Shellac

Woodfinishing Workshop – Day 3

The final day of my finishing workshop is all about the final appearance, including rubbing out and adjusting color the shellacked big panel, which had more than a dozen coats and looked like this at the start of the day.

Beginning with the 24×48 panel subdivided into quadrants, each received a different treatment.  One quadrant was left untouched as a reference point, then work began on the second one.  It was rubbed with Liberon 0000 steel wool, then rubbed with more Liberon 0000 infused with paste wax.  The result is wondrous, and this is one of my very favorite finishes.  It glows visually and is irresistible for just rubbing your fingers over its surface.

The third quadrant was polished with tripoli/rottenstone and mineral spirits, using a fine linen polishing pad nearly identical to that used for spirit varnish pad polishing.   Any residue was wiped off and the surface received a light coat of paste wax.  The resulting surface is absolutely spectacular.

The fourth section was rubbed with dry Liberon 0000 to give it a tiny bit of tooth for the addition of colorant glazing.  Two gazes were tried, the first being asphaltum thinned with naphtha and the second being waterborne shellac with goauche colorant.  They work very differently but both students had excellent results of a gentle color shift.  The final step was to seal the glazing with a brush coat which both saturates the color and provides an even gloss.

The final project completed was rubbing out and waxing the raised panel doors and the table legs.

We took pictures of their gallery of work, and they headed for home.  Both had very long drives, one to Louisville and the other to Syracuse.

Historic Woodfinishing Workshop Day 2

The primary work of Day 2 was building up the finishes in preparation for the rubbing-out and toning of the final day.

The first task was to scrape the large shellacked panels with disposable razor blades to get them smooth as silk for the final application session to follow.  True enough, disposable razor blades are not historically precise but scraping is, and using the disposable blades is the best way I can get the process integrated into the workshop.  If done carefully the resulting surface is pretty much a flawless ground for the final layers of varnish.

We then moved on to some tables legs to get a little time in on working with “in the round” components.  These are often a challenge for inexperienced and old-time finishers alike, but one key to success in this regard is a light touch and the right brush.  I’ve found that a rounded-tip brush, sometimes called a “Filbert mop” with good bristle drape results in a near-perfect application every time.

The fellows worked so fast we had time to insert a couple of exercises, one being the use of molten wax on tables legs.  We let a hair dryer substitute for a red-hot poker, but the results were acceptable.

Raised panel doors are also a sometime headache, but once you get the hang of the routine it works out pretty well.

Finally it was time to start on the spirit varnish pad polishing, a/k/a “French” polishing.  Each of the students constructed their own pad from cotton wadding, then charged it with the spirit varnish.  (This led to a fairly involved discussion about the fabrics that are best suited for which tasks in the finishing room.  I asked my long time friend and Roubo colleague Michele Pagan, a textilian for as long as I have been a woodfinisher, to write a blog post on the topic.  I will post it probably next week.)

By tapping it on their palm they knew when it was ready to go.  And, it gives a lovely sheen to the palm.

The boards they had prepared on Day 1 were partially wax-filled and partially raw-but-burnished wood.  Since so much of spirit varnish polishing is “feel” there was not much to do but turn them loose.

Before long there was a-glist’nin’ all over the place.

Another exercise that frankly I have never been able to get perfect was to fill the grain with beeswax and powdered colorant, pressed in to the wood grain with a polissoir.  I need to work on this concept a little more, although Roubo promises success.

And with that we were done with Day 2.

Historic Woodfinishing Workshop Day 1

Recently I hosted my almost-annual three-day Historic Woodfinishing workshop at The Barn.  Due to family medical emergencies three of the five registrants were unable to attend.  This, combined with some seasonably chilly weather (holding this the final weekend of April was an experiment that will not be replicated), led me to relocate the event into my heated workshop rather than the unheated classroom space.  That actually added to the intimate atmosphere of the session.

