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 In Finishing, Shop Blog, Techniques

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beeswax block

My four-decade-long desire to identify, understand, replicate and develop new analogs to historic furniture-making materials has led me on some interesting quests and situations. Included in these would be learning a lot about tropical insects whose “sweat” is the foundation for the most amazing finish ever (shellac); studies of sausage casings, artificial skin and corneas as I tried to (successfully) create a convincing alternative to tortoiseshell for my own Boulle-work marquetry (including a genuinely surreal episode of waking during eye surgery as they were sewing on my new cornea and attempting to engage everyone in a conversation about protein polymers; “O-h-h-h-h, Mr. Williams, you just have to be quiet right now!”); and most recently into the world of bees, honey, and beeswax.


Well, it has become increasingly clear to me that beeswax finishing in olden times was not simply a maintenance product, or a second-rate appliqué for furniture, but was rather the primary finish for some of the finest furniture ever made! Historical documents and contemporary scientific analyses confirm that beeswax finishes were the original “French polish” for the exquisite marquetry of the 17th and 18th centuries, and was perhaps the most common transparent finish in early Colonial America.



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