There are three principal forms of wood polishes, each of which has its virtues and defects. They are: (a) oil, (b) wax, (c) the varnishes.
(a) Oil. The great advantage of oil polishing is its permanence. It will stand both wetting and warmth and gives a dull, glossy finish. In some woods, as sweet gum and mahogany, it brings up the figure.
Process. Apply either raw or boiled linseed oil diluted with five parts of benzine or turpentine. The advantages of dilution are that the mixture penetrates the wood better, leaves a thinner film on the surface and is more economical. Then rub, rub, rub, day after day. Little and often with unlimited friction, is the best rule. This makes a nice finish for well-fumed chestnut, turning the color to a rich brown.
(b) Wax. Wax is an old English polish, commonly used before French polish and varnish were introduced, especially for hard woods like oak. Its advantages are that it is cheap, easily prepared, easily applied, and easily repaired. Its disadvantages are that it will not stand wetting, is easily marred, requires constant care, is not so hard and dry as varnish, turns slightly sticky with warmth, and is likely to turn white in crevices.
To prepare it. To one part of melted beeswax add one part of turpentine. Mix and cool. It can be bought prepared, as, Bridgeport Wood Finishing Company's "Old Dutch Finish," Butcher's Wax, Johnson's Wax, and others.
Process. Rub the wax evenly over the surface with a stiff brush or the fingers. Let it dry for some hours, and then rub with a cloth: flannel or a piece of felt is best. Put on several coats, leaving the work over night between coats. Rub often with a warm cloth.
(c) Varnishes. The function of varnishes is to cover wood with a hard, transparent coating that is non-porous and impervious to moisture. There is a great range among them, from thin, easily worn, dull finishes to durable, strong, and highly polished coatings called "rubbing varnishes." The polished surface can be secured only by much labor thru the application of successive thin coats of good varnish, carefully rubbed down.
Varnish may be applied to wood, stained, painted, or in its natural condition as well as to metal, leather, paper, and various other substances. A good varnish should be adhesive, that is, it should cling firmly to the surface to which it is applied; it should be elastic, so as not to crack on account of the expansion and contraction of the material to which it is applied; it should dry in a reasonable time; it should be limpid so as to flow easily in application; it should be transparent and brilliant when polished; and it should be durable. The necessary conditions for all good varnishing are a perfectly smooth, even, filled surface of dry wood, a temperature of about 70° and no dust in the air.
In general, there are two classes of varnish, based on the character of the solvent, (1) Spirit varnishes and (2) Oil varnishes.
(1) Spirit varnishes are sometimes made with copal resins dissolved in some spirit, as one of the alcohols, benzine, acetone, etc. They dry with great rapidity owing to the volatilization of the solvent spirit, leaving a coat of pure resin of great hardness and brilliance, but one which is likely to crack and scale when exposed. They are not much used. Shellac is the most common and the most useful of the spirit varnishes. Its basis is resin lac, a compound resinous substance exuded from an East India scale insect (Carteria lacca) found mostly in the province of Assam. The term "lac" is the same as "lakh" which means 100,000 and is indicative of the countless hosts of insects which are the source from which this gum is obtained. The larval insects insert their proboscides into the bark of young shoots of certain lac-bearing trees, varieties of Ficus, draw out the sap for nutriment, and at once exude a resinous secretion which entirely covers their bodies and the twigs, often to the thickness of one-half inch. The females never escape and after impregnation their ovaries become filled with a red fluid which forms a valuable dye known as lac dye. The encrusted twigs are gathered by the natives in the spring and again in the autumn, before the young are hatched, and in this condition the product is known as "stick lac." After being crushed and separated from the twigs and washed free from the coloring matter the product is known as "seed lac." It is then melted and strained and spread out in thin layers in a form called "shell lac." This is what is known as orange shellac in the market. It may be bleached by boiling in caustic potash, and passing chlorine thru it until the resin is precipitated. It is further whitened by being pulled. This is what is known in the market as "white shellac." It comes in lumps. Orange shellac is the stronger and is less likely to deteriorate, but white is easier to apply because it sets less rapidly. Another advantage of the white is its colorlessness. Shellac is soluble in both grain alcohol (ethyl alcohol) and wood alcohol (methyl alcohol), but grain alcohol is preferable. Great care must be taken not to mix even a drop of water in it or it will curdle. To make perfect the process of ordinary filling, shellac may be used as a filler either by itself or preparatory to other processes. Since it dries quickly it can be rubbed down in six or eight hours either with No. 00 sandpaper oiled, or better, with No. 00 steel wool. This process when repeated several times gives a good "egg-shell" finish. It may be applied alone over stained wood or the shellac itself may be colored with aniline dyes cut in alcohol. This, for example, is an easy way to get a black finish.