My syllabus for this workshop is pretty well established after this many iterations.  Given the brevity of the schedule I restrict it to only two major finish materials, shellac and wax.  Next year I am penciled in to teach a longer workshop at MASW so we can explore the topic more broadly, but for now this is what we cover.  As always my objectives are to 1) present finishing as a structured enterprise, to familiarize the participants with my approach to finishing and remove any hurdles of intimidation, and 2) provide some hands-on/muscle memory experiences to impart confidence for once they are back home.

One of the foundational exercises is to brush shellac spirit varnish on a 24″ x 48″ plywood panel that is straight from the bin at the lumber yard with only the most cursory preparations of sanding with 220 paper for a coupe minutes.  The objective is to build up enough finish in three sessions, two on Day 1 and one on Day 2, to provide a great base or polishing out on Day 3.  Each of the three sessions results in about a half dozen applications of varnish.  In between the first two application sessions on Day 1, the dried varnish is lightly rubbed with dry pumice to remove and nits that are there.

Other Day 1 exercises include burnishing a mahogany panel with a polissoir, with a polissoir and wax, and applying a layer of molten wax to fill the grain and serve as a final coating.

Thus endeth Day 1.  Now on to Day 2.

Is There Anything It Can’t Do?

Seen on a storefront window in Eureka CA.

Cool Pic

I set my bottle of padding varnish (1/2 pound cut of Lemon shellac) up in the window sill over the finishing bench, and did not return to it for many moons.  I thought it was pretty cool to see how, left undisturbed, gravity had separated out the fractions of this natural heterogeneous exudate in solution.  The clarity of the fully solublized wax-free fraction on top is a nice contrast to the partially solublized and suspended wax-containing fractions on the bottom.

Shellac: adhesive, varnish, dyestuff, condiment, pharmaceutical ingredient, cosmetic, pyrotechnic binder, and now, entertainment source.  Is there anything it cannot do?

Adventures From The Shellac Archive — Lost Treasures, Part 2

I think my tracking down of literary shellac treasures is just like Indiana Jones’ quests for ancient artifactual treasures. Except without the alien and dangerous locales. Or the mega villains and the life threatening predicaments they inflict on the heroes. Or the femmes fatale.

Okay, it’s nothing like Indiana Jones. Well…, maybe a little like Indy’s adventures as this episode did involve traveling to a terrifying place, Hades-On-The-Hudson (cities absolutely creep me out, my temperament is much more suited to life in the boonies where my nearest permanent neighbor is a thousand yards away) and two lovely ladies instrumental in the discoveries. And there wasn’t really a mega villain, just a knuckleheaded academic, but then I repeat myself.

As my Shellac Archive grew into the thousands of pages it is now, it became clear that one of the brightest lights in the historic shellac research firmament was the Shellac Research Bureau of the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, New York. In the 1930s, as the winds of war for the survival of civilization began blowing, much of the research function of the venerable London Shellac Research Bureau migrated across the pond to our shores, to Brooklyn Poly. As a result, perhaps the golden-est epoch of subject research emerged as the research output of the SRB-PIB soon overshadowed the breadth and quality of almost anything ever produced by the LSRB or their Indian counterpart. As both of these enterprises were part and parcel of an imperial, ossified mercantilist/socialist system, when SRB relocated to a new culture – albeit struggling mostly due to the collectivist FDR regime in Washington – of innovation, risk, and accomplishment, perhaps the outcome was predictable.

At its peak just before and during the war, SRB’s group consisted of several faculty and several dozen students, all working on original basic and applied research under the direction of the renowned William Howlett Garner (let us pause for a moment of respectful silence. Okay, we can move on.)

Over the years I had acquired a number of the literary products from the group, mostly research monographs, but I knew from the few Annual Reports I had that my holdings that these monographs were but the tip of the iceberg. I could not help but wonder how much more there was, and began to follow up on this speculation. About 15 years ago I contacted Brooklyn Poly to see how much of the shellac research archive remained. It took many, many phone calls before I finally spoke with Heather, the research archive librarian for the university. And what an enriching experience our interactions were!

Heather was one of these classic cataloguers and retrievers of knowledge, and my inquiries into scholarship from three generations ago simply raised her estimation of me. Enthusiastically she embarked on her own journey of exploration with a promise to call me back.

