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Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive 6/3/99

Time in a bottle:
A review of Old Growth Aging and Staining Solutions for Wood

First Review
by Eric Smith

Old Growth is a relatively new product and one that I think many people will find attractive. I was a bit skeptical when I first received the product and promo. " How can two water looking substances combine to produce rich even colors in Wood?" I asked myself. So I did something I often fail to do, I sat down and read the directions. These were plentiful and helpful. The solution is comprised of two parts: the Activator and the Catalyst. These two should never meet directly, only when the activator has been applied and dried can the Catalyst be applied. I must admit I was a little confused as activator and catalyst are relatively of the same meaning in my book, however reading those directions saved me from myself and I continued.

I received two colors: golden and deep brown. I tested them both on numerous samples and was amazed at the difference of color that could be achieved. By experimenting and careful record keeping one could use this product with extreme versatility. One suggestion was to dilute the solutions for different hues, and this too worked well. The only finished project that I used it on was a recently completed marking gauge made out of Mountain Ash, and Merbau. I used the deep brown and the tool now looks a well-preserved 70 or 80 instead of new.

The other main benefit of this product was how inoffensive it is. Most stains I have used smell and/or are oily. These products, while not being harmless (protective clothing gloves and eye wear recommended), are extremely simple and not unpleasant to use. So if you are looking for some thing a bit different I would highly recommend trying Old Growth. Even if you end up not liking it, I can't see how any one would find it uninteresting!!

Eric Smith
Professional Woodworker

Second Review by Michael Tulloch

After weeks of anxiously watching the mailbox for my trial samples of the Old Growth finish system, I finally got my chance to dig in and try this new product. First, I must say that although I am a professional woodworker, I am a reluctant wood finisher. Fast and easy is what I buy...and it has to please my high-end customers as well. Everything else gets sent out to the "painters".

The samples came with excellent documentation. No guess work on getting up to speed, you can start seeing results within 30 minutes of opening the box. Low-toxicity....I like that, but I recommend using rubber gloves anyway. This is an amazing product; fast acting with dramatic results. I primarily work lately with Ash and Mahogany so these are the woods I used for trial. The directions state that "this product is not for the faint of heart or the novice"which refers to the fact that although it's easy to use, there is a fair amount of experimentation involved to achieve specific results.

I liked the results I got on a Mahogany Windsor chair leg...right out of the bottle. A pleasing warm look with no experimentation. Very good for me. But the potential of this finish goes way beyond this, as it was designed to do. You can layer this product on to get different degrees of dark/light, helpful for matching existing work. This could be valuable to me as a carpenter on-site.You can also use it in conjunction with other stains as well for multi part finishes...this really opens up the possibilities for the end result.

I received the Aged Cherry and the Golden versions of this finish. At this writing my favorite of the lot is the Aged Cherry on Mahogany. I tried the Aged Cherry on some quarter sawn Oak also and with a Watco oil top coat. I came within pleasing distance of the finish on the original Stickly chair that we have.

One must be careful starting out to apply sparingly to get a "feel" for the potency of this substance. Very easy to go too dark. Here's where the experimentation comes in. But this can be enjoyable if you're into such things. I think a professional finisher (I know a few) would definitely want to add this product to his or her bag of tricks. At the end of it all, I must say that I wanted to like this stuff before even trying it.....I wasn't disappointed and must say that in my experience the product is everything the inventor says it is. Lots of potential here in the right hands. I plan to keep working with it.

Michael Tulloch
Chelsea VT.

Third Review by Jay Towles

I used Old Growth Honey Brown on a new 24" x 80" interior pine door. The door itself was not inexpensive, but it is not a quality door by any means. The door is fabricated from glued up small pieces of finger joint glued wood, sheathed with a thin veneer of pine.

The preparation process was simple. I finish sanded the door, then I misted it with water to raise any grain that wanted to be raised, and sanded it again. I was ready to apply this magic potion and marvel at the dramatic results.

I poured part A, which was odorless and looked like rusty water, into a plastic container and brushed it on, saturating the wood. Any product that puddled was spread onto unsaturated areas. I used the painter's technique of working a "wet edge," and kept the brush moving. When I finished the first side of the door, I realized there would not be enough part A to complete the second side. The directions stated that part A could be diluted, so I cut it 50/50 with water and finished the job. When part A had dried, the grain of the wood was slightly highlighted, almost appearing to be damp.

Now for the exciting part, applying part B, an odorless, thin clear fluid. I used a new container and brush and went to work, expecting to see this bright new pine door blossom into a warm honey brown, aged door of great maturity and experience, with some touches of gray here and there. Well, the dark patterns in the grain were darkened a bit more than part A, and many areas of the door had indeed developed a gray tint. Maybe, I thought, it has to dry for the full change of color to take effect.

I left the shop so the door could dry in peace and quiet, without me standing over it fretting about it still looking pretty much like a new pine door. I waited an appropriate length of time, and when I returned, the door still looked the same.

Had I expected too much of this product, had I wanted it to do something it couldn't do? I reread all the paperwork that came with the samples. For the first time I really noticed words and phrases such as "a hint of" and "subtle" and "patina." Patina, what is a patina, really. The dictionary was no help, defining patina as that green crusty stuff on metal. My wife nailed it on the head when she defined it as "that beautiful time worn glow from something well used and cared for."

Ok. It did have an "aged darkened" look, but it did not match the doors in the rest of the house. So, I went to the local building material store and picked up a regular old fashioned everyday stain product. Back in the shop, I began to wipe the stain on, and that is when I began to appreciate the Old Growth Honey Brown. The lights and darks of the grain stood out nicely. The "patina" was there and doing a fine job. The stain I picked out was a pretty close match to the 20 year old doors in the rest of the house. But the Old Growth really did a noticeable job of making this new door unnoticeable amongst the older doors. There was no difference that I could see between the side of the door that got part A full strength and the side that got a 50/50 mix of part A and water.

I did not follow the instructions and wear eye protection and gloves. Fortunately, I did not get any in my eyes. I did experience a burning sensation when part B contacted bare skin, and next time, I will wear rubber gloves and eye protection.

Do not expect this product to end all of your finishing/refinishing problems. Instead, use it to enhance the techniques and processes that you are already familiar with. Whenever possible, test it on a scrap piece of wood first. And remember those "a hint of" and "subtle" and "patina" words.

Jay Towles
Amateur Woodworker

Editor's Note: Inquiries about obtaining Old Growth can be directed here.

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