo workbench right now, I'd like to see it looking closer to that if I live, say, another 50 years

    What elements contribute to that patina? Aging alone? Any specific 19th century finishing techniques or concotions I could try?

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    I believe it is the finish turning yellow due to age and exposure to light. I doubt it can be replicated easily.

  3. #3
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    It's a combination of aging things like UV and oxidation. There may have also been an oil and/or wax applied from time to time and those things also change over time. Lastly, the wood species also influences what the ultimate aged color will be under all of that other cause/effect. For a serious workbench, however, reconditioning the top from time to time is going to expose bare wood...nature of the beast.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Lee Schierer View Post
    I believe it is the finish turning yellow due to age and exposure to light. I doubt it can be replicated easily.
    I figured that was the case; I know I'll have to wait quite a while to see it looking like that. In considering how I'll finish my workbench, I'm inclined to use something like BLO rather than say, tung oil, specifically because it's more likely to yellow and darken over time (as well as other practical reasons, and because I expect to gouge the benchtop, nick it, dent it, bleed on it...). So I'm curious if every finish can be expected to darken and yellow like that, if applied repeatedly over a lifetime and given enough time and exposure to light? Or were there some popular 19th century workbench finishes that used a particular oil or some such because of its cheapness and availability, that darkened and yellowed more than others from the same period?

  5. #5
    Jim - that's a good point. I suppose I can't expect the surface of a benchtop to age with the rest of the bench.

    I realize this is a fairly inane question, too. It's more a question of how to prepare my wooden workshop pieces to look great in a few decades for when they're being sold at my estate sale, haha! I'm a geek for tool history too, I just don't know much about historical finishing, so this is me getting my feet wet.

  6. #6
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    If you're doing a Roubo bench, most folks do them with pine/fir so the long-term "patina" characteristics are going to be different than something made of beech or maple. Honestly...just use the bench and forget about your estate sale.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  7. #7
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    The Blood, Sweat and Tears from the graft of 100 years.
    Last edited by Mark Hennebury; 01-11-2019 at 9:09 PM. Reason: more poetic

  8. #8
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    I doubt you'll find a universal answer as to what finish was used on workbenches a couple hundred years ago. I suspect no finish was the norm. Those guys weren't hobbiests; their workbench was just another tool that got used and abused in order to make enough money to put food on the table. If some of them did put a finish on their bench I'm sure it was cheap and readily available.

    If you want to put a finish on your bench I suggest you consider what effect it will have on you using the bench. For example, wax is slippery but keeps glue from sticking. Any consideration for what someone might think who's looking at your bench at an estate sale wouldn't register one moment of my limited brain power. With luck, you'll still be working wood 50 years from now and your bench will have the aged look you covet. Of course you'll look pretty aged then too.

    John

  9. #9
    I appreciate the tongue-in-cheek comments; like I said, it's a pretty inane question, and I realize that more clearly the longer this thread gets haha . My "Roubo" (the quotes are necessary because it's only loosely based on his descriptions) is actually almost done, mostly hand tooled. It already has some nicks, dings, dents, and a little planing tearout that I won't be bothering to fix. So I was planning initially to use a few coats of BLO/mineral spirits for the whole thing simply because it's utilitarian and I can get to work sooner, but I got to thinking that there might be a more utilitarian and attractively antique-y way to finish it, but it may be a moot point for the bench.

  10. #10
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    For what it's worth, I finished my bench with a couple of coats of Danish Oil followed by a coat of paste wax. The cherry base looks awesome. I repeat that on the top when I re-flatten it every 5 - 10 years, and rewax the base at the same time.

    John

  11. #11
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    Old finishes can be replicated. What is required is to take the time to look at a similar finish, work out which colours and textures are at which level within the layers of coating and devise a system that replicates this. As Lee rightly pointed out, this is not simple but it can be done. If customers want this, the price rises dramatically. Your best option is to oil it and use it a lot. It will develop its own character. Cheers

  12. #12
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    I just use BLO on my bench top after I "recondition" it from time to time. The oil does cure and provides "reasonable" glue release properties.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joel Daniels View Post
    "Long time listener, first time poster."

    I LOVE the orangey brown patina with its satin sheen on 100+ year old workbenches, wooden planes, etc. While I'm not necessarily looking to replicate that on my Roubo workbench right now, I'd like to see it looking closer to that if I live, say, another 50 years

    What elements contribute to that patina? Aging alone? Any specific 19th century finishing techniques or concotions I could try?

    Thanks!
    Blood should do the trick.
    Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.

  14. #14
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    Dirt, oil, wax and elbow grease. Apply liberally, buff and wait.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Becker View Post
    I just use BLO on my bench top after I "recondition" it from time to time. The oil does cure and provides "reasonable" glue release properties.
    I've done the same through three bench versions and been very happy. I paste wax the top every year or so and glue does pop off.
    She said “How many woodworking tools do you need?”
    I said “Why? Do you know someone who is selling some?”


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