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wood-finishes-msg - 2/13/08

 

Period and SCA wood finishes. Stains. Applied finishes.

 

NOTE: See also the files: wood-msg, painting-msg, glues-msg, polishing-msg, wood-bending-msg, wood-utensils-msg, woodworking-msg, beeswax-msg.

 

************************************************************************

NOTICE -

 

This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I  have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.

 

This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org

 

I  have done  a limited amount  of  editing. Messages having to do  with separate topics  were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the  message IDs  were removed to save space and remove clutter.

 

The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make  no claims  as  to the accuracy  of  the information  given by the individual authors.

 

Please  respect the time  and  efforts of  those who have written  these messages. The  copyright status  of these messages  is  unclear at this time. If  information  is  published  from  these  messages, please give credit to the originator(s).

 

Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org

************************************************************************

 

From: flieg at garnet.berkeley.EDU (Flieg Hollander)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Pavilion/tent poles

Date: 20 Dec 1994 12:48:01 -0500

 

Frederick of Holland here -=-

Folo said:

 

>>For finishing poles, I would suggest a good paint (not a stain)

>>and then linseed oil (boiled; unboiled never dries) and pumice

>>rubbed in. Take a look at various paints on the market for

>>historical homes: they try to match early American paint colors,

>>which are probably going to be the nearest you can get to

>>earlier period paints as well (if this is an incorrect assumption,

>>I hope someone who knows will post additional information). It

>>appears that paint was more commonly used than stains because

>>the folks of the time were trying to hide, not accent, the cheap

>>woods they often used.

 

  As Master Malcom MacPherson (Laurel -- specialty:furniture) reminded us in

a recent class, the "cheap wood" was _oak_, and weather-proofing oak is far

less necessary than it is for other woods. The most period form of sealing

is apparently no sealing at all.

  That being said, few of us can afford oak pavilion poles, and sealing fir

that is going to be out in the weather is only sound practice.

  I use tung oil, which is a modern concoction, but totally innocuous in

that it just looks like the wood has been darkened slightly by age. Boiled

linseed oil is good, too.  Both of these should be renewed periodically. On

the more permanent side, varnishes are period and so are lacquers.  Both are

getting harder and harder to find, due to the concern over solvents.

 

>>However, personally, I just assume that I'm gonna replace poles

>>--gradually, not all at the same time--over the course of a few

>>years.

 

  Yep. I'm lucky.  I have a mill not three miles from here which stocks

1 1/2" rod (thicker than clothes rod) in all the fashionable lengths (up to

15') at a reasonable price per foot ( <$1 ).  And they let me pick out the

ones with the straightest grain when I tell them I'm using it for a "tent

pole".

 

   *   *   *    Frederick of Holland, MSCA, OP, etc.

  *** *** ***   flieg at garnet.berkeley.edu

  _|___|___|_

|===========|

  (((Flieg Hollander, Chem. Dept., U.C. Berkeley)))

 

 

From: jklessig at slip.net

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Period Wood Stains

Date: Thu, 05 Jun 1997 06:10:20 GMT

 

bronwynmgn at aol.com (Bronwynmgn) wrote:

>ua923 at freenet.Victoria.BC.CA (Mark Shier) writes:

>> Your best bet for a period wood stain that is food safe and alcohol

>> resistant is walnut oil. Theophilus (11C) uses it for oiling bone carvings.

>> It is a traditionjal frnch wood finish.

>> I am using walnut oil to finish a batch of Sutton Hoo style beakers.

>> Wood finishes are a problem for reenactors- there is very little known from

>> period.

 

>Are there any period finishes to waterproof the wood somewhat?  My lord

>and I are looking at making some camp furniture out of oak and would like

>to finish it in as period a manner as possible.  Would oak need a

>waterproof finish, or only softer woods such as pine? I would guess that

>one alternative might be beeswax well rubbed in, but it's only a guess.

