Have ever you walked up to a beautifully aged antique door that is still in its original stained finish and as you look closer you notice cracking and an interesting texture of what seems like little pools or islands of stain? This finish is called “alligatored”, “alligator stain”, “cracking” or “craze” and can still be found on antique doors and furniture.
I recently came upon a lovely set of parlor doors that have this type of alligator finish but it’s not throughout the door and it’s more prominent on one side. Because of these clues it can be determined as to which side of the door received more light or which side closed off a room with poor insulation. The reason for alligatored wood is due to excessive sunlight or changes in temperature. In the case of the parlor doors I found, one could assume that they were the doors that separated a nice bright sunny room with single pane windows that allowed great temperature fluctuations in the Winters and Summers of the Midwest. Alligatored finishes can be found in all regions of the US, not just the Midwest.
Although alligator and craze finish is basically the same thing, an alligator finish has small lines intersecting in rough patterns and a craze finish has erratic lines running everywhere. The raised bumps or little islands are from rosin, a pitch type material left over from the distillation of turpentine. As it deteriorates over time it separates and faintly represents an alligator hide. A google search can help provide more information about how to recreate this look or how to highlight the alligatored finish with cleaning agents and sealer.
In my opinion it’s a “finish” of honor to any antique door to have survived the years and weather fluctuations to be called “alligatored”.
Written by Angela Reed, co-owner of Antiquities Storehouse and 30+ year resident of Prescott, AZ. Angela along with her team in the Midwest collect Architectural Salvage and Antique doors and then transport them across the country to Arizona. An adventure she enjoys with her husband and two kids.