First photo - I removed the hood former to reveal two distinct colors on the 1911 firewall. It is not easily visible in the image, but the color of the finish right under the 1/2 inch, or so, covered by the hood former is a more pure red color than the deeper red/mahogany evident in the engine compartment. I have no confidence that the lighter color surrounding the exterior of the hood represents an original finish. If the picture is clear enough, you can see many scratch marks that follow around the hood former, looking like someone had attempted some shadetree scraping/sanding or refinishing in that area.
The second photo shows the inside of the firewall above and below the floorboards. I took a peek at the finish under the steering column flange without removing the entire steering column, and it showed a quite vivid red with a gloss coat, but a shade or two lighter than the area visible below the floor boards.
I have done some cursory research on pigments and dyes available currently and what might have been used back then. Pigments are more colorfast, because the minute pigment particles are larger than the wavelength of visible light, they reflect light. Dyes are molecular sized, solvent, and penetrate wood. They impart a more uniform coloration to closed-grained woods like cherry, but are much less lightfast. Aniline dyes were available back then, a by product of coal tar, and the firewall could have received an initial wash with something like that prior to the varnish topcoat, but it is not clear that anyone knows for sure.
I would like to know from anyone that has observed original finishes what you think about the finish(es) on this firewall, ...and anything else you might see.
Ward Sherwood, SE Arizona
given the age and proximity to the engine i wonder if heat would also have an effect on the color over time.
Ward: Good to see you are doing something with your '11! You can't work on Model A's all the time! I hope that carburetor adjusting rod I sold to you is working out. It's amazing to see an original firewall in as good a condition as yours. The dark cherry stain is definitely authentic. You may want to ask John Regan about the stain. He has probably done more research on firewalls that anyone alive.
Here is a picture of an original unrefinished 1914 firewall. Color is very close to yours Ward.
Wow, after seeing pictures of the 14 firewall, perhaps the exterior area on mine - outside of the hood has not been tampered with. Mine does have a lot of scratch marks that follow the profile around the hood, and I just assumed someone had attempted a refinish. Perhaps they are simply scratch marks. The similarity of color contrast between the inside and outside of these two firewall examples is very interesting to me.
Larry, I quit my job (but I did take the pension!), so I have some time to start playing with the '11.
Ward, SE Arizona
Ward, I have an original 1913 firewall with much of the original finish on it- it looks much like Royce's.I have done alot of wood finishing in my days and after looking at the firewall closely this is what I think.I think the firewalls were sprayed with a red color,perhaps a dye,and then coated with shellac.I think that by spraying the firewalls the factory was able to put a nice even color on the wood and do it quickly.My firewall shows evidence of this even on the edges, which are also colored and look like what you would expect if they were sprayed. The original finish on my firewall was easy to remove using denatured alcohol,and this is a good test for a shellac finish.
Ray, you are likely correct, after reading the many comments that have been made. I initially thought that Ford would not have taken the extra step to stain the firewalls since they were knocking them out as fast as possible. And, cherry looks really good without any stain once topcoated. But the red hue is just too distinct and different in comparison to other aged cherry furniture pieces I have seen. The possibility of a red dye stain, perhaps an aniline dye, is strong as it was available in that era and it provides uniform coloration. A dye stain is also supported by the examples shown. Dye stains are not lightfast, and would fade to the cherry and amber tones seen around the exterior of these pieces. Engine heat may also be in the mix somehow.
By the way, aniline is no longer included in modern dyes used in the woodworking industry (according to a wood finishing book published by the Taunton Press) because it can be toxic and a known carcinogen. I appreciate all the good information, thanks
I went through my files and finally found the photo I was looking for. Sent to me by an early-coil customer, it shows his own car and it is close to what I believe to be the original "look." It may not be an exact match but the overall appearance is closer to what we've been viewing. The coilbox is an original 1912 Kingston "5-coil" (master vibrator and slaves). The photo is not identified, and it was not with any correspondence, so maybe the sender will "speak up". The scan makes the red look darker than it appears in the photo. It really is a "cherry red" color.
i believe that the picture is that of the dasboard and coilbox of our 1912 Model T Ford Delivery Car. It was sent to R. V. when he rebuilt a spare master coil for us. The stain used is a Cherry water stain. It matches very closely to an origingal dash that we have. I like to use water stains as they tend to penatrate more deeply and hold their color better. The stain is available from Woodworkers Supply at woodworker.com It's available in four shades, Not sure which one I chose. The supply lasts a long time
Thanks Bill; neither you nor I identified the picture ON the picture. I can now do so. Thanks for sending it.
You may want to ask John Regan about the firewall and stain. He has probably done more research on firewalls that anyone alive.
Ron the Coilman