Tools & Trades History Society

Notes on Tools

MN 02.01 Ageing wood

How to make new wood look old.

(Coordinator's comment: Anyone with advice on how to make old woodworkers look new, please contact me.)

Ageing Wood

When it is necessary to replace a wooden component, a replacement in new wood can look out of place; in this case it may, for aesthetic reasons, be desirable to "age" the wood.

Ethical issues

However, before renewing a wooden part, a couple of points:

  • If the tool is of low value, and no historic interest, then fine.
  • However, if it is of high value/historic interest, consider carefully whether to renew the part. It may look better, but will deter collectors looking for originality. At the least, retain the old part for historical record in case a new owner would like to refit it.
  • Again, for tools of value/historic interest, there is an ethical issue regarding future resale/research. One should avoid fitting a replacement that is so good that it leads people to think it original. This concern can be addressed by marking the part in an inconspicuous area, where it won't show but will be seen on closer examination.

How to do it

(Coordinator's comment: For H&S reasons, a carefully reasoned discussion with your domestic partner is advisable before engaging in this technique.)

This method came from the elder Ashley Iles, that I first used when I was trying to match new wedges to old planes. It is based on the principle that heat will age wood and that oil based products will darken as they are heated. In essence, it is straightforward. Coat the object you want to age with oil of some sort. Ashley advised really mucky used engine oil with a handful of workshop dirt thrown in, but I prefer to use clean oil. You can use cooking oil if you prefer. Make sure you rub it in well to the surface or all you will get is a thin coat that you might as well paint on.

The next step is to heat the object gently for an extended period. The faster and hotter it is the quicker the darkening, but what we are aiming for is a gentle patina which takes time to develop. In my experience central heating boilers are not hot enough to develop much aging in anything less than six months, so I tend to put bits of wood in the bottom of the oven and leave them there when my wife is cooking. I take them out if there is any really hot baking (say over 200 degrees). You need quite a bit of trial and error to get the right mixture of darkening and tone. I reckon at least two weeks of regular heating to produce anything useful, but you can do it in an afternoon if you toast the wood and keep an eye on it so that it does not char.

The photos below illustrate what can be achieved.

Original wedge new wedge beech background

Top - new wedge as made, finished with linseed oil

Bottom - original wedge

Background - unstained beech

top two wedges after heating

Top - two new wedges after three heatings at 180°C for 20 minutes

Bottom - original wedge

wedges after six heatings w original

Top - two new wedges after six heatings at 180°C for 20 minutes

Bottom - original wedge for comparison

Ageing Wood

Ref No: MN 02.01 Date: 20-08-2014 Author: Bob Evans

Suggestions for improvement are welcomed, please

IMPORTANT: The advice in these notes is provided by members and others. It is given in good faith but neither the contributors nor the Society can endorse or guarantee the accuracy or safety of the information. The society does not recommend or guarantee any individual or organisation named.

Treatment techniques described may not be suitable for items of high or historical value. Users should always test first on a small inconspicuous area; observe safety and health guidelines given by suppliers, and dispose of used materials responsibly. The Society does not endorse or guarantee any proprietary products named (and it recognises that other products may be suitable). If in any doubt, expert advice should be obtained.