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  • 27 Mar 2011
    To refinish or not to refinish.... The eternal dealers question!  After much procrastination I’ve decided to do a series of blogs about antique furniture finishes and refinishing. Hopefully this will become a series which some of you will find useful and at least give you food for thought. As most of my experience, both in dealing and in restoration, is with late 18th, 19th and early 20th century English furniture I will address the finishes commonly found on these types of pieces. Wax finishes on 18th century pieces and French polish on the rest. Of course, in most cases you will find pieces which have been refinished in the past. The most common here in Ireland/UK being 18th century pieces which were refinished with French polish in the late 19th century during the Georgian revival.    The first question to tackle, as the title suggests, is whether to refinish or not. This depends on a lot of factors, most obvious, some maybe not so. What is the age and quality of the piece and it’s value. Does the piece still have it’s original finish and if so, what is the finish? How damaged, if at all, is that finish. Does it just need cleaning? Can the finish be repaired rather than replaced? Are you a dealer or a collector? If you are a dealer what is you customer base?    I’ll try to deal with these questions in sequence but they can overlap.  As a general rule, a piece of antique furniture with it’s original finish in good condition is going to be more valuable than a refinished piece. But condition is subjective. What is one persons damaged finish is another’s patination. A lot of early finishes can be repaired and improved with just a little careful work.    If you have an 18th century piece which was finished with a spirit varnish (a resin such as shellac dissolved in varnish) and then waxed this can become bleached and dried out with time. Simply feeding the wood with a good beeswax polish and then using a proprietary wax over that can bring back a lot of the depth of colour and shine.    If you have a French polished finish (French polish is the term for the method, not the actual polish which is shellac dissolved in spirit) then that can get damaged by people spilling perfume or alcohol or the usual which is a wet vase of flowers removing the finish and leaving a ring. French polish, though fragile is one of the most repairable finishes you can use and all is very rarely lost.   Sometimes the piece just needs a good cleaning and waxing. If you have a French polished piece, and you must make sure that it is French polish and not a cellulose varnish, you can gently clean off dirt with a square of heavy duty kitchen towel, folded over, torn in half, and then folded into four. Take some cellulose thinners and pour a little onto the paper towel and gently rub the polish. This will remove all the excess grime. Do not make it too wet, do not rub to hard in one spot and it will work nicely.    This also works for a waxed finish but you must be even more careful. Change the kitchen towel often as you will see all the dust encrusted wax come off onto it.  Once you are happy with the level of cleaning, but don’t make it look too clean, buff it with another piece of paper towel and apply some coats of wax. This will only work with the finishes already mentioned. It will damage ANY synthetic finish. This can be useful however if you have a French polished item which has been painted with oil paint or varnished over at a later date.   If you are a collector, the chances are that you are going to want to improve an original finish rather than replace. If you are a dealer, then you have to consider what it is your selling and to whom. If you are selling primarily to collectors, and the piece is one that collectors would find desirable then again, improvement rather than replacement is the order of the day. If your customer base for the piece is going to be the general public then it tends to be different. In my experience, the general public expect a certain standard of finish and worn is not patination, it’s just worn and tired. If it’s a practical piece like a dining table or a chest of drawers that people are buying as home furnishing then you will probably need to refinish it.    Now, before I close I would like to offer a piece of advice. Never, ever, sand the finish off of a piece of antique furniture. Unless it needs woodwork repairs the coarsest you should use is 600 grit garnet paper and if you are working on a finish then use 1200 grit. If you need to remove an old finish use metholated spirits and squares of kitchen towel. Or 0000 grade steel wool if it’s a dirty or heavy finish. If you need to remove a varnish/lacquer finish use a chemical paint stripper which you brush on and take off with 000 grade steel wool, finishing off with 0000 grade and white spirit.  Over the years I’ve handled so many pieces where the surface has been destroyed by someone meaning well and using an orbital sander or even a belt sander on a surface. Ok… I’ll get out of my pulpit now    Anyway, if you have any questions you can post them to the “Restoring Antiques” group and I’ll do my best to help.  
    601 Posted by Colm O'Leary
  • 05 Apr 2011
      Furniture restoration 101 : How to make your own beeswax polishes.   This blog is number two in my series and will cover how to make and apply you own beeswax polish.    Beeswax polishes and creams can be quite expensive to buy, especially when they’ve been packaged nicely etc but it’s amazingly easy and rewarding to make your own and tailor it to your specific needs. I’ve always made my own and I’d never go back to buying off the shelf because, firstly,  I’m a cheapskate ;-) and secondly, you know exactly what’s in it so you don’t have to worry about silicones which will ruin your furniture.    To make your polish you will need:    A saucepan with some simmering water in it. I’d advise buying an old one for the purpose at a swap meet or a thrift shop, not getting one from the kitchen cupboard unless you do the cooking and it’s your saucepan. A largish glass jar.   A smaller, shallow & wide necked glass jar with a lid. This is to put the finished wax into.    A damp tea towel.   A grater with the ability to slice coarse flakes. Again, buy one and keep it for the purpose…   If possible, an electric hotplate.   Beeswax.   Natural Turpentine. (This must be real turpentine and not white spirit or a substitute)   Linseed oil.   A large screwdriver to stir with.   A felt tip pen for writing on CD’s   There are various mixes you can do to make different types of beeswax polish. This recipe produces a slightly harder wax and is the basic one that I use.   2 parts Beeswax 2 parts Turpentine 1 part Linseed oil   This sets quite solid in the jar and can be used sparingly, or, once it has hardened, you can take a screwdriver and whip it into a stiff cream. This makes it a lot easier to use if you need to spread a large amount out to polish onto a table top which is starved and dried out.   I usually use this polish by spreading it out in a circular motion with my hand, using the heat of my fingers to melt it into the wood. Then, when it’s dried a little I use the palm of my hand, in a sideways motion but going with the grain to buff it up. Again, the heat and friction of my hand will melt the polish into the wood and set the oil at the same time. Let it harden and then buff up with a lint free cloth, or my favourite, a piece of heavy duty kitchen towel, recycled paper of course.    If you want more of a cream polish, simply add more turpentine and, if necessary, linseed oil. The turpentine is the solvent that melts the beeswax and keeps it liquid, but on it’s own they can combine to be a sticky mess. Adding the oil serves three purposes. It brings out the colour of the wood in the same way the wax does, it acts as a lubricant and stops the mix being too sticky and it also acts as a finishing oil setting the surface. You can also add scented oils to the mixture if you wish, such as lavender, citrus or pine to change the scent. I’ve never done this as I like the smell of beeswax polish so if you want to try it you’ll have to experiment. If you do I’d love to hear how you got on.   The method. Take the saucepan and fill it with hot water up about halfway up the level of the big jar. Grate your beeswax into coarse flakes, place into the large jar, put the jar into the saucepan of hot water and simmer on the hotplate until the wax melts. This won’t take long but don’t be tempted to speed up the process by boiling the water etc.    Now, at this point, a word of caution.  Beeswax is highly flammable, so is Turpentine!  If you raise the temperature too much or place the wax in the saucepan directly on the heat it can ignite. So, always have a damp towel to hand and if the worst should happen, treat it as you would a chip fire by placing the damp towel over the top. Do not throw water onto it.    This is one of the reasons why I advise an electric hotplate which you can use outside on a nice day. It’s also more pleasant to do outside and IF anything does happen, you haven’t burned your house down!     Once the beeswax has melted, remove the jar from the water with an oven mitt and dry the outside, Using the marker, mark the level of the wax, then make another mark above that the same distance again. Then make another mark above that, half the previous distance.   Next, pour in your turpentine up to the second mark, followed by your linseed oil up to the last mark. Place back in the saucepan and gently heat through whilst stirring. Once everything is mixed, take the jar out of the saucepan again and pour your mixture into the prepared small jar. Allow it to cool uncovered. Leave overnight to set and then it’s ready to use or to store.   It’s really that simple. In these times of belt tightening, it saves money and there is something really nice about using wax polish that you’ve made yourself. Have fun!   As always, if you have any questions about this or just general restoration questions, you can post them to the “Restoring Antiques” group and I’ll do my best to help.   
    533 Posted by Colm O'Leary
Antiques - Collectibles 893 views Jun 15, 2011
Intenational shipping, eBay, Etsy, Artfire etc

