Several months ago a thread discussion on Groopmail revolved around the question, “What can be used as a substitute for gold leaf?” My answer was short. “Nothing.”
In response to much of the discussion I presented a brief demo about gold leaf at this year’s Groopshop, showing real gold leaf, which was the first time many of the attendees had ever seen it in the flesh; my preparations for the ground beneath the gold leaf, and finally the manipulation of the leaf and its laying onto the substrate. It was, in short, a more brief version of my talk at Woodworking in America last year.
The actual demo was less successful than I would have liked, mostly due to the atmosphere in the room, but it did give a good idea about the process.
Gold leafing brings into focus the importance of the first of the Six Rules for Perfect Finishing — if the substrate is not well prepared, nothing else is going to work out well.
I moved through the preparation of the glue base for traditional gesso using a dilute solution of hide glue (I started out with a 10% solution of 444 gws glue granules in distilled water)
then the mixing and application of gesso itself,
smoothing the gesso and applying the bole. I’ve found that a polissoir does a terrific job a working the surface after I use abrasives of scrapers to get it ready for the next step.
Then I moved on to the handling of the leaf itself on the gilder’s pad, readying it for the application over oil size or by water gilding. Like I said, the room was a bit iffy for the process, but at least they got the idea of how it is done.
One of the things I did ex poste that was a lot of fun was to apply a layer of Finish Up to a panel and lay gold leaf into it immediately. Definitely something worth exploring further.
For almost a decade and a half I have been an active participant in the on-line discussion, The Professional Refinisher’s Group. What began as a custom crafted email list with mostly strip-and-dip shop proprietors in attendance it has over the years evolved into a sophisticated lightly-moderated forum for conversations surrounding the practices of finishing and furniture restoration. Soon after I joined, the idea percolated for Groop, as we affectionately call this entity, to grow into something greater than, and more personal than, a daily exchange of email threads. In response to this impulse we have gathered periodically in the flesh to have times of fellowship and learning.
Recently I attended, learned, and presented at Groopshop 2015 in Pontoon Bach, Illinois, hosted magnificently in the spacious and tidy shop of John Hurn and John’s associate Michelle Veit, (with a ginormous shout-out to Mrs. Hurn and their daughter). Both John and Michele are graduates of the famed (and now demised) Woodfinishing Program of the Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, Minnesota, just south of St. Paul. My beloved friend Mitch Kohanek was their instructor and mentor at DCTC, as he was for many of the artisans in attendance.
I learned immensely from the other presentations, ranging for retired Mohawk technical services guru Greg Williams’ demonstrating wood bleaching and the use of “Finish Up,” an ultra high performance waterborne urethane that blew me away.
Other sessions included Mike Mascelli’s demos (with Michelle Veit) on upholstering techniques and materials.
Fred McLean gave us some great insights gleaned from his recent explorations of lighting options for the shop, resulting in better illumination and dramatically lowered costs.
Martin O’brien shared his passions about paste waxes
I was actually so busy paying attention that I didn’t take as many pictures as I should have. Missing from the pictures are Ben Myre’s discussion of shop marketing, Mark Faulkner’s presentations on shop business strategies and accounting, Freddy Roman’s demonstrations of veneering and banding, Randy Bohn reminiscing about a thirty year career in the antiquities restoration world, Dave MacFee talking about upscaling mundane projects into revenue enhancers, and Karl Kennedy leading our wrap-up discussion.
I presented a session on gold leafing, and a practice run of the HO Studley talk I will be giving at the upcoming Woodworking in America. I’ll post about that next time.
If you are hankering for an excellent forum for discussions on all things finishing and furniture restoration, give “Groop” a try. You won’t be sorry you did.
This year I was invited to be a presenter at the SAPFM Mid-Year Meeting in Knoxville. My topic was “Making New Finishes ‘Look Old’,” a theme that built on my presentation of four years ago, “Traditional Finishes.”
The host of the East Tennessee Historical Center was a wonderful choice, not the least of the reasons being some magnificent stained glass, for which I am a total sucker.
They also provided a near-perfect setting for theater-in-the-round demonstrating that I like so much.
Just like my Simple Rules For Perfect Finishing, I created a set of Simple Rules for Getting That “Aged Look” Finish. There was great demand for the information, and I will no doubt include it in the upcoming Historic Finishers Handbook, the manuscript for which I will begin as soon as I get done with R2.
I touched on and presented the techniques for doing just that, including various approaches to hand rubbed finishes, shading and highlighting the varying surfaces that would be the result of generations of use and environment, adding the requisite schmutz that builds up in the crevices of furniture over the decades, and finally working out on the ledge of “controlled craqueleur” that understandably inspired fear and shaking heads throughout the room.
Our sessions went far afield at times — at SAPFM Mid-year the speakers give the same two-hour demonstrations three times in a row on the same day — including forays into color theory, gloss and transparency, refractive indices, and of course a cursory review of traditional finishing materials and methods.