 

>Bronwyn

The walnut oil finish will water proof wood to some extent (depending

on how many coats you apply) walnut oil (which should be pure, with

aout antioxident additives or preservatives) is a "drying" oil. What

this means is that it reacts (slowly) with the oxygen in air to form a

polomerized film. Tung oil, and linseed oil are also drying oils, and

may work faster.

 

Oak in particular can be a problem, it is a porous wood

(red oak is so bad that it will not hold water) To seal it well you

have to fill these pores with finish, which takes for ever.

 

As for bees wax, I use it when I am turning goblets or bowls on the

lathe. But the method I use for applying it (using the friction caused

by the lathe turning to melt the wax into the wood, smells great) will

not work for furniture.

 

Chandra

 

 

From: rnewmyer at epix.net (Robert Newmyer)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Period Wood Stains

Date: Thu, 5 Jun 1997 11:30:17 -0400

Organization: R. Newmyer Consulting

 

We have been using Danish oil finishes on our rope bed, trestle table,

chairs and pavilion poles. The finish on the trestle table held up well

at last PENNSIC. We've used the Danish oil on pine, poplar and alder.

Especially liked the "English Oak" finish on our rope bed. Danish oil is

another drying oil finish. Does anyone know the ingredients used? I

believe Danish oil is based on linseed or tung oil, which had it's origin

in a nut found in China (May not be period)

 

BTW, you can buy walnut oil in supermarkets in the salad oil section.

 

        Griffith

 

 

From: j klessig <jklessig at slip.net>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Period Wood Stains

Date: Fri, 06 Jun 1997 08:53:51 -0700

 

Robert Newmyer wrote:

> We have been using Danish oil finishes on our rope bed, trestle table,

> chairs and pavilion poles. The finish on the trestle table held up well

> at last PENNSIC. We've used the Danish oil on pine, poplar and alder.

> Especially liked the "English Oak" finish on our rope bed. Danish oil is

> another drying oil finish. Does anyone know the ingredients used? I

> believe Danish oil is based on linseed or tung oil, which had it's origin

> in a nut found in China (May not be period)

>

> BTW, you can buy walnut oil in supermarkets in the salad oil section.

 

I believe modern (like watco) danish oils are a mixture of tung like oils

and disolved polymer resins.

 

I would not use walnut oil from the supermarket unless you are sure it

has NO preservatives. The preservatives prevent the precise reaction you

want for a finish. "organic" or health food stores are more likely to

have pure oil.

 

Linseed oil (flax seed) is quite period. Tung oil I do not know

 

 

From: Dan Bollinger at Clay Critters <danr at critters.mdn.com>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Period Wood Stains

Date: Fri, 06 Jun 1997 15:04:03 -0700

 

Robert Newmyer wrote:

> We've used the Danish oil on pine, poplar and alder.

> Especially liked the "English Oak" finish on our rope bed. Danish oil is

> another drying oil finish. Does anyone know the ingredients used? I

> believe Danish oil is based on linseed or tung oil, which had it's origin

 

These types of finishes are half-oil and half-varnish, it has dryers

added.  Varnishes do appear early, I don't know when.

 

An earlier hard finish is shellac.  "French Polishing" is done with

shellac and oil mixture.

 

As someone else said, beeswax is very old.  Probably into antiquity.

 

An interesting and possible early stain for oak is "fuming."  Place the

oak in tight container (I use a garbage bag)  into which also sits a

shallow pan containing ammonia.  The ammonia fumes turn the tannic acid

in the oak a very warm, rich brown.  Ammonia would have been available

from urine as bacteria changed it into ammonia.

 

Green Man Dan

 

 

From: gerekr at aol.com (Gerekr)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Period Wood Stains

Date: 6 Jun 1997 22:10:38 GMT

 

I've used beeswax mixed with turpentine.  It doesn't smell very nice until

the turpentine evaporates, but works well.  They were using it in the

seventeenth century, but I don't know if it was documented earlier than

that.  I wouldn't use in for food related objects.

