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How To Be A Decorator:
Principles Of Decoration
Painting Points
Wallpaper Points
Wall Points
Floor Points
Colonial Living Rooms
Veneered Paneling
The English Room
Spanish-Italian Living Rooms
The Living Room Without A Mantel
Living Room Points
Dining Rooms
Dining Rooms Points
Combination Living Room - Dining Room
Living Room - Dining Room Points
Halls, Sun Rooms And Porches
Points For Halls, Sun Rooms And Porches
Colonial And Modern Bedrooms
Bedroom Points
Colorful, Comfortable Nurseries
Nursery Points
New Fashions In Draperies
How To Make Curtains And Draperies
Drapery Points
Slip Covers
Slip Cover Points
How To Make Slip Covers
How To Paint Furniture
Finishes For Natural Wood Furniture

Finishes For Natural Wood Furniture

( Originally Published 1930's )

How to Stain, Wax and Renovate

The term "natural" as applied to wood finishes has two meanings. It may signify wood in its natural state and color, as in the case of "natural" finished floors, or may be used to distinguish a stained from a painted finish. We speak of a mahogany chair as having a natural wood finish because the grain and texture of the wood are clearly visible, whereas a painted finish is opaque and covers them completely. Yet the mahogany of which the chair is made is by no means in its "natural" state, but has been treated with a transparent stain to darken its color, as may be seen when the leg of a chair breaks exposing the interior of the wood.

Changing the Color of Wood Finishes

The distinction between stains and paints is important when refinishing a piece of furniture in a different color from the original. When paint is used, any tint or shade can be produced, regardless of the original finish. But while a stain can be used successfully to change a light shade to a darker one of the same or a different color, a dark tone cannot be changed to a light one by this means, because the foundation color will show through. Care should be exercised also in the choice of a new color. It would be foolish, for example, to apply a mahogany stain to a piece of oak furniture, because the grain and texture of the two woods are so different that the effect would be that of a poor imitation. On the other hand, gumwood, birch and cherry take a mahogany stain with satisfactory results.

If you are refinishing an old piece, the surface must be smooth, clean and dry. Old wax, paint or varnish must be removed, the first by sponging with turpentine, and afterwards scraping with a painter's scraper, and the second and third by the application of a paint and varnish remover obtainable at any paint shop. This is brushed on and allowed to stand until the old finish becomes soft and can easily be scraped off. A stiff bristle brush can be used for grooves and carvings. The surface is finally washed clean with benzine or denatured alcohol, according to the brand of "remover" employed, and allowed to stand until dry.

The next step is to smooth the surface with Number O or 00 sandpaper, rubbing with straight, firm strokes in the direction of the grain. On flat surfaces, such as table-tops, a more even pressure can be exerted if a half sheet of sandpaper is folded over the face of a flat block of wood. When the surface feels smooth and satiny to the touch, wipe off the dust with a soft cloth.

If the color is to remain unchanged, the piece is now ready to refinish unless so much of the original stain has been removed with the old finish as to necessitate re-staining. In this case match the color as closely as possible in an oil stain and apply one light coat with a flat bristle brush. Wipe off the surplus with a handful of soft rags as soon as the surface begins to look dull in places. Allow twenty-four hours for it to dry.

Shellacking, Oiling and Waxing

Open-grained woods, such as oak and mahogany, may next receive from one to two coats of orange shellac, each coat separately rubbed down with Number 00 sandpaper. The rubbing removes practically all of the shellac from the surface of the wood, but allows it to remain in the pores or little inequalities, thus producing a perfectly smooth surface for the final finish. Close-grained woods do not require shellacking.

To bring out the full color and texture of the wood, next apply liberally with a woolen cloth a mixture of two-thirds linseed oil and one-third benzine. As before, a stiff brush may be used for grooves and carvings. After it has stood for twenty-four hours, wipe off every trace of oil and apply paste wax (ordinary floor wax) with a small scrub-brush, rubbing first across and then with the grain. Let this stand for an hour, and polish with a thick wad of woolen cloth. Apply a second coat of wax with a piece of cheesecloth, let dry, and polish in the same manner as the first. In polishing, work on a small area at a time, beginning with a circular motion and finishing with straight strokes parallel with the grain of the wood, and the full length of table top or chair seat.

