Tuesday, May 25, 2010


One of the challenges in restoring items of antique furniture is preserving or reapplying an original finish. Solvents used in applying finishes to old furniture are no longer permissible under current air quality regulations. Denatured alcohol, used with shellac, mineral spirits or naphtha, used with varnishes, and toluene, xylene and other solvents used with nitrocellulose lacquers, all contribute to air pollution and consequently can no longer be used. The dissolving solvents used in some waxes are likewise no longer permitted. What do you do when you have a valuable old piece which needs to be treated with the original finish to preserve its character and value?

The State of California actually has a provision in its air quality regulations to allow the use of historical finishes which are non-compliant. This rule, called emissions averaging, allows the use of non-complaint materials as long as on a monthly basis--computed daily--the use of those materials does not cause a permitted business to exceed its emissions limit. Does that sound complicated? We have actually tried to condense and simplify a very complicated set of formulas and regulations. In simple language, if overall a business uses a very small amount of VOCs (volatile organic compounds--materials which contribute to air pollution), it may be permitted to use the high VOC solvents necessary to reproduce historical finishes. This is not automatic for all businesses, a business must apply for this special permit and obtain it before using these high VOC materials. It must then keep daily records of a rolling 30 day average of all usages, non-compliant and compliant, and submit those for review each year.

It might surprise you to learn that for thirty years no one had obtained this permit at the time we first applied for it. Since we were a guinea pig concerning emissions averaging, it actually took us 3 1/2 years to obtain it after we applied. Since we use very low VOC water based finishes for the refinishing we do, we are able to occasionally use these non-compliant finishes and still stay well below the permitted emissions level. The good news is that we can now use these otherwise illegal solvents when needed to reproduce historical finishes.

We think it important to point out that you can go nowhere else in the state for historical finishes if you wish to work with a compliant business. Why insist on working with a compliant business? That assures you of two important things. First, you know you are dealing with a company that values integrity and is seeking to work in an open and law abiding way. Second, you know you are dealing with a company that is doing its part to ensure we have healthy air to breathe. Makes sense, doesn't it?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Taking Care of Wood Finishes

We are often asked how newly refinished items should be cared for. As a general answer, dusting with a damp cloth should be all that is needed. If there is a food spill, a weak solution of a hand dishwashing soap or Murphy's Oil Soap or some similar mild cleaner can be used. That's it!

But what about...

Polishes are useful for removing dust (like any dampened cloth will). They also create a shiny surface which makes pieces look nice. However, the liquids that create the shine are slow evaporating chemicals which will collect dust while they evaporate. What is left after repeated polishing is an accumulation of dust on the surface which is often sticky and also darkens the appearance. Depending on the quality of the finish and the chemical interaction between the finish and the polish, repeated polishing can also soften the finish making it easily damaged. Two undesirable results may be realized. First, we have had items come in to be refinished that when cleaned revealed the original intact finish underneath the grime. Weekly polishing was the culprit. These people had lived for years with a darkened, dirty looking piece that was polished each week but with each polishing got worse. Second, we have had other items come in that when cleaned revealed a surface with a finish that had just been cleaned off with the grime. Again, routine polishing had been the norm. The chemical interaction of polish and finish had degraded the finish to the point where it was no longer bonding to the wood surface. Our advice? View polishing as an emergency measure to be taken only when that feared relative is just about to walk in the door.

These are materials which typically combine a dissolving solvent, like Toluene, to smooth minor scratches, with oils, to penetrate and give shine, and usually also with some colorant, to darken raw sections to blend with the finished wood around. Restorers are widely used by antique dealers to improve the appearance of a piece to make it more salable. Like polishes, these can create problems if used routinely. Use them rarely if you need to use them at all. Further, toluene will act as a remover with many water-based and shellac finishes, causing the finish to wrinkle or worse. Be sure to do a test on an inconspicuous area before treating the entire item.