 

Meistari Gerekr

 

 

From: millsbn at mcmail.cis.McMaster.CA (Bruce Mills)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Period Wood Stains

Date: 7 Jun 1997 20:54:13 -0400

Organization: McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

 

Dan Bollinger at Clay Critters  <danr at critters.mdn.com> wrote:

>An interesting and possible early stain for oak is "fuming."  Place the

>oak in tight container (I use a garbage bag)  into which also sits a

>shallow pan containing ammonia.  The ammonia fumes turn the tannic acid

>in the oak a very warm, rich brown.  Ammonia would have been available

>from urine as bacteria changed it into ammonia.

 

You can also soak rusty iron in vinegar and apply the resulting solution to oak to turn it black; the iron reacts with the tannin, the same process used to make some inks.

 

Akimoya

Ealdormere

 

 

From: "merlyn" <merlyn at jps.net>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Period Wood Stains

Date: 10 Jun 1997 19:31:16 GMT

 

Robert Newmyer <rnewmyer at epix.net> wrote:

> We have been using Danish oil finishes on our rope bed, trestle table,

> chairs and pavilion poles.

> BTW, you can buy walnut oil in supermarkets in the salad oil section.

>

>       Griffith

 

> > >ua923 at freenet.Victoria.BC.CA (Mark Shier) writes:

> > >>  Your best bet for a period wood stain ...

> > >is walnut oil. Theophilus (11C) uses it for oiling bone

> > >carvings.

> > >>  Wood finishes are a problem for reenactors- there is very little

> > >known from

> > >>period.

> >

> > >Are there any period finishes to waterproof the wood somewhat?  

> > >Bronwyn

 

> > The walnut oil finish will water proof wood to some extent (depending

> > on how many coats you apply) ...

> >

> > As for bees wax, I use it when I am turning goblets or bowls on the

> > lathe. But the method I use for applying it (using the friction caused

> > by the lathe turning to melt the wax into the wood, smells great) will

> > not work for furniture.

> >

> > Chandra

 

As a longtime woodworker, including over 20 years as professional

carpenter, cabinet maker and general contractor, I have had a lot of

reasons to explore period wood finishes.  Unfortunately little has

survived.  Most furniture was simply scraped smooth on completion and put

into service.  The same is true for early drinking vessels and eating

utensils(including trenchers).

 

      Waxes were sometimes used on furnishings and utensils for the rich

and the nobility, but exact methods of application are virtually unknown.

One method commonly supposed to have been used is to "paint" the liquified

wax on the object and then scrape off the excess followed by buffing with

various types of cloth from coarse to fine.  This is extremely tedious and

the results are passable.  Walnut oil seems to be the only reasonably well

documented treatment.

 

     Waterproofing is slightly different.  While various oils were

experimented with, the most common treatment was pitch. It was cheap,

plentiful, easy to work with (barring the liklihood of burns) and worked

very well.  It's primary drawback is that it tends to remain tacky

indefinitely and residue rubs off on contact.

 

     If you need more information most manufacturers of oil finishes have

published material on the history of their products, covering both

manufacture and use.

 

Etienne Xavier Bondurant du Blacquemoor

"Qvid me anxius sum?"

 

 

From: ALBAN at delphi.COM

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: waxed wood

Date: 5 Jun 1997 23:37:15 -0400

 

Bronwyn asked:

>Are there any period finishes to waterproof the wood somewhat?  My

>lord and I are looking at making some camp furniture out of oak and

>would like to finish it in as period a manner as possible.  Would oak

>need a waterproof finish, or only softer woods such as pine?  I would

>guess that one alternative might be beeswax well rubbed in, but it's

>only a guess.