It seemed as though a good time was had by all, at least there were no career-ending injuries. But at the end of the day, I was ready for bed.
Probably the simplest beautiful finish from a technological point of view is the French molten wax polish, which has but a few individual components yet yeilds a beautiful, lustrous presentation surface.
The first thing is a block of clean beeswax. I render my own from raw wax straight from the beekeepers after the honey is harvested.
Next comes a source of heat to melt the wax onto the surface of the wood. Historically something like a roofer’s soldering iron was used, these days I use an electric tacking iron.
I move the hot iron over the surface, spreading and melting the wax onto and into the surface until it is fully saturated.
Once the molten wax has been imbibed fully into the wood surface it is left to cool,
and once fully hardened it is scraped with a simple metal, wood, or bone scraper. If the scraper has a nice clean edge (no burr!), the resulting surface can be mirror-like. A little buffing with a piece of soft cloth like worn flannel or fine wool and you are done. This might even be enhanced with some spit polish.
The result is a high-sheen, non-toxic and easily repairable surface that is pretty robust against abrasion but utterly defenseless against heat or oily materials. I’m working on some formulations to make this finish a lot tougher, but it is increasingly one with which I am toying, and as I move forward with designing and fabrication parquetry panels, you can believe it is something I will employ.
After long and careful consideration, I have concluded that I simply cannot host any workshops at The Barn this coming summer. The combination of the Studley book and exhibit, brutal winter aftermath with a mountain of things to do on the homestead, projects that have languished in the studio, and the need to wrap-up Roubo on Furniture Making (almost twice as large as Roubo on Marquetry) leaves me with no time nor energy to dedicate to workshops at the barn. I had planned on a historic finishing workshop in late June, but that will have to wait until net year. In September I will host a week-long workbench build for my friends of the Professional Refinishers Group web forum.
This is not to say I will be entering my long anticipated hermit phase. My presence and teaching elsewhere over the summer will be evident. Check these out.
Henry O. Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench exhibit – May 15-17, Cedar Rapids IA
Making New Finishes Look Old – Society of American Period Furniture Makers Mid-Year Conference, June 11-15, Knoxville TN
Gold Leaf and its Analogs – Professional Refinisher’s Group Groopfest, June 24-26, Pontoon Beach IL
The Henry Studley Book and Exhibit (breakfast banquet address) and Roubo Parquetry (demo workshop) – Woodworking in America 2015, September 25-27, Kansas City MO
Cerusing, or glazing, is the technique whereby you apply a hyper-thin layer of pigmented medium on the surface of the wood in order to manipulate its coloration. “Glazing” is the more generic term for using the technique to change coloration is any direction, but “cerusing” is a term specific to the lightening or whitening of wood. Ceruse had been first used actually as a cosmetic known as Venetian Ceruse, a face “glaze” made from led white and oils to make the wearer look, well, pasty faced (think about the court of Queen Elizabeth I). Lead white was an especially prized pigment by the ancients in great part due to its translucency. Imagine how pasty-faced you could look after a lifetime of slathering lead white on your face!
Not surprisingly we do not use lead pigments widely despite their evident beneficial properties (oil paints made with lead pigments are nearly indestructible as the lead imparts tremendous durability) beyond very specialized application by fine artists making easel paintings. Instead we use a combination of titanium dioxide and calcium carbonate or similar benign pigments for our whites.
Like the earlier liming process, for cerusing the wood was planed and scraped but unlike liming it not scrubbed with a brass brush.
The key to this process is to prepare and apply a thin layer of essentially translucent paint evenly over the surface. In many instances of glazing the surface is first sealed to provide a barrier to the glaze soaking into the wood, but in this case the controlled “soaking in” is a critical component. If the surface is smoothly scraped this works fine. If the surface is sanded, the results can be more of a challenge as the comparatively rougher, more “open” sanded surface behaves differently vis-a-vie the glaze than the scraped surface.
For these sample boards I prepared a white glaze from one part oil-paint primer, one part tung oil, and one part mineral spirits, with about 2% japan drier.
I slathered a thin layer of the glaze over the surface distributing it as evenly as possible with the cheap disposable brush, then worked it back and forth with a fine bristle brush, going one direction, then perpendicular to it, then diagonal and perpendicular to that, then finishing up with the grain with a very light touch. Excess glaze is not helpful, just put on enough to cover the whole surface to the visual intensity and depth that you want, keeping in mind that your working the surface with a brush will pull some of the glaze off. As you smooth out the glaze and pull it off with the brush, make sure to clean the brush frequently by rubbing it against a rag, which you will throw away when finished (make sure to do it properly, as the oily rag is flammable).
With a light touch and a good brush you can leave a perfect translucent layer on top of the raw wood, with just enough soaking in to bring it to life.
Once the glaze is fully dry, I follow it with a wiping of paste wax, and call it done.
