Bob Flexner

Early 19th-century pie-crust table

Lacquer for Antiques & Reproductions

It’s widely believed and promoted that the proper finish for 18th and 19th-century antique furniture and reproductions is shellac. The reason is that shellac was the finish that was most likely used in that time period. I have no problem with this, but I want to make the case that nitrocellulose lacquer is also appropriate....

scratch disappears under UV light

Smart Coatings

It seems like everything is becoming smart these days: smart phones, smart watches, smart cars, smart drugs. There are even smart coatings (paints and finishes). I’ve blogged about one already, a coating that uses nanotechnology to create an air barrier that causes liquids such as pee to bounce off walls and cover the perpetrator’s...

Now, all one company

Troubling Consolidations

As in so many other industries, the companies who supply us with paints and finishes are consolidating at a rapid rate. When I started in this field 40 years ago, there were all sorts of local and regional suppliers. Every store carried its own unique brands. Minwax was a very small player. It was...

Analine dyes, Lockwood and Moser, which is relabled Lockwood

Synthetic Aniline Dyes: Where Did They Come From?

Before 1856 all dyeing, and for that matter, most coloring, whether on cloth or wood, was done using natural materials. Being natural materials, they varied, so it was difficult to predict the color you would get. Most of these dye colorants also faded easily. The breakthrough to a better dye was discovered accidentally by...

Murphy Oil Soap

Murphy’s Oil Soap: A Most Unusual Story

During my career refinishing furniture, Murphy’s Oil Soap has morphed from a regionally available natural soap made with potassium hydroxide (similar to lye) and vegetable oil (instead of animal fat) to a nationally available and very popular furniture-care product. I watched this transformation happen and find the story fascinating. I find it fascinating because...

Filled mahogany grain on the right

A Few Thoughts

I just finished reading an article on filling pores, and it reminded me of several things I’ve been meaning to say. First, filling pores is primarily a refinishing operation because so much of the old factory-made and finished furniture is mahogany with filled pores. To reproduce the original look, a refinisher has to fill...

You can thin all you want

You Can Add All the Thinner You Want

You often see cans of solvent finishes, including lacquer, and alkyd and polyurethane varnish, with instructions not to thin them. Manufacturers include these instructions in order to comply with VOC laws in some areas of the country, such as California. Adding thinner could take the finish out of compliance with the local or state...

To remove the residue NMP wipe several times with an alcohol dampened cloth

Remove Residue NMP From The Wood

The paint-and-varnish removers commonly available in stores are gradually shifting from those available in metal cans to those available in plastic containers. The ones in plastic aren’t as strong or fast acting as those in cans, which are methylene chloride and various lacquer-thinner solvents. Just the packaging, plastic vs. metal, tells you this. The...

Dip Stick Cartoon002

Furniture Polishes

I spent most of the decade of the ’90s trying to make sense of furniture polishes. Claims from manufacturers were (and still are) all over the map. Even worse were all the contradictory opinions of my professional-refinishing colleagues, museum conservators, furniture-store clerks and my customers. I figured out pretty quickly that furniture polishes couldn’t...