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Polishing and Staining

This Article Deals with French Polishing, How to Make Polishing Bobs, and Various Stains and Varnishes
By Ray Lewhite.

This finishing process requires a great deal of time and practice to acquire perfection and many an amateur who as tried his hand at it has become tired of his attempts without making any real success. There is, after all, no secret in it. The wood is given a number of coats of French polish, applied with a circular motion and the right pressure on a wad or rubber. The art has to be learned by experience and the amateur naturally wants something quicker and certain of results. Anyone can undertake polishing, but a special preparation is now available which is made for the beginner in woodwork. The process is the same: indeed the work is the same, whether ordinary French or lightning polish is used, but the worker who as been discouraged with the former will find his results much more satisfactory with the latter. A simple hand-made polish consists of 6oz. of shellac dissolved in 1 pint of methylated spirit. If this is too thin, add some shellac and if too thick, add more methylated spirit. The orange or reddish brown shellac is suitable for French polishing oak and mahogany; but if you want a white French polish, use bleached shellac. This should be rubbed on with a small pad

Clean the Wood First

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The work to be polished must be thoroughly clean and free from grease, in order that the liquid may soak in. For it must be remembered that a job cannot be satisfactorily patched up. If the polish is not put on evenly, or develops an "egg" - that is, a kind of bald patch - the only remedy is to clean the work down again with glass paper. The work too should be polished before it is finally constructed. Having satisfactorily built up the piece of work temporarily, it must be taken apart again so that each piece may be treated independently. When put together again after polishing, remember that the glue will not grip on this coated surface. In consequence, all portions to which glue is to be applied must be scratched clean of polish so that adhesive may hold to the natural wood. To obtain the same colour throughout, the parts must be stained in the manner previously described, taking care that the work has been thoroughly cleaned first. Finish off with a grade 0 of glasspaper to give a perfectly smooth surface. If the wood is soft and the grain open, woodfiller must be rubbed well into the grain as usual. The method adopted in the best work, and before woodfillers were known, was to apply the polish to provide the body. This is undoubtedly the best way, but a good many applications have to be made before the wood will even commence to polish, due to the wood absorbing so much before the grain is filled. This method is thus more expensive, as well as more tedious than the use of proper filler. Having stained the work down and got a proper surface with filling, the operation of polishing can be commenced. It is important to have a perfectly clean smooth surface and after the final rubbing with grade 0 glasspaper the work must be wiped to rid it of any dust. Another point to remember, too is that the polishing should be undertaken in a fairly warm room. The liquid is much more workable and the results better if the temperature is a little above the ordinary heat of a living-room. If the polish is used very cold it will drag and be too sticky to produce good results. Unlike varnish or paint, the polish is applied to the work with a "bob" or "rubber" and the shape of one is given in Fig.6. This is pear-shaped, and just large enough to be held comfortably in the hand, so that the fingers may maintain an easy and even pressure on the "toe.

Forming the Polishing Rubber

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The bob is composed of a pad of wadding wrapped inside a piece of linen (Fig.7). A square of clean linen or rag is then cut to provide an ample wrap for the pad. This cloth must be of fairly fine texture, and nothing which is hairy or liable to fluff up must be used. If it is it will stick to the polish and not produce a good surface to the work. Lay the wadding in the centre of the linen and then bring the corners over to form a satisfactory hand grip. It is essential that the bottom of the rubber be perfectly smooth, whilst the ends above are twisted into a handle. Open the rubber up again and pour a quantity of polish on the wadding, as shown in Fig.7. Let it be nicely saturated, so that when squeezed the polish will ooze out. Do not put the polish on the wrapper of linen, but do the wadding pad up as before. Hold the whole rubber lightly in the hand between the fingers and thumb (see Fig.8) so that enough pressure can be exerted to squeeze the polish on the wadding through the linen surface. The work is commenced by rubbing the wood with the bob, gradually squeezing the polish on to its surface with the circular motion. Do not let the rubber remain still on the wood, but keep it working in fairly wide circular sweeps (Fig.9) Do not press too hard,, or attempt to use the bob when the polish is used up. Pour in some more polish and continue over the surface until it has been covered entirely. Take the bob straight off the edge and be careful not to scrape it in coming on again. It is not the pressure or the amount of polish which produces a good surface, but the continued rubbing. The first coat of polish forms the body to the work, and cannot be expected to bring up a surface. Leave the wood for about 10 minutes to allow the polish to become set, and then repeat the process. This time keep the bob moving in slightly smaller circles, and do not polish one part more than another. As the grain of the wood becomes gradually filled, less polish will be needed and more time be allowed to pass before repeating the rubbings. After the second coat the work must be rubbed down lightly with very fine glasspaper. The beginner is apt to use this too firmly, and care must be taken to see that the polish is not actually cleaned away. The finest paper should be used, and then only to lightly touch the surface of the work to smooth it out. Three rubbings with lightning polish are sufficient to bring up a very polished surface providing the rubber has been used correctly.

