Getting the finish right —July 27, 2012
Furniture refinishing is one of my favorite hobbies. Along with hard work and stained fingers, there is a sense of satisfaction when a piece of personal history is dragged out of hiding, given a chemical facial and finally proudly displayed with memories of another time still intact.
Before proceeding with antique restoration, it may be wise to consult an expert if monetary value is a consideration. Some pieces are considered more value with nothing more than a thorough cleaning. My personal preference is scraping away years of dirt and grime, which requires harsh chemicals. Chemical gloves and goggles are a must as well as making certain to work in a well ventilated area. Sometimes, a finish can be removed by sanding, too. After what seems like forever, nature’s canvas will reappear. At this point, there are many options to choose from. What color and type of stain should you use? Is a sealer necessary? Do you prefer lacquer, varnish or shellac? What can be done about gouges and scratches?
Your library offers several publications with different options and how to achieve the finish you desire. “Wood Finishing 101” by Bob Flexner provides detailed illustrations for different procedures along with pictures which show how different products affect wood color and grain.
“Finishing Basics” by Sam Allen offers descriptions of each type of wood and which finishes work best for each one. He also gives simple solutions for varnish problems which might, otherwise, discourage a novice. In addition to brush on finishes, Allen describes methods for various rubbed on finishes.
If step-by-step instructions seem like the best option when tackling a project, then Sue Noble’s “Perfect Wood Finishing Made Easy” is the perfect choice. Several projects ranging from a small box to an armoire are featured with precise instructions from start to finish including time estimates for each step.
“Wood Finishing Fixes” by Michael Dresdner is written in question and answer format. Just about every topic about wood restoration is addressed somewhere in the nearly 200 questions.
Most restoration experts advise against the application of a French polish by anyone with limited refinishing experience because its application is quite challenging. However, Kevin Jan Bonner, discusses the procedure in detail and downplays the difficulty in “Furniture Restoration Workshop”. He also details the procedures for an ebonized finish, which is beautiful and could save a badly stained relic the junk yard.
So what wonderful piece do you have that has survived for generations? Are you curious enough to strip away the years to find out how it may have looked in an ancestral home? Perhaps you will find notes scrawled on the wood many years ago by a craftsman who proudly built your work of art. Whatever project you choose, be sure to enjoy your finished piece and the priceless memories that come with it.