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Expert's Corner — finisher

TIP: A Short History of Shellac

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TIP: A Short History of Shellac

Here’s a short history of shellac, some of it from my own experience. Shellac was almost the only finish used on furniture from the 1820s to the 1920s when nitrocellulose lacquer was introduced. Shellac continued to be used widely as a complete finish by painters working in buildings until the 1950s. By the 1990s the only remaining supplier of shellac in liquid form was Zinsser, which sells the shellac under the brands “Bulls Eye,” and “SealCoat,” which is a dewaxed variety. Zinsser specializes in sealers and primers, so it markets the shellac as a sealer. The marketing strategy seems to...

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TIP: Stain gets wood too dark

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There are two broad categories of stain: dye that is dissolved in a liquid, and dye and/or pigment combined with a binder. The first are usually called “dye” stains and are sold either as powders for you to do the dissolving, or are already dissolved in a liquid solvent. The second are often called “wiping stains,” “pigment stains,” “oil stains,” “water-based stains” or “lacquer stains” and are the common stains you buy in cans at home centers and paint stores. If a dye stain gets the wood too dark, try removing some of the dye by wiping with its solvent....

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TIP: Caring for Crazed Finishes

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TIP: Caring for Crazed Finishes

Old crazed finishes are very fragile. You can reduce potential damage to these finishes with slick furniture polish or paste wax. But as you can see in the picture, liquid furniture polish (left) highlights the crazing and makes it look worse, while paste wax (right) adds a little shine and scratch resistance without highlighting the crazing. So paste wax is the better furniture-care product for crazed surfaces. (There is a small area in the middle with nothing on it.)

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TIP: Removing Wax Smear

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TIP: Removing Wax Smear

Paste wax is easy enough to apply. Simply wipe it on the surface. The problem comes in removing the excess wax, because if you don’t remove all the excess it leaves a smear rather than a shine, as shown in a somewhat exaggerated form in the picture. The trick is to use a clean cloth or lambs-wool pad for the removal—with the emphasis on “clean.” If you continue to wipe off the excess with a cloth or pad that has become loaded with wax, you will just be moving the wax around the surface rather than transferring it to the...

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TIP: Finisher’s Glossary: Silicon or Silicone?

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Silicon and silicone are not the same thing, and the terms are used inaccurately so often that I thought it might be worthwhile to explain the difference. Simply put, silicon (rhymes with the man’s name, Don) is sand, and silicone (rhymes with “shown”) is an oil or gel that is used in furniture polishes, caulk and breast implants. Silicone is made from silicon but is clearly very different. It’s Silicon Valley, not silicone valley as it’s often called. The most egregious misuse of these two words I think I ever heard was a finish teacher explaining to the class that...

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