Hints to Remember

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Speed does not matter, but rather an even, steady movement with an even pressure on the work. The constant application of the bob will bring about the desired result. Do not put on too much polish, nor work the bob when it is dry or stiff. The work should be completed in one operation, because the bob will get stiff and hard if allowed to dry. It can be used again if kept in a airtight tin, but on no account must it be used if the surface is hard. This will only scratch the work and blemish it.

Working on shaped Pieces

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The work must not be handled so that greasy fingers come in contact with the polished surface. The wood should be laid flat on the bench against a stop of some kind to prevent it moving about. A good plan is to drive screws in so that the heads project above the top of the bench just far enough to act as a stop. Or if the work must be held, put a screw into the edge of the wood to serve as a handle. The final strokes must be given with the rubber from end to end, carrying the bob right off the wood each time in the direction of the grain. In polishing moulding, it should be held by a frame at each end, whilst the small wooden ornaments which are so popular now in decorating can be fixed for polishing by glueing them to a piece of coarse paper, and then glueing the whole down to another board (Fig.10). In this way the ornament can be taken off after polishing has been completed.

Polishing Outfit

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Special polishing outfits can be obtained which contain all that is necessary for the polisher. There are stains and woodfiller as well as polish and rubber and glasspaper. it must be remembered that polish itself will not colour-up the wood. For this reason and to do away with staining, the amateur can obtain a lightning colour polish. This is as its name suggests, the special french polish in which the colouring stain has been mixed. In consequence, it colours as it polishes - the work being done with a bob as previously described. The colour polish is obtainable in oak, mahogany, and walnut and although primarily intended for use on boards of that particular class, it can be used on suitable whitewoods or similar boards.

Making Shellac Varnish

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Shellac in flake form is used for making shellac varnish. These flakes should be broken up into small pieces and dissolved in methylated spirit. Make the solution fairly thick, and thin it down with methylated spirits to the required consistency.

Varnish Stains

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Place in a well stoppered bottle 6 oz. of orange shellac, 1 oz. of gum and a quarter gallon of methylated spirit, and agitate at intervals until all the shellac has thoroughly dissolved; then add an aniline dye of any desired colour soluble in spirit. The mixture should then be strained after which it is ready for use. The following are a few of the aniline colours used. For rosewood, cherrywood and mahogany use bismarck brown in variable proportions; for walnut, use bismarck brown and a little nigrosine; for light and dark oak, use vandyke brown; for satinwood use aniline yellow; and for ebony use brilliant spirit black. These stains dry in about 20 minutes with a hard brilliant and durable surface. Care must be exercised not to apply the brush too rapidly and only in one direction.

Ebony Stain

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Use ordinary black waterproof drawing ink diluted with water. a cheaper solution, which gives a deep black finish, is made by placing some iron filings in vinegar leaving the solution to stand for a few days. This should be applied with a soft rag.

Satinwood Stain

In 1 pint of methylated spirit steep one and a half oz. of ground turmeric and half oz. of gamboge and strain through muslin.

Darkening Mahogany

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A stain for darkening mahogany is made as follows: dissolve 1 oz. of bichromate of potash in 1 pint of water; two or three applications of this may be given and when the stain is dry, the colour may be enriched by wiping over with red oil, obtained by steeping 2 oz. of alkanet root in a half pint of raw linseed oil. Common washing soda, carbonate of soda, or water which lime has been slaked, will give different shades. A French method is to rub the surface with dilute nitric acid, which when dry, may be brushed over with a solution of one and a half oz. dragons blood and a half oz. carbonate of soda dissolved in one pint of methylated spirit.

Dull Finish on Oak

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One method of imparting a dull finish on oak is to first apply french polish and varnish, and when this is hard to rug down the surface by means of pumice or emery, applied with a hard brush, such as a nail brush. An antique finish is gained by applying a wax polish after the dulling down process; this imparts a gloss instead of a shine.
Fig.6.
Fig.7.
Fig.8.
Fig.9.
Fig.10.
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