I’ve owned two Volkswagen Karmann Ghias. The first one was a 1970 with chunky taillights, a good deal of Bondo, rotting rubber, a faded paint job and an incredible dual-port engine.
My second Karmann Ghia (the one I have now) is a 1968. It’s a California car. Rust-free and (thanks to the readers of my “Workbenches” book) completely restored.
With my first Karmann Ghia, I couldn’t drive anywhere without someone stopping me and asking me about the car. Even a nun once asked me if I had dual carbs (I didn’t). With my current 1968 Karmann Ghia, I’ve probably had one person make a comment in the last two years.
What’s the difference? The paint color. My first Ghia was a Porshe red with an all-black interior. My current Ghia is a historically accurate two-tone job: Lotus white on the bottom and black on the top.
There is something about the color red that makes us crazy. When I was in graduate school I took every film class I could get into and still graduate as a journalist. And I took complementary classes in color theory (“Hmm, theoretically that leaf is green.”)
I don’t think color theory is bunk. Warm colors (yellow, red and orange) are stimulating. Cool colors (blues and greens) are calming.
This is important to remember when finishing furniture. People don’t want their furniture to calm them. How much blue aniline dye do you think gets sold every year? People want their furniture to stimulate them.
Woodworker Warren May explained it to me better than anyone else. He makes a lot of furniture out of black cherry, a native hardwood here in Kentucky. Every year he makes a number of Kentucky-style pieces on spec and puts them in his showroom in Berea, Ky., where he also sells a twanging fleet of dulcimers.
May’s showroom is awash in windows and natural light. But he knows that when he first builds a spec piece in cherry it’s not likely to sell. However, once the piece has spent a few months in his showroom soaking up UV rays, the cherry catches fire and someone gets a love connection with a sideboard or a serpentine table. He’s watched this happen year after year.
From the day May explained it, I wanted to find a way to accelerate the aging of cherry to create the effect as soon as possible. After looking into it, the magazine’s staff found that we weren’t alone. There was a lot of advice out there on how to age cherry, from a bath of lye to potassium dichromate to dying shellac.
I favor approaches that use the fewest number of chemicals that can turn my eye sockets into places to keep my pencils, so the first two options were out. The dyed shellac worked, and I’ve used that on a number of occasions.
But the best approach we found was to apply a coat of boiled linseed oil and let the project sit in the sun for a day. (Small projects can be treated in a tanning bed. We tried this and got some strange looks.) The cherry quickly reacts to the oxygen and ultraviolet light to darken. Then you can add a topcoat finish and be done with it.
Of course, I’m kinda weird because I like green-colored furniture. Some of my favorite Arts & Crafts pieces from the Byrdcliffe colony and Gustav Stickley are green. What gives? Well the theory is that we evolved in the jungle and so we can see more shades of green than any other. (Anyone who wants to test this theory is welcome to come to the beer garden at Mecklenburg Gardens in Cincinnati and dispute me. The 100-year-old vine-wrapped patio will convince you I’m right.)
This shouldn’t surprise you too much. I’m the guy who sold the red, attention-getting car for something that allows me to be an anonymous, green-loving simian.
— Christopher Schwarz