Finish Line: Try a bleached finish
Synopsis: You can remove the color from wood without taking away its personality. Michael Robbins shows how on a white oak cabinet, where bleached panels contrast nicely with the natural carcase and still allow the oak’s ray fleck to shimmer through. Robbins uses a two-part bleach finish, and in this article he demonstrates how to adjust the color to exactly what you want, neutralize it, and enhance it with a finish that will keep it white.
With my work I often avoid the warmth of oiled oak, maple, or ash and instead apply a bleaching process that effectively takes the color out of the wood. It may sound like heresy, but done properly, a bleached finish can provide a pleasant contrast and a new context to the wood. The bleaching process allows a wide range of control. Depending on the extent of application, you can achieve results ranging from a subtly muted color to a brilliant white.
I’ll show you my method using one of my cabinets. For this example, I am using quartersawn white oak fronts. This wood bleaches out to an almost paper white, while still allowing the silver ray fleck to shine through. These fronts will be paired with a natural oiled white oak carcase, creating a nice contrast between the two palettes.
Prep the surfaces and mix the solution
Before bleaching, prepare the wood by sanding up through the grits to 220. Then wet the wood to raise the grain, and sand it with 220-grit paper. Now mix and apply the bleach. I do this with the work faceup and on stickers, using a two-part bleach product made by Daly’s Wood Finishes in Seattle. I order mine directly from Daly’s in gallon containers, but you can find pintsize containers on Amazon.