A hard oil finish is sometimes used on oak furniture. This can be obtained ready mixed and should be applied in accordance with the printed directions on the label. Flat-drying varnish can be used to produce a dull finish without the labor of hand rubbing, but a more beautiful and durable finish consists of two successive coats of high grade rubbing varnish, the first rubbed down with fine steel wool or No. 00 sandpaper, and the second with finely-powdered pumice and crude oil. A rubbing felt and cork should be used for the last-named process, or use several thicknesses of heavy woolen cloth folded over the face of an oblong block of wood. Moisten the surface liberally with oil, sprinkle with pumice, and rub back and forth with straight strokes in the direction of the grain of the wood. Take care not to cut through the thin film of varnish, especially on edges and corners. Half a dozen strokes in a place will be enough to dull the finish. Renew the pumice and oil as necessary, taking care that the rubber is not allowed to become so dry that the pumice will scratch. Finish by sponging off the surface with a rag saturated with oil. Let stand several hours and then wipe off with a clean cloth. Several days should be allowed for drying varnish coats before rubbing down. A black lacquered effect can be produced with three coats of black automobile rubbing varnish, rubbed down with pumice and oil as described above.

Renovating Furniture

It often happens that furniture which has grown a little shabby can be satisfactorily restored without refinishing.

Superficial scratches will often disappear if the surface is rubbed with equal parts of boiled linseed oil, turpentine and white vinegar. Deep scratches or cracks in mahogany can be filled with a paste composed of dry Venetian red and thick gum arabic mucilage. For other woods, substitute the corresponding colors. Small, deep holes where the wood has actually been gouged out can be filled with stick shellac of the proper color melted on the heated blade of a pocket knife.

An excellent reviver for varnished furniture that has grown dull looking, is crude oil, sparingly applied with a piece of flannel and vigorously rubbed with a silk duster. On waxed furniture, apply liquid wax as a reviver and dust daily with waxed cheesecloth. For French polish, mix in a bottle in the order named, equal parts of turpentine, strong vinegar, alcohol and raw linseed oil, but do not use wax or oil alone. To remove the cloudy appearance, technically known as bloom, sponge with cheesecloth wrung very dry out of a quart of hot water containing one tablespoonful each of linseed oil and vinegar and two tablespoonfuls of turpentine, and follow with the proper reviver, either crude oil or liquid wax.

Buying Paints and Finishes

All of the materials described can be bought from any paint dealer (with the possible exception of the oil colors in tubes which may sometimes be needed to modify the color of the enamel used) and also at many hardware and department stores. The tube colors are procurable wherever artists' materials are sold. Enamels and flat paints come in cans ranging from a quarter or a half pound upward. Any of the widely advertised brands will be found reliable. Do not make the mistake of asking for "jade," "orchid," "maize," or "mulberry," however, for such terms have no place in the paint dealer's lexicon. If unfamiliar with the standard color nomenclature, carry with you some scraps of paper, ribbons, or other material in the colors desired, match them as nearly as possible from the dealer's color card, and ask him to tell you what to add in order to obtain the precise shade desired.

Shellac is most reliable when purchased in flake form and dissolved in denatured alcohol. It is sold by the pound, as is pumice stone, while oil, turpentine, and varnish are put in pints, quarts, and gallons. If varnish is to be applied and rubbed down, be sure to ask for a rubbing varnish, as there are some varieties which cannot be treated thus.

Brushes and Their Care

Not only brushes of good quality, but those of the proper material, size and shape are essential to success in furniture finishing. Many amateurs make the mistake of buying paint brushes at the ten-cent store expecting to obtain results equal to those produced by a professional painter using high grade implements.

Soft, flat, fitch brushes, from one to two-and-a-half inches wide are best for applying paint and varnish, and the varnish brush should be kept for that purpose and used for nothing else. For colors ground in Japan, use a camel's hair brush. A bristle brush will answer for shellac. It is very important that the brushes be kept in good condition and retain their shape in order that they may produce good work. When starting to paint with a new brush, dip it in the pigment and then work it back and forth on a piece of old board or heavy paper to remove the loose bristles. If necessary to lay it down while the painting is in progress, place it flat on a piece of paper.

When through, if the painting is to be continued the following day, tie the brush handle to a stick laid across a pail of water, the bristles being entirely immersed but not touching the bottom of the pail. If the brushes will not be used again for some time, however, it is best to clean them, using turpentine for paint and varnish brushes, and denatured alcohol for those used in shellac. Follow by washing in soap and vvarrn-not hot-water, and dry by squeezing in a soft cloth. Then hang up to dry in a place free from dust, and finally wrap in paper and lay flat on a, shelf or in a box.

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