The sea-smoothed patina, the cool grey-white tones, that unmistakable weathered (yet never “old”) look—it’s no wonder so many homeowners are searching for ways to add a driftwood motif to their home’s wood surfaces and furniture.
Luckily, to achieve a driftwood effect on your wooden pieces at home, you don’t have to wait for the years it takes naturally. Instead, you can use wood lye to speed up the hands of time. By taking the proper precautions and following this guide, you can achieve a beautiful driftwood effect that any seasider would endorse.
Using Wood Lye: A Scandinavian TraditionBefore using wood lye, you may wonder, “Where does treating wood with wood lye originate?” For that, we can thank its Scandinavian roots.
When it comes to Scandinavian decor style, many people picture diffused light reminiscent of candles, comfortable furnishings, and white or light-colored wood. There’s even a Danish word—hygge—which loosely translates to signify a warm atmosphere in cozy, familiar surroundings.
Hygge is an important part of Danish culture and is centered around comfy interiors that inform and inspire “the Scandinavian look.” Often imitated, the beloved Scandinavian style of interior design makes ample use of woods like silver fir, Norway Spruce, and birch native to Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.
Of course, regular cleaning is crucial to keeping hardwood floors and fixtures at their best, but these woods, like all light-colored lumber, are prone to yellowing. The Danes utilize a special prevention method to keep the color of their interior wood looking bright and refreshing. It’s this secret—the treatment of lighter woods with wood lye—that design professionals and advanced DIY-ers can turn to when working with lumber.
How Does Wood Lye Work?Now, we understand it as an effective method, but how exactly does wood lye work?
While traditional paints and primers simply add a layer of color to the outer portion of the wooden surface, wood lye actually penetrates the wood’s pores. There, it reacts inside the wood, minimizing yellowing and lightening over time.
Some wood lyes are highly corrosive, making them both dangerous to work with and destructive to surfaces like wood flooring or furniture.
Choose a gentle, non-corrosive lye such as WOCA Wood Lye. It can be used to achieve a weathered, driftwood-like appearance and is compatible with all wood species.
Let’s look at how to use it safely.
How Do You Safely Use Wood Lye to Create a Driftwood Effect?
Safety comes first. Be sure to read all manufacturer directions and warnings before use to ensure the best possible result.
- To start, you’ll need to prepare and clean your surface. Sand away any existing finish using 100-120 grit paper and fill in any gaps or holes.
- Use a solution such as WOCA Intensive Wood Cleaner to get rid of remaining dirt, oils, or sanding residue and open the grain before treatment.
- Let the surface dry completely.
- Put on suitable protective clothing, gloves, and goggles before applying any products.
- Choose a small portion of the surface with low visibility and apply Wood Lye Tester to the area as a test. This will help you ensure you’re getting the desired effect without applying it to the entire surface.
- When you’re ready to treat the rest of the wood, use a standard nylon-bristle brush or applicator pad to apply the wood lye evenly with the grain. Cover the surfaces to be treated completely—any areas missed may be more prone to yellowing over time and require sanding or more frequent reapplication of wood lye.
- Let the wood lye dry overnight, or for approximately 8 hours around 68℉.
- After the surface is completely dry, apply a coat of oil to protect the wood, bring out the grain, and give your surface a more lustrous finish.