Steps to preserve pine cones:
- Obtain some clean pine cones. You can purchase them but collecting them in nature is a lot more fun and saves packaging.
- Clean the cones. Pick off any pine needles or visible debris stuck between the cone layers.
- You can remove sap/pitch with rubbing alcohol on a Q-tip.
- Soak the cones. This will help to eliminate any little critters that may have taken residence in the cone. Use a non-sudsing product (for example, a 1/2 cup of vinegar or ammonia) in a sink full of warm water.
- Soak the cones for about 20 minutes. Swish them around every few minutes. Rinse them thoroughly. You can run them through the dishwasher, too, but don’t use any soap. The cones will close up when wet.
- Place the cones on a towel or newspaper to dry. The drying time can take several hours or even a few days. Let them air dry. (See warnings.) As the cones dry, their layers will re-open.
- Finish the cones with a preserver. There are a couple of methods you can use to put the “preserving” finish on your cones. Whichever you choose, it’s best to do it outdoors.
- Prepare the work area. Cover the work area with a layer of aluminum foil. Use an old window screen or a baker’s cooling rack over the foil to place the cones on while the finish dries. This will help keep the cones from sticking to the work area, and allow air to circulate.
- Begin applying the finish to the bottom of the cone first. After applying the first coat of finish to the bottom, lay the cone on its side, atop the cooling rack and let it dry. Then do the tops and sides of the cone, standing each cone upright to dry.
- Method One: Spray finish. Using a non-yellowing spray varnish (see Tips), follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Lay the cones on their sides and spray the bottoms of the cones with a light, even coat of finish. When the bottom is dry, invert the cone to a “stand up” position. Covering the top and sides of the cones, hold the can at an angle slightly above the cone to ensure you get inside the cone petals. Repeat these steps as many times as you desire, but allow each light coat to thoroughly dry before applying an additional coat.#
- Method Two: This is messy and labor intensive but produces a great finish. Use a marine varnish, available at most larger, reputable hardware stores. Following the manufacturer’s instructions and warnings, apply a light coat of varnish with an inexpensive brush that you can dispose of when your project is complete. Wear disposable gloves; you’re going to get sticky. Hold the cone at the “pointy” end and apply a light, even coat of varnish to the bottom of the cone with the brush. Lay the cone atop the rack and allow the varnish to dry to the touch. (See Tips.) Once the cone bottom has dried enough so you can hold it, (just slightly tacky) apply the varnish to the top and sides of the cone. Angle the brush between the cone petals, too. Set the cone upright on the drying rack to dry.
- Avoid the “cinnamon” scented pine cones. They’ve been treated with chemicals that may react to your finish.
- If you use Method One: Be certain to use spray varnish, and not spray acrylic.
- If you use Method Two: While waiting for marine varnish to dry between coats, clean your brush in mineral spirits, and wash it lightly with warm water and dish soap. Squeeze out any excess water/moisture between paper towels. This will prevent the brush from stiffening during the time your cones dry. When your project is complete, dispose of the brush.
- Depending on the humidity levels of your community, marine varnish can take several days to dry to a hard finish. Once dry, they can withstand rain and snow.
- Some people will dry their cones in the oven at a very low temperature (no higher than about 175 degrees F.). This is a personal choice. Remember: (1) there is a fire risk to consider and (2) warm sap runs. It’s best to allow the cones to dry naturally and not “force” the cone open. Do not attempt to dry the cones in a microwave oven.
- Use your “preserved” cones in wreaths, centerpieces and floral arrangements, garlands, or display them in a basket or bowl. Avoid placing your varnished cones in or around arrangements that contain lighted candles and NEVER put them into an oven or near a lighted fireplace to enhance the drying time.
- Store any unused varnish product and mineral in a cool dry space, away from pilot lights, or washing machines and dryers, or the water heater. Dispose of empty cans properly.