A good waterproof wood polish is made thus: 1 pint alcohol, 2 oz. gum benzoin, ¼ oz. gum sandarac, ¼ oz. gum anime. Put in a bottle, and put the bottle in a hot water bath until all solids are dissolved. Strain and add ¼ gill clear poppy oil. Shake well and apply with cotton cloth.
A soft, dull, glossy finish may be obtained by applying two coats of a mixture of one part each of white shellac and banana oil (amyl acetate). When dry, sandpaper lightly and wax.
French polishing. The finest of shellac finishes is French polish. It is a thin, clear, permanent finish, but the process takes time and patience. It is not much used in practical work, because of the time expense, but is often employed in school shops, because only a few materials are necessary, it dries quickly, and gives a beautiful finish. The polished surface is obtained by adding successive thin coats according to the following process:
(1) Preparation. The surface of the wood must be perfectly smooth and even, sandpapered in the direction of the grain, stained, if desired, filled, rubbed smooth and quite dry. (2) Apply two or three thin coats of shellac. After each coat when dry, rub with No. 00 oiled sandpaper or No. 00 steel wool. Wipe thoroly. (3) Make three pads, about the size of a walnut, of clean, white, cotton waste, enclosed in some fine old or washed cloth with no sizing or lint,—one pad for shellac, one for oil, and one for alcohol. Fill one pad with shellac of the consistency of milk, enough in the pad so that when squeezed hard it will ooze out. The common mistake is to put too much shellac into the pad. Rub with circular motion, as indicated in Fig. 304, never letting the pad stop on the surface. (4) Sprinkle a very little finely powdered pumicestone and put a little oil on the surface of the wood here and there with the tip of a finger. Rub with second pad until surface is dull. Wipe clean. Repeat (3) and (4) several times. Some use raw linseed oil to prevent sticking. Others use three or four cloth coverings on the shellac pad, removing the outer one as it dries. A simpler way is to keep the shellac in pad, 1, thin by moistening with a little alcohol. (5) Spiriting off (Follows process 4.) Dampen pad, 3, with very little alcohol and wipe quickly in the direction of the grain. This should remove the circular marks. Too much alcohol in this third pad will "burn" a dull spot. The rubbers are said to improve with use, and may be preserved in closely stoppered jars to prevent evaporation. The different kinds of pads should be kept separate. Or the cotton waste may be thrown away, and the cloths washed in strong borax water. In the process just described, shellac alone, dissolved in alcohol, is used. The shellac may be used with other ingredients: for example, 1 pint grain alcohol, ¼ oz. gum copal, ¼ oz. gum arabic, 1 oz. shellac. Strain through muslin.
Fig. 304. Direction of the Pad in French Polishing.
Another recipe for finishing. Use 4 drams grain alcohol, 2 drams orange shellac, 5 drams tincture of benzoin, 1 teaspoonful of olive oil. Dissolve and strain. Apply with pad in direction of grain.
Oil or Copal Varnishes. The old Cremona varnish once used for violins is supposed to have had amber (Greek, electron) as its base. It was a fossilized coniferous resin found on the shore of the Baltic Sea. The art of making it is said to be lost, probably because of the difficulty and danger of melting it, for this can be done only in oil on account of the danger of ignition. Hence its use has been abandoned.
