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Newsletter #110

Making What’s Old Look New and
What’s New Look Old
And When to Leave It Alone

Years ago I found two carved chairs outside a used furniture store, sitting in a light rain, which was soaking the torn upholstery as it flapped in the wind. I wanted them instantly and happily paid $50 for the two. I was very young and dim-witted and it never entered my mind to find out what they were, or what the right way to proceed with restoration was. I stripped them, made some repairs, refinished them and sent them to an upholsterer. I never asked the right questions. Are my chairs valuable? How old are they? Are they rare?  Should I have left the finish?  Were my repairs correct?

Now I know better. It’s important to know what you have regarding age and rarity.  Does the current finish add to its value? Is the hardware original? Have repairs been made that devalue the piece? Once you get your information, you will know if you can strip and finish, or repair the current finish, or gently clean the piece.  Consult an expert, like our own Bob Flexner, for good methods. Or, if you want to make something new look old, check out this month’s special article by Glen Huey, Senior Editor of Popular Woodworking.

Now, I look at my chairs and wonder if I did the right thing. But, I don’t want to know if I ruined a valuable antique! In the meantime we have two beautiful chairs. Wishing you a perfect finish to all your projects!

Bill Boxer
Sr. Vice President and COO
Apollo Sprayers International, Inc.
[email protected]


Products of the Month – Soy Gel and Soy Spray Strippers
Step by Step: Strip the Old Wood, Recoat with Waterborne Finish

Many woodworkers are using water based top coats exclusively. If the wood has been stripped it is important to know how to prepare the wood before applying water based top coat. If there is residue left from the paint stripper, or a residue of solvent from the old the old finish, the water based coating will not adhere. So you must strip and then neutralize the surface. Here are the steps to take to prepare the wood for a beautiful new finish:

  1. If you are stripping with Soy Gel or Soy Spray – both are safe non-toxic, biodegradable finish removers –  follow with a degreaser as described in Step 3.
  2. If using a conventional solvent based stripper, follow up the stripper with a solvent wash or wipe. The solvent could be: lacquer thinner, acetone, mineral spirits, or paint thinner. 
  3. (Optional) Follow soy stripper or solvent based stripper with a water soluble wash, such as a TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) powder dissolved in warm water or Emerge. Tri-sodium is similar to Spic-N-Span. Spic-N-Span does have some fragrance and dye added, but that should have no adverse effect on the furniture or your final results.
  4. If there is any paint left in the grain of your wood, you might try applying a coat of shellac to the piece. Let the shellac dry and then strip again, with stripper or even alcohol. The shellac will bind on to the residual paint and pull it out of the pores along with the shellac.
  5. Allow the piece to completely dry, preferably overnight. 
  6. Give the wood a light sanding. If you are planning to stain the wood, a 220 Grit will work just fine. Anything finer will affect the ability of the stain to penetrate into the wood, especially on closed-grain woods such as maple, cherry, etc.
  7. Once the first layer of coating is laid down, you can sand with finer paper. 
  8. Apply the top coat.

Building Period Reproduction Furniture by Glen Huey

“A true period-style reproduction, in my opinion, can sit unnoticed beside antiques. The finish is as important as how the piece is built.”

There is some discussion on what exactly constitutes reproduction furniture. Is it pieces built using tools and techniques that woodworkers used in the 1700s? If so, are we to pit saw the wood into planks, use hand tools for the entire build and hand scrape the surface for finish? I think not. If it were possible to bring the best furniture-makers from the 18th century into today, I expect they all would immediately favor the woodworking machines we have at our disposal, but they would continue to use hand tools where it makes the most sense. In other words, woodworkers from the days of old would be hybrid woodworkers – a mixture of hand and power tools – just as we should be today.

What is Reproduction Furniture? To me, it’s about staying true to the designs we copy and about the quality with which we build: it’s the lumber we choose, the joinery we use and the finishes we apply.

Let’s Begin with Design

If you build a drawer section based on a period four-drawer chest, then set that upon a modified lowboy base, that’s not a reproduction of a highboy even though the two parts may have came from period work. That’s considered a “married” piece. (A married piece can also be sections from two like pieces of furniture that are fabricated to fit together.) You might find such a piece in an antique store or auction house, but your copy is not a reproduction because that design was not originally found in period work. It’s my opinion that reproductions must follow the original designs from the period.  

A true reproduction keeps the design details, too. The moldings are copied. The foot is copied. Even the height, width and depth are sized to the original. That objective is fine when reproducing case pieces, and while it can be carried out when building tables and chairs, there is a problem with which to deal. How do these pieces fit into today’s homes and to people of our time? READ MORE

Rejuvenating Old Finishes: Three Tips in One By Bob Flexner

Think of wood finishes as plastics. Depending on how broadly you define “plastic,” this is exactly what they are. And just like all plastics, finishes deteriorate over time—faster in bright light and heat. First the finish dulls; then it begins crazing and cracking.

As the deterioration gets worse, the finish loses its primary function of slowing moisture (liquid and vapor) exchange. Excessive moisture exchange leads to veneer cracking, joints and veneer separating, splits in wood and warping. A deteriorated finish also looks bad. Old furniture with deteriorated finishes usually end up in city landfills. This is the reason the message of the Antiques Roadshow, “Don’t refinish!” is so unfortunate. Refinishing saves old furniture with deteriorated finishes.

Often, however, finishes can be repaired rather than refinished. And just as there are different levels of deterioration, there are different levels of repair. Here are three, advancing from least to the most intrusive, effective and difficult to pull off. READ MORE