Lemon Oil?
Lemon oil is often sold as a product which "feeds" wood. When items have a surface coating finish, the lemon oil does not even penetrate into the wood. Rather it sits on the coating surface, looks and smells nice, but accumulates a layer of dust just as any other polish will. When lemon oil is valuable is when an item was originally finished with a penetrating oil finish only--such as raw linseed oil. Such a finish takes a long time (years) to harden and then has penetrated so far into the wood that the outside surface will dry out. Periodically re-oiling with lemon oil wets the surface so that it no longer appears dry. This will also help (slightly) prevent some of the cracking and shrinking which can result when the wood is not protected from atmospheric moisture changes. Some lemon oils are formulated with toluene, so if you really must use it on your finished wood surfaces, be sure to test first.

Many refinishers urge their customers not to use Pledge or similar products. The fear is silicone contamination. This link will take you to a site which offers what are believed to be the chemical components of Pledge and what job each chemical does in the mix. The reason refinishers urge against any products containing silicone is that if silicone gets into the wood it can cause cratering (fish eye) in a new finish. We don't share this concern. The water based products we use do not react the same way as solvent based finishes. While we think the simplest approach to cleaning and care is best, we don't discourage occasional dusting with pledge. Pledge will leave a slick surface which dust will not stick to. Of the options listed so far, Pledge is the best! If you still feel uncomfortable about using Pledge, Endust does a similar job without silicones.

While we don't believe you need to do anything other than damp dust your newly refinished furniture, if you want to do something, we believe waxing is the best choice. As smooth as a new finish might feel, it is still a magnet for dust and dust doesn't slip off, it sticks. Pledge and Endust apply a slick surface which dust will not stick to but offer no protection to the finished surface. Wax has the advantage of creating a much slicker surface than the finish itself, so dust does not stick, plus it adds a layer of protection. The protective wax layer will receive all the minor surface scuffing, not the finished surface. The waxed layer can be reapplied as needed or removed before re-waxing if preferred. Some purists insist that beeswax is the only wax that should be used on genuine antiques. We won't argue with them, it works just fine. However, beeswax is one of the softer waxes, so if the item will get a lot of scuffing, a harder wax will hold up longer. On the other hand, you will not be dancing on your table top, so a very hard wax like carnauba is over kill. The brand we use, Liberon, offers both a beeswax version and a blended version so you can have it either way and still be confident that you have the highest quality wax to work with. Black Bison wax is widely regarded as the crème de la crème of paste waxes. In addition to the blend of waxes used in Black Bison, the liquifying solvents used are very high grade. The advantage this gives is that Black Bison waxes do not exude an offensive odor and they will not attack and damage the finish they are applied over. These waxes also have the advantage of being offered with various pigment colorants, so that accumulations of wax in scratches or natural wood pores will look an appropriate color. For local customers, we sell these waxes in our office. If you need to use another brand, be sure to test the wax in an inconspicuous place to be sure the wax will do no damage to the finish.

Glass will definitely protect a finish. The little plastic discs used to float the glass can damage the finish. It is best to simply lay the glass directly on the surface. As long as the finish is fully cured beforehand there should be no problem with glass laying directly on the finish.

Table Pads?
Table pads are another good way to protect a finish if you expect to regularly use the table or sideboard for other activities. They are certainly easier to remove than glass for that occasion when you want the surface of your furniture to be seen in all its glory. If this is a protection you desire for your table, we offer a top quality brand of table pad in our office.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hello! We are glad you found us!

Craftsman Furniture Service was established in 1990, underwent a major expansion in 1995, expanded again in 2002 and in 2006. We specialize in restoring furniture, primarily fine furniture and antiques. Most of the furniture we work on was made during the period from the mid-nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century. We have worked on a number of even older pieces, some we believe to have been over 300 years old, such as the cabinet pictured to the right. We also work on numbers of more recent pieces. We are happy to help our customers with a broad range of needs related to furniture and woodwork. including architectural woodwork, cabinetry and doors. Our intention is to provide excellent service, to provide our customers with accurate and helpful information when called for, and in all cases to restore the furniture or woodwork we are entrusted with to a condition of beauty and usefulness.

As an endorsement of our abilities in the restoration of valuable items of furniture, during 2005 we were selected to restore a number of the pieces now on display in the Leland Stanford Mansion Museum in Sacramento, CA and in the Jack London Museum in Glen Ellen, CA. In 2006 we did additional work for the Leland Stanford Mansion Museum and for the Los Encinas Museum as well. Museum commissions continue to be a part of our regular work