what was most common method for varnishing fir in 1905?

bullheimerApril 5, 2008

my old growth fir is about the same color as modern "honey oak" cabinets you see in Lowe's or wherever.

i have tried but can't figure out what was used back in the day. it's possible they have been covered with anything by now, but just wondering if anybody knows what the most common way of finishing fir was in the Western Washington area around the turn of the 1800's.

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The current issue of Woodwork magazine has an article, by Bob Flexner, on the history of wood finishing. According to it, shellac was the dominant furniture finish at the time you're asking about, though wax and oil finishes were also available. Nitrocellulose lacquer took over in the 1920s. The article doesn't have much to say about what we call "varnish," probably because it's focussed on furniture rather than architectural woodwork.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2008 at 7:31AM
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a post in The old House forum quotes some old fart as saying that Linseed oil with wax over it, was quite the thing about then. did they have clear shellac then? or was it all amber. the thing about shellac i may have mentioned, is it is way too orange looking, even tho i definitely have orange highlights in my grain, you have to have the sunlight reflect off the wood to see it in my house, whereas the wood piece i just did, you can see the orange grain jump up and slap you in the face, so i am pretty sure this house wasn't shellacked, although, i don't know what 100 years of aging it will look like...(or do i, but just don't know it yet?)
in alot of the wood pieces on my walls, i see black in the grain, which to me seems like somebody used steel wool on it and dust got stuck in it before it was varnished or whatever. wouldn't that stuff rust and turn ruddy?

    Bookmark   April 6, 2008 at 2:06PM
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According to Flexner's article, while oil and/or wax finishes were typical in the eighteenth century, methods for lightening the color of shellac were developed around 1820. This refinement, along with improved inland transportation systems, made shellac the dominant furniture finish until the 1920s, when lacquer took over.

It's easy enough to tell whether what you've got is shellac, because shellac dissolves in alcohol.

Fir can get quite orange all by itself, without any help from the finish.

I know that steel can cause black stains in some woods. I have it stuck in my head that this depends on tannic acids in different species, but I don't really know much about the chemistry. Oak and mahogany can react this way, but I'm unsure about fir. Iron, such as a nail, that gets lodged in a living tree can cause black stains in many woods.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 7:38AM
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