Finding a wood with a specific look in Seattle
April 29, 2015 9:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm so lost I'm having summing up the question here. But: I have a sample of wood and I want to show it to someone, and have them make me something that looks like it, in a specific size. Who would this be?

Backstory: my husband and I are doing a kitchen remodel and want a wood with a particular look for part of a butcher block counter. It's mostly a "decorative" and not superfunctional butcher block. We found a wood we really liked (reclaimed Douglas fir with a finish called "iron and vinegar"), but the distributor has been really flaky and weird about the whole process of ordering it and we're at the point of being done with them. Plus, we got in touch with the people who actually produce the wood, and they shared some information about the finish that made us realize that this specific wood isn't going to be a great fit for us.

We have a small sample of the wood; we like the color (it has a grayish undertone that works well with the rest of the colors in the kitchen and upstairs). We want to just take this wood to a person, and be like, "Hello, what looks like this and is hard and can be easily retouched? Okay, can you make us something this size?" We are not specifically looking for Douglas fir.

Who is the person we need to talk to? All the big wood distributors aren't very helpful, so we figure this is a smaller shop or individual? We are willing to do this at multiple places as well (e.g., get the wood from one place, and have it finished from another). I am hoping to get specific suggestions of places in Seattle that can help us.
posted by Ideal Impulse to Home & Garden (4 answers total)
The Butcher Block Co is in Seattle. They may have some ideas.
posted by Thella at 9:56 PM on April 29, 2015

There's a shop called Woodcraft down in Georgetown on S Corson that sells woodworking supplies; they may have an idea.

I would also check out some of the hardwood suppliers in town, like Crosscut Hardwood in SoDo/Industrial District (S First Ave), or Infinite Hardwood (6th Ave S in SoDo, near S Holgate). Both places are definitely geared toward the flooring market, but hardwood is hardwood.

Googling "iron and vinegar" wood stain was interesting-- it's basically a homemade wood stain made from a mixture of vinegar and steel wool which results in a stain called iron acetate (aka ferric acetate). It's incredibly complicated to make: add steel wool to vinegar, close the jar, and wait a few hours; that's it. The resulting color varies with the time and chemistry, so mimicking a particular color could be tricky, but once you find something you like, you can re-create it over and over with just recipe and time. This video on the process is interesting. Skip to 7:42 to see a demonstration of the same recipe developing over time, but I found the whole video to be informative.

Here's an Instructables page that compares 3 recipes to 7 woods (some soft, some hard).

From what I've read, the result is food safe; the iron in the stain reacts with the tannins in the wood, but neither tannins nor iron are toxic in the kinds of amounts we're talking. That's not an expert opinion; IANYToxicologist, but, well, iron and wood are not harmful things, and I just doubt they can make something chemically harmful together.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:12 PM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm not in Seattle so I can't recommend anyone in particular, but I am a woodworker. Butcher block is surprisingly finicky to make, because flattening and smoothing large slabs requires serious equipment to do efficiently, and because those large slabs can warp badly unless the wood is properly dried and stored before and after manufacturing. The price difference between buying it from a small custom woodworking shop and a company that makes it all the time will be large, and the small-shop route will be riskier too.

Since the effect of this sort of stain depends on a chemical reaction with the wood, changing the species is also going to change the appearance somewhat unpredictably. Several samples will probably have to be made up for you, so that you can choose one. It won't look just like the doug fir, but you can probably find something similar enough to ring the same bell.

'Easily retouchable' is probably not going to happen. Any wood that changes color in reaction to acid and ferrous metal during the staining process is going to change color even more if it ever gets exposed to some things common in kitchens -- vinegar, lemon juice, wine, etc. So, to keep it looking nice it will require a good film finish after the staining, and that film finish will make spot-retouching difficult. Realistically you're going to have to be as gentle with this counter as the wood species requires, and in 15 years if you're still in the house and want to freshen it up, then you'll have it completely stripped, sanded down and refinished.

Honestly in your position my first choice would be to just buy the reclailmed doug fir stuff from the producers you find so annoying, and live with the initial annoyance and moderate delicacy of the material. Unless you're really hard on it or expect it to look polished and perfect forever, it will be fine. Doug fir will dent, but hey, that's just character. Alternately, you could get samples of several wood species available from butcher block mass-producers, whip up a batch of the vinegar stain, and experiment to see if you like the results. It shouldn't be too hard to find someone willing to cut, sand and custom-finish a slab of standard production block if you can tell them what you want, but your current idea that you can simply ask for 'something that looks like this' probably won't fly.
posted by jon1270 at 5:05 AM on April 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Check out Slab Art in Ballard. If they can't figure it out, they can point you in the right direction.
posted by oxisos at 3:42 PM on April 30, 2015

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