And she did.

I knew immediately from the tone of her voice that the news was not promising. Deeply apologetic, she informed me the Shellac Research Bureau’s records were gone. All of them.

All of them.

Assembling the pieces of the story in retrospect revealed the utter shortsightedness of even institutions of scholarship in a culture with the attention span of a fruit fly. In the third and final installment of this tale of woe and reclamation, of knowledge lost, found, and shared, I reflect on the sentiments of the university’s Chemistry Department Chair (or perhaps it was Chemical Engineering) from the 1970s as the Institute was forming its new strategic vision, “Shellac? Who cares about that? The future is all about polymer synthesis!  Throw all that old stuff away.”

Adventures From The Shellac Archive — Lost Treasures, Part 1

I realize with no small element of chagrin that between all the activities drawing on my time, energy, and concentration, I have been remiss in carrying forward the Shellac Archive (it seems as though I have posted only 10 of the documents from my collection, which at least volumetrically, leaves more than 95% to go). I will soon strive to make its nurturing a regular part of the Blog. My personal archive has now taken up residence with us in the mountains, so I can resume the scanning and editing of it for dissemination to you.
This reality was struck home to me this week as I was trying to find a particular picture I needed as I near the finish line for the upcoming HO Studley exhibit. As is my wont when I am weary, I just let my mind wander, and in concert with that began to browse the voluminous folders of images on my compewder. While doing so I ran across several hundred pictures I had taken many years ago, recording the pages of long forgotten academic theses from one of the nation’s great universities.
The titles are self explanatory, but the depth and breadth of the contents are not.
The Manufacture of Shellac Paint

Deterioration of Bleached Shellac With Age

Dewaxing of Shellac

Deterioration of Bleached Shellac With Age (different than the previous listing)

Some Studies on the Effect of Storage on Shellac

Plasticization of Shellac

A Study of the Methods for Determining the Properties of Shellac

A Study of the Solubility of T.N. Shellac in Aqueous Sodium Carbonate Solutions

 

cDSC04276
I will post these theses, but not until tell you the amazing tale of how they came into my possession, thanks to the conscientious generosity of two determined archivists. It is a tale of worldwide fascist ambitions, flourishing scholarship in an unlikely time (ultimately abandoned and discarded), and finally the overcoming of a pronounced phobia to reclaim them.

Stay tuned.

Upcoming Presentation

cDSC09037

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.

Historic Transparent Finishes – The Rough Cut

cIMG_5771

I recently watched and approved the low resolution rough cut for my soon-to-be-released video, “Historic Transparent Finishes” (or is it “Transparent Historic Finishes?”  I can never remember).  Anyway, David Thiel and Rick Deliantoni of F&W Productions (The Popular Woodworking video folks) did a good job of capturing the action.  If nothing else, we were efficient.  As I recall, we shot about fours hours of video, and the rough cut is just under 3-1/2 hours long.

cIMG_5782

Here are a few snapshots of the computer screen from the video.

cIMG_5773

Not too surprisingly to anyone who knows my interests, the video will revolve around shellac finishes and wax finishes, including all the old favorites like polissoirs, brushing shellac, “French” polishing, and such.

cIMG_5772

The outline for this video, in fact the outline for almost everything finish-related that I do, is “Don’s Six Rules for Perfect Finishing.

I think I might show it to the participants for the upcoming Professional Refinishers Group retreat at the barn in three weeks.

That’s another thing I can check off the list.

Shellac Archive Update – “Esters and Ether-Esters of Lac and Their Polymerization”

My most recent additions to the archive included some work by Gidvani, and this one will continue that theme.

In the 1930s especially various research bureaus produced several important monographs — to be sure, some esoteric — that were important additions to the body of knowledge.

Dr. Gidvani’s 1939 paper on the “Esters and Ether-Esters of Lac and Their Polymerization” is one such example.  the importance of much of this information came to fruition in the growth of industrial usage of shellac as a binder and adhesive.