Perhaps the most beautiful of all varnishes is lacquer, much used in China and Japan. It is made from the juice of the lacquer tree, (Rhus vernicifera) which is tapped during the summer months. The juice is strained and evaporated and then mixed with various substances, such as oil, fine clay, body pigment, and metallic dust, according to the ware for which it is intended. The manufacturing secrets are carefully guarded. The application of it is very difficult, the sap of young trees being used for first coats, and of old trees for the finishing coats. It must be dried in a damp, close atmosphere. For the best work ten or twelve coats are elaborately rubbed down and polished. Even the presence of it is very poisonous to some people and all workers in it are more or less affected.
The solvent or vehicle of the modern copal varnishes consists principally of linseed oil with some turpentine. Their base is Copal, a fossil, resinous substance of vegetable origin. The gums of which they are made have been chemically altered by long exposure in the earth. Other gums, as mastic, dammar, sandarac, and even resin are sometimes mixed with copal to cheapen the product or to cause more rapid drying. Copal is a generic name given originally to all fossil resins. Copals, as they are called, come from New Zealand, Mozambique, Zanzibar, West Africa, Brazil, and the Philippines. The best of the Copals is said to be the Kauri gum, originally exuded from the Kauri pine tree of New Zealand. The tree is still existent and produces a soft, spongy sap, but the resin used in varnish is dug up from a few feet under ground in regions where there are now no trees. A commercially important copal and one noted for its hardness is the Zanzibar or East African Copal. It is found imbedded in the earth at a depth not greater than four feet over a wide belt of the mainland coast of Zanzibar, on tracts where not a single tree now grows. It occurs in lumps from the size of small pebbles to pieces weighing four or five pounds. The supply is said to be practically inexhaustible.
As to the manufacture of the Copal varnishes: first of all, a high grade oil is boiled at a high temperature, with different materials to oxidize it; for instance, red lead or oxide of manganese. The heat throws off the oxygen from the red lead or manganese. The oxygen is absorbed by the linseed oil, which is then put away to settle and age. When a batch of varnish is made, the gums are melted in a large kettle and then the requisite amount of oil is added and these carefully boiled together. This is removed from the fire and cooled down to a point, where turpentine can be added without volatilizing. These are thoroly mixed and then filtered under pressure and tanked and aged. The different grades of varnish depend upon the treatment of the oil, the proportion of oil and turpentine, the qualities of the gums, the aging, etc. Some by rubbing give a very high polish, some give a dull waxy finish, some are for out-of-door use, as Spar varnish and carriage varnish, some are for floors, some for furniture, some are high priced, some are cheap.
Process of Varnishing. The preliminary processes are the same as those for applying shellac, i. e., the surface of the wood must be perfectly even and smooth, and the staining, filling, and drying complete. Quick drying varnishes, like shellac, are applied, with but little on the brush. The heavy, high lustre varnishes, on the other hand, are applied with the brush full so that the varnish may even drip off the work. Then proceed as follows: Wipe off from the work the extra varnish with the brush and clean the brush on the edge of the cup. Repeat till the varnish is flowed over the work evenly. Be particularly careful, in that respect, of edges and corners. Set to dry in a dustless place. When dry and hard repeat the process from three to six times. Each coat must dry thoroly before the next coat is applied.
Varnish polishing consists in rubbing off the varnish, not in rubbing it on, as in French polishing. To polish varnish, rub with a felt pad, powdered pumice-stone and water. Rub till the surface is smooth, unpitted and even, being careful not to rub thru the edges. Wipe clean with a wet sponge and chamois skin. This gives a dull or "egg-shell" finish. For polishing varnish, a simple method is to rub with a rotary motion, using a mixture of 1⁄2 sweet oil or cottonseed oil, and 1⁄2 alcohol.
A more laborious process is as follows: After rubbing to a dull finish, rub ground rotten stone and water with chamois skin in a circular motion. Let the rotten stone dry on the surface. Then wipe off with the naked hand, rubbing in a circular direction and wiping the hand every time after passing over the work. This looks simple, but is really a fine art. These processes have practically replaced French polishing in the trade.