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Expert's Corner — wax

TIP: Make Your Own Paste Wax

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Commercial brands of paste wax are as good as anything you can make yourself, but you may still want to make your own just for fun or to get a specific color or shine. Here’s how to do it. Grate the wax, or combination of waxes, into a container. Carnauba is available in flake form, so just put it in the container. Add turpentine, mineral spirits or naphtha in the ratio of about ½ pint of solvent to one pound of wax. Then put the container into a pot of water and heat it over a flame, stirring as necessary....

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TIP: Restoring Life to Dry Wood

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TIP: Restoring Life to Dry Wood

The wood in old furniture and woodwork often takes on a dry appearance, and people want to know what to do to restore life to the wood. Because of widespread misinformation from furniture polish manufacturers that wood contains natural oils that need to be replaced by furniture polishes, many people think they need to apply oil to the wood. But the problem is rarely in the wood (and only woods from the tropics contain a natural oily resin anyway). It’s the old finish that has deteriorated and become cracked and crazed that makes the wood appear dry. Light no longer...

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Why Shellac Is My Go To Finish for Fine Furniture

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"I prefer to spray my shellac. Spraying shellac results in an even smoother finish which greatly reduces the amount of sanding during finish work." Rodney Dangerfield’s famous comedic catchphrase was, “I don’t get no respect.” In the world of furniture finishes, shellac gets no respect. That lack of respect is unwarranted. In fact, shellac is my “go to” finish on fine furniture. It should be yours as well. The lack of respect for shellac may be due to the fact that it, a natural resin, is made from a bug’s secretions – not bug droppings, as some think. A lac...

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Finishes Differ in the Color They Impart

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Finishes Differ in the Color They Impart

You might choose a finish for its durability, drying speed, ease of use or cost, but you might also choose for the color it imparts to the wood. The accompanying picture shows unfinished oak at the top left, then seven common finishes and their color. If you haven’t done this comparison side by side, you may be surprised at the amount of difference. On top row from the left: unfinished, clear paste wax, water-based finish and nitrocellulose lacquer. On bottom row from the left: clear/blonde shellac, amber/orange shellac, polyurethane varnish and boiled linseed oil. In practice, wax would be an...

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TIP: Dating furniture by the finish used

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TIP: Dating furniture by the finish used

Because different finishes have been used at different times, it’s often possible to date furniture simply by the finish on it. In the 18th century and earlier, makers used whatever finish they had available, usually wax or linseed oil. If the maker lived near a port city, alcohol- or turpentine-soluble resins may have been available. By the 1820s, transportation had improved and shellac flakes, along with other alcohol-soluble resins, became widely available. Alcohol evaporates rapidly so these finishes dry fast and don’t collect dust. As a result, shellac became the overwhelmingly dominant finish used on almost all furniture and woodwork...

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