Refinishing

norar_ilSeptember 3, 2010

What exactly is refinishing? Is cleaning with lacquer thinner and denatured alcohol considered refinishing? That cleans up the old black, cracked finish or evens out the finish, but does not add anything. It just involves steel wool, the liquid and a rag to wipe off the excess. I see furniture on the antique shows with lovely finishes and wonder how that can be without anything done to them since all the really old stuff we've had has the bumpy black surface.

I used that to work on an old Seth Thomas wall clock, dated Jan. 8, 1909 (the purchase sticker is in the clock), and it looks lovely. An antique dealer thought it looked too new. Did it affect the value? Not that I care since it's staying in the family as long as I'm around, and longer judging from my children's wanting it, but I'm curious.

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stocky

I'm a furniture refinisher by trade . My answer is my opinion.
Refinshing involves removing the old finish with some sort of solvent . Generally this solvent is some sort of methelene chloride ( nail polish remover ) . Repairing the piece , sanding the piece back to the raw wood , applying a new stain and then a new finish.

Restoring involves using the existing viable finish , often cleaning it with mineral spirits and applying a new layer of finish.

"cleaning with lacquer thinner" is not cleaning since the lacquer thinner will eat into your finish. You're just smearing around the old finish .

The nice stuff you see on the Roadshow is just that . Quality furniture chosen to be shown because it has been cared for all these years.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2010 at 8:20PM
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sombreuil_mongrel

I restore old organs, and sometimes it requires a complete stripping of a bad or ruined finish, but I prefer to keep an original finish if possible. If not, I try to recreate the original appearance by avoiding inappropriate stain colors of finishes.
This case had been in a cellar for 40 years, sharing the space with a coal-fired furnace, and the previous owner had over-coated it with some colored shellac. I was able to painstakingly remove the dirt/shellac and save 95% of the original french polished finish and 100% of the original color: (These are scans so the tone is off/too green)

This is the above, reassembled, giving a fair representation of the original 1896 oak finish:

This was an unrestorable finish, which obscured all of the grain:

So it was stripped _and_ scraped_.

Casey

    Bookmark   September 4, 2010 at 12:56PM
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norar_il

Those are both beautiful. So you're saying the first is restored and the second refinished, right? And the main difference is stripping?

    Bookmark   September 4, 2010 at 3:17PM
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someone2010

An interesting aside-or not. When one is dealing with something made pre 1850, it is very difficult to determine what was used for a finish. Each maker would develope their own finish and for the most part they kept them secret. At that time, furniture was not mass produced in a factory but was made in individual shops by local makers.

My grandfather made furniture and musicial instruments like violins, violas and cello's. Although he died before I was born, I do have some of the furniture and intruments he made. He used the same finish on all of them. He used pieces of amber from boken pipe stems, jewlery, raw out of the ground, or chips, and would crush it and disolve it in chloroform. This is the finish he would use and it makes a very durable finish. I have a drop front desk he made with this finish on it that has been in constant use for well over 100 yrs, and the finish still looks good.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2010 at 6:04PM
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karinl

You have understood correctly, norar. And if you check around on the old house forum, where people congregate who have often whole houses full of wood to strip, you'll find multiple threads discussing how best to strip - methylene chloride (which by the way is not nail polish remover) is not the only way.

Just when I am sure I don't like oak, Casey, you come up with a piece that gets me on side again! What I want to know is, after removing the old finish, what did you put ON the second organ?

Someone, that is interesting - I'd love to see a photo of that finish. But besides the effect on the wood, I wonder if he passed out while working from time to time :-)

KarinL

    Bookmark   September 4, 2010 at 11:14PM
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sombreuil_mongrel

karinl,
At this stage it only has a coat of Minwax "provincial" stain, but it is being shellacked, and "english polished" (no attempt at filling the grain, but a nonetheless smooth finish).
I think nail polish remover is a mixture of acetone (solvent) and something like a touch of mineral oil for moisturizing.
Casey

    Bookmark   September 5, 2010 at 12:10AM
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someone2010

I will try to post a picture of the desk with a violin on it, when I can.

I don't believe he passed out because he did not put the finish on a rag and hold it over his face. He brushed it on the furniture. If one were to put lacquer thinner, paint thinner or alcohol on a rag and hold it over your face, I believe they would cause you to pass out also. Yet they are used universally as solvents. On the otherhand, maybe he did, and liked it.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2010 at 6:02PM
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texasredhead

As a person who has been dealing in antiques for a long time, I use various techniques that retain the original patina of the piece. I use a high quality furniture restorer which is applied with 2/0 steel wool. Some time ago I aquired a secretary that had a checkered black finish. By using a restorer, I uncovered a beautiful mahognany finish. The case is solid and the curved drawers are vaneer. After completly finishing the piece, I hand rubbed on three coats of Old Masters tung oil varnish. The piece looks like it probably looked originally with the patina intact. Now, this is not an antique but holds a place in our dining room where my wife stores linens

I also have a solid cherry drop leaf from 1825 that has never been touched except with a furniture cream of my own making that cleaned the piece from the dirt it had collected in the barn where I founnd it.

I also have several pieces of American oak from the turn of the century that have been cleaned in a similar manner. Whether I am dealing with vintage pieces or antiques, to me it's all about retaining the original patina of the pieces.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2010 at 10:23AM
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someone2010

Casey;
Nice work on both pieces. I'm sure you increased the value quite a bit, in both cases. Do you also repair the mechanism inside? I'm sure you do. I heard that playing those organs keep you in shape.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2010 at 1:29AM
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sombreuil_mongrel

I am a one-stop shop for reed organ restoration.
My youtube channel of some instruments I restored being played in recital:
http://www.youtube.com/user/MasonHamlinOrgans
The "Bach BWV565 Toccata & Fugue in D minor" vid is of the 2 manual organ.
Unfortunately, that is not me playing; I only wish my fingers worked so well in the keys.
Casey

    Bookmark   September 7, 2010 at 6:58PM
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sunnyca_gw

Enjoyed reading this! Sombreuil beautiful work!! If mineral spirits don't work & the piece is really old the finish may have to be removed with denatured alcohol (I noticed a can sitting in someone's pic)!

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 12:02AM
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lindac

Denatured alcohol will only remove a shellac finish....and there were lots of different formulas in old finishes...
Alcohol won't touch a linseed oil finish.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 8:29PM
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texasredhead

To each their own. I think it is odd to take a piece maybe 100 years old and make it look like a reproduction.

Tex

    Bookmark   September 11, 2010 at 11:49AM
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dilettante_gw

Stocky's post contains a mistake that could be dangerous. It's true that many strippers contain methylene chloride, but methylene chloride is NOT nail polish remover. Methylene chloride can cause skin burns and may be carcinogenic. It should always be used with good ventilation and skin protection.

Nail polish remover is primarily acetone, which is also used as a solvent for shellac.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2010 at 1:12PM
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