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Expert's Corner — stripper

Finishing Tip by Bob Flexner: Testing for Shellac

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Finishing Tip by Bob Flexner: Testing for Shellac

Almost all furniture and woodwork finished between the 1820s and 1920s was finished with shellac. But if you want to test to be sure, here’s the way to do it. Put a little denatured alcohol on your finger and dab it onto an inconspicuous area of the finish, as shown in the accompanying picture. If the surface gets sticky or if the finish comes off on your finger, the finish is shellac. Shellac dissolves in alcohol, so you could use the alcohol to strip the finish if that is your intention, instead of using paint stripper.

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TIP: Patina

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TIP: Patina

Patina is primarily the mellowing and color change that occurs in wood over time due to oxidation from exposure to air and bleaching from exposure to light. Secondarily, patina is the dings, scratches, rubs, etc., that give old furniture character. The mid-nineteenth-century cylinder roll-top desk in the accompanying picture has patina, primarily the bleaching of the mahogany and also the bleaching of the plaster-of-Paris used to fill the pores. The desk has never been refinished, but the finish has been renewed with French polishing. Adding finish on top doesn’t change the coloring of the wood underneath. Patina is highly valued...

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