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Restoring antique furniture is not for the faint of heart !!!
If you are an avid watcher of the television show The Antiques Road Show or other similar shows, you will know that it is a BIG no, no to do any work, as in re-finishing, re-building or re-storing to old antiques. Apparently collectors would rather have antiques that are in what ever shape they are, good or bad and they do not want anyone to alter the original object. In the event an item is re-finished or re-built the value plummets like lead balloon ... and I can understand that. What I don't understand is when I see very nice old furniture that is in terrible shape, that no one will do anything with because it "might" de-value the piece of furniture. In many cases some lovely old furniture has come un-glued, pieces missing or just simply badly abused over the millenia and now it needs some work to put it back together and maybe even a re-finish job to make the piece as close to it's original shape as possible.
The truth is, there are hundreds of furniture restores all over the world who fix, repair and re-finish old and antique furniture every day. I believe these restores do a service by preserving these valuables by making them able to withstand the next 100 years. The question I had, was what to do with an antique rocking chair that I was commissioned to restore.
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For centuries, lacquer finishes have been used to give woodworking a long lasting, durable water-resistant finish. Lacquers are available in two styles: spray and brush-on, although they’re both among the fastest drying finishes. That said, brushing on a lacquer finish is more diligent and precise work and takes longer, but is also cleaner than spraying on finish.
What is Lacquer?
Lacquer tends often to be confused with shellac, which arises from shellac coming from the “lac” beetle. Lacquer, on the other hand, is derived from the resin of a varnish tree which is then harvested, distilled and combined with a lacquer thinner to create the common finish. Lacquer is also typically used with a variety of paints to deliver a strong, durable paint finish.
Lacquer today tends to contain another type of resin, nitrocellulose that combined with other ingredients, allows for a thin coat of lacquer to dissolve within an earlier coat which results in a hard, yet flexible finish. However, one disadvantage to the above is that nitrocellulose lacquer finishes have a high susceptibility to UV light.
As mentioned above, lacquer can be applied in one of two ways: sprayed on or brushed on. Spray-on finishes can be bought as aerosol spray cans or can be used with a pneumatic / airless sprayer. Though the former tends to be expensive, quality of finishes is also unbeatable, particularly for small projects. Also ensure that you work in a ventilated environment since solvents used in the lacquer are highly flammable and odours.
Brush-on lacquer finishes tend to dry quickly but not as fast as spray on lacquer. Start by using a bristle brush (preferably with high quality bristles) to apply the finish, but remember to work quickly by first adding a thin layer and not over brushing your work. Additional coats to even out the finish can be added in later.
One last thing: do NOT try to brush a spray-on application or vice versa, since spray-ons tend to dry faster.
Lacquer vs Polyurethane
An advantage to using lacquer finishes over polyurethane is that that for beginner woodworkers, they’re easier to apply, dry a lot faster and don’t need as many brush strokes for a complete finish. And though they may not be as long lasting as poly’s, they are a lot easier to reapply if and when anything happens. Additionally, lacquer finishes can also protect metals.
It is important to note, however that the two finishes don’t work well together; it is very much an either/or scenario.
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Working with Oak, for most woodworkers is a joy. Despite the fact that Oak is a heavy wood to work with, it produces such excellent finished results it is hard to avoid using it. One of the beauties of Oak is that it can contain visible “figure”, that is, areas where the grain runs a bit different than normal creating a pleasing pattern. These pleasing patterns can sometimes have their own problems when it comes to finishing.
One of the biggest problems we see with projects that are made from Oak is the miss-matching of grains. If you want to get a good finish on any wood project it is imperative that you try to match the grains as best you can. For example if you are creating table top or the side of a bureau, all the wood you use should be flat sawn, quarter sawn or rift sawn – NOT some of each. Each cut of wood absorbs stain differently which means, depending on the angle of light and the angle of view, the stained wood can appear uneven or mottled.
The second most frequent problem we see, is lack of finishing. Oak needs to be finished with very fine sandpaper like 280 or 320 grit in order for it to look nice when the final finishes are applied. The sanding process, particularly with finer grits will also create sawdust that will linger in the open-grain of the Oak. To remove this completely we recommend at the very least a tack cloth of mineral spirits, or to use your compressor and actually blow the dust out (this would have to be done out-or-doors for safety reasons). Only by getting all the sawdust out of the open pores of the Oak can you be assured of some success in your finishing.
Once you have “prepared the Oak” that is sanded with finely and removed the sawdust from the pores, now is the time to decide how you will finish your project. Do you want a natural clear finish, or do you want the oak stained a darker color, perhaps to match other projects? In terms of finishes you can select either water based or oil based finishes and stains. To compound things further coloring the wood can be done with either dyes or stains, and stains can contain filler or not (filler is used to fill the open pores of the oak to make a smoother finish).
Newer formulas for finishing oak suggest that wood dyes be applied and then over top of that, a “sealing” coat of de-waxed shellac (note, it MUST be de-waxed), and then on top of this a “glaze” is coated on the wood. A glaze is simply oil based stain and filler. What this process does in effect is work on the contrasts of the Oak and it's pores by making the pores stand out a bit more thus making the grain more visible. Then of course there needs to be a final finish of some sort of a oil based varnish or other similar top coat. The results from this process is indeed a lovely finish.
However you decide to finish your Oak project, there are 2 things to remember, 1) fine sanding is imperative to getting a fine finish and 2) always test your finish on another piece of wood BEFORE you give your project it's finish. There is far too much work in having to remove all the finish off a project that you are not happy with rather than testing before you begin ANY finishing on your project. We have seen far too many project with inferior finishing techniques that then disappointed the woodworker. Play it safe, take your time and know what to expect before you jump in and start the final finishing proeces.
Copyright - Colin Knecht
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Staining pine woodworking projects is something almost every woodworker either has done or will do. Pine is such a lovely material to work with, it's easy on the tools, reasonably priced and available almost everywhere. If you have worked with pine you will probably agree one of the challenges of the wood is finishing it, particularly staining it.