Being in Ireland, I rely heavily on international shipping both to buy and sell.  In all my years on ebay I have usually found that most people on the US based eBay.com (rather than the other eBay sites around the world) when they post, tend to just go for the default shipping setting which is "US only". 

 

But, should you send them a message and express your intrest, ask politly if they will consider shipping to you, they are then more than happy to do so.  This is also true with some of the other sites such as Etsy, Artfire etc. 

 

Now, I've noticed, much to my frustration, that eBay have instututed a feature that prevents non US registered buyers from messaging sellers if their setting, which is the default, is set to "US only" shipping.  This is especially frustrating when the seller puts in their discription that they are more than happy to ship internationally if you contact them, obviously unaware that things have changed and that you can't. 

 

Are you one of the eBay US only shippers that are happy to ship internationally if asked?  If so, have you noticed a drop off in sales recently or in the prices achived?

 

It would also be intresting to hear the opinions of those who are staunchly a "US only" shipping seller to get their point of view?  Is it because of the hastle of shipping overseas, the trouble with the purchasers, language barriers etc. 



Comments

7 comments
  • Daye Salander
    Daye Salander It seems that Ebay is an ever changing landscape. We have been pretty successful with our auctions. We begin at the minimum price we will take for something and go from there.

    And yes, Aleta, there are a lot of idiots on Ebay but then, you find them ...  more
    June 17, 2011
  • Martin & Aleta Curry
    Martin & Aleta Curry Oh, don't get me started! I need to start a discussion about antiques dealers best...and worst practices - I mean in real life, not just eBay!
    June 17, 2011
  • Daye Salander
    Daye Salander Oh, go on...go on a tear. I'm sure we can all appreciate it.
    June 17, 2011
  • Daye Salander
    Daye Salander Oh, go on...go on a tear. I'm sure we can all appreciate it.
    June 17, 2011