As you can see from the comparative samples of flat-sawn cypress and quarter sawn oak, a cerused pickling is well suited for bold grain.
The techniques of glazing will be mentioned regularly in this blog and upcoming presentations and writings, as it was both historically accurate, especially asphaltum and brick-dust glazes, and is an important tool in the kit to making new surfaces appear to be aged.
As I presented my sample boards at the luncheon banquet on my recent trip to Florida, I began with two simple methods to enhance and modify the wood surface itself, even prior to beginning the application of any finish materials.
The first, and a very popular once again, was the coloration of white oak through the application of ammonia. In the first sample I simply brushed on liquid ammonia and left it to dry. The coloration is about what I expected, with the slight blotchiness and shallow penetration that would be the result of a light liquid application. The depth of penetration from the single wetting with ammonia was about 1/16″
A second and similar sample was that of white oak exposed to ammonia vapors. In this instance I prepared the six oak samples and placed them standing upright in a circle around a coffee cup warmer, on which I placed a half pint of full-strength hardware store ammonia. I turned on the coffee cup warmer to heat and vaporize fully the ammonia and placed a plastic bucket upside-down over the lot, and left it for twelve hours. I neutralized the ammonia with a light swabbing of white vinegar and left them to air out for a few hours, but there was no noticeable odor.
The result was the sumptuous almost-mocha coloration we have come to expect as the base for a lot of Craftsman furniture. An application of a couple coats of deep red garnet shellac would have yielded a magnificent dark reddish brown finish. I left the samples in their “native” state to make sure that the audience could see it in the raw. Just to see how effective the fuming was, I sawed a sample in half, and the entire 1-inch cross section was the same fumed color.
As a special treat I showed a set of samples that I did not prepare other than to cut them to size. These were pieces of “bog oak” from a crib dam on the Rappahannock River that had been submerged for nearly a century-and-a-half. The coloration and luster of these pieces as truly spectacular, and I cannot wait to make some furniture from the pieces I have.
A final “pre-finishing” step was, not surprisingly, burnishing with a straw polissoir. I lightly scraped the entire surface, then burnished one half of it. I demonstrated this one at the luncheon, bringing the mahogany surface to a desirable sheen in just a few seconds. I also noticed that these samples drew continual attention (caressing?) during my presentation, even after I had moved on to other topics.
After that we got down to the serious business of selecting and using a variety of finishing materials
Several months ago I received an invitation from a South Florida custom millwork and fabrication shop to speak at a luncheon banquet celebrating their 25th anniversary. At first I was ambivalent about the invitation as I didn’t know the folks, but Mrs. Barn was very enthusiastic about the prospect of a trip to the warm sunny climes at the tail end of a brutal winter in the mountains. As my correspondence continued with my host and the themes emerged for the presentation, I too warmed to the idea. By the time we plowed through the snow on our way out of town I was really looking forward to it.
The audience was designers, architects, and contractors, and I did my best to turn them into historic finishing enthusiasts. As I told them at the beginning, “My task is to show you a door, and open it just a little bit so you can see inside there’s a party going on. And the name of the place behind the door? The Finishing Room!” They were very receptive.
In the weeks leading up to the event I made dozens of sample boards so that every table had a complete set to fondle and admire as I talked about them.
In coming posts I will walk you through the samples I made.
It was great fun and reminded me how much I love woodfinishing, and the delight I will take over the next three or four years while crafting my gigantic Historic Finisher’s Handbook.
Thanks AWC and Catie Q for the invitation, you guys were great hosts and I hope to see you again! (and Mrs. Barn loved basking in the warmth and sunshine). I think late winter trips to Florida may become part of the routine.
For much of the past month I have been working on a set of sample boards for an upcoming address to a luncheon banquet of folks involved in mostly architectural interior finishes. It reminded me once again how much I love finish work, and caused me to ruminate on undertaking my long-desired magnum opus. I’m now committed in my heart to finally put pen to paper and create that mammoth manuscript I’ve been mulling for a long time, beginning next autumn, extending perhaps into the following two years. It will be part finishing room bench manual, part materials science treatise, part historical review, part aesthetics, and a large part recipe book.
The sample board set included things like glazed panels, limed panels, burnished shellac/wax, shellac pad polishing (aka “french polishing” even though the French probably call it “English polishing”), waxed French polishing, raw polissoired surfaces, fumed oak, japanning foundation, and finally a piece of true “bog oak” salvaged from a dismantled antique dam.
Now all I have to do is my part in getting Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley 100% done (I’m going today to get the page proofs printed in color to finish my review), Roubo on Furniture Making revised and into the Lost Art Press production pipeline, and the Studley tool cabinet exhibit done.
March 14 I will be presenting “Historical Finishes” to the Tidewater Chapter of the SAPFM. The meeting will take place at Somerton Ridge Hardwoods (http://somertonridgehardwoods.com) in Suffolk, VA.
Hope to see you there.