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Expert's Corner — shellac

TIP: Two tricks to successful French polishing

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There are two very useful tricks to getting good results when French polishing. The first is to achieve a one-foot-or-less “comet’s tail” trailing the pad as you move it over the surface—as shown in the accompanying picture. This tail is made by the alcohol in the French-polishing solution evaporating through the oil (also in the solution). If the tail is too long, the pad is too wet, and you’ll probably damage the surface. When the tail gets really short, just a couple of inches, this is the signal that you need to add more shellac, alcohol and oil (I use...

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Coating Over an Existing Finish: A Risky Business that Sometimes Works

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Finishes deteriorate as they age. First they dull, then they begin to crack. Exposure to light in the higher ultra-violet ranges, such as sunlight and fluorescent light, accelerates the deterioration. Finishes also get damaged from abuse, which can cause a surface to look bad. In some cases, the only way to repair the deterioration or damage and make the furniture or woodwork look good again is to strip off the old finish and refinish. There are many situations, however, where applying a coat or two of finish on top of what is already there can make the old deteriorated or...

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How To Remove Stripping Sludge With A Wide Putty Knife

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How To Remove Stripping Sludge With A Wide Putty Knife

On large flat surfaces it’s most efficient to remove the bulk of the softened or dissolved finish or paint using a wide putty knife. Scrape off the sludge into a cardboard box. No matter which type of stripper you use, keep it wet until it works its way through the coating so you can remove it easily. Don’t fight it. “Let the stripper do the work.” Clear finishes on almost all old furniture and woodwork are either shellac or lacquer. These will dissolve into a “gunk.” After scraping off the bulk of the finish, reapply the stripper and remove the...

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Minimal Finish Odor

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If you want as little finish smell as possible—for example, on cabinets in a house or office that is occupied, or on the inside of a box or chest—there are two finishes to choose between: water-based finish and shellac. Other finishes, including oils, varnishes and lacquers will require days and maybe longer for all the residual odor to dissipate. There are two major differences between water-based finish and shellac. Water-based finish is more scratch resistant and imparts no coloring to the wood. Shellac will scratch easier and add a warm yellow-orange tone to the wood. Both dry rapidly, so you...

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TIP: Fixing a Worn Finish

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TIP: Fixing a Worn Finish

After a good deal of wear or abuse some areas of a finish may wear through exposing the lighter-colored wood.  As long as no stain, glaze or toner is involved, you can usually fix these problems simply by applying more finish on top. The easy test to see if this will work is to apply a little liquid to the wear-throughs with your finger. You could use mineral spirits (paint thinner) on any finish without causing damage, but the most convenient liquid is from your mouth. Wet your finger and wipe the liquid over a small part of the surface,...

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