 

I've used boiled linseed oil on my tent poles; and the three tables I use

to display my wares at Pennsic are also, if I remember correctly,

thoroughly coated with linseed oil. The tables have lasted through,

umm, about 4 Pennsics, so far, and the tent poles through seven or

eight, no problem, and none of the tables or poles have needed to be re-

rubbed.

Admittedly, they're also not out in the rain: close, but not actually out.

Since (again, if I remember correctly) linseed oil is made from flax, and

since flax was known in period, I believe linseed oil is also period.

Two things to remember: you'll need at least two coats if you're going to

use it on untreated wood. And you will notice a faint smell of linseed

oil for a long time; my tables still have a faint whiff of it, several years

after having it applied. (It's not a bad smell or anything; it's just a

smell.)

I've heard good things about beeswax-as-waterproofing, but haven't

tried it myself. Wax has other uses, too - candles, flux for casting metal

printing type, lubrication for a whole mess of things, coating (I think)

for vegetable and fruit canning, sealing wine bottles . . . .

Be very, very careful, though: when you apply the oil to the wood, look

out for splinters. One of the tent poles bit back, I wound up with a

couple of inches of splinter in a finger, *poof* infection crept in, and I

spent three days in the hospital, on IV antibiotics, thanks to an

incredibly huge swelling on that finger. - and all this, despite the fact

that I'd applied bandages and over-the-counter antibiotics to the wound.

 

Anyone else have a blooded tent? <grin>

 

Alban

 

 

Date: Fri, 28 Nov 1997 13:02:19 -0600

From: Sinclair <jeffdp at earthlink.net>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Not just leater

 

Put several rusty iron nails

>in vinegar for around two weeks.  When you brush it on leather you get a nice

>grey or black based on how strong the solution is. The color only bleeds

>slightly in water.  The down side is that this dying method will cause wool

>and silk fibers to degenerate faster.

>

>Noemi

 

The recipe of rusty metal and vinger is also used in woodworking!  If you

put this solution on wood with a high tannic acid concentration, such as

oak, you will also obtain shades of grey to black.  The pores will be

darker.  If you want to make a wood, such as maple, grey, just 'paint' it

with tea, let it dry, and then put the solution on it. (This is called

Liquid Nightmare, by the way, and if you spray drops around you may learn

where the name comes from...

 

Sinclair

 

 

Subject: Re: Period Woodworking (+Reference)

Date: Mon, 31 Aug 1998 21:51:27 -0700

From: Tim Bray/Catherine Keegan <keegan at ix.netcom.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

 

Colin briefly jumping in:

 

Period sanding techniques:  None, because sanding does not appear to have

been done in the Middle Ages.  The process of dressing wood with a plane

yields a very smooth surface (smoother, in fact, than sandpaper will give

you), particularly if the plane is very sharp and well-tuned.  I have

personally inspected a fair amount of woodwork from the 14th to 16th

centuries and "chatter-marks," left by a plane that was slightly dull or

out of tune, are typically evident, particularly on the "back" sides of an

object.   The visible surfaces in "front" were most probably finished by

scraping with a sharp edge where necessary.  This technique is still used

today by traditional woodworkers.  Sandpaper itself is no earlier than

the 19th century.

 

Period finishing techniques:  The most common finish was probably none at

all.  Ordinary objects, such as furniture, that were used on a daily basis

would rapidly acquire a "patina" from handling. This handling would also

damage other finishes that could have been used, such as wax; a wax finish

has surprisingly little resistance to moisture and will wear off very

quickly, making it not worth the trouble (and expense, in the MA) to

apply.

 

Exceptions:  Highly valued objects that were not intended to be handled

frequently were finished with the most expensive and therefore desirable

material available - paint.  To our modern aesthetic, shaped as it is by

the Arts & Crafts Movement etc, it seems almost sacrilegious to paint over

a beautifully figured oak panel; yet that would have been the first choice

of a medieval artisan working in the "high-end" of the market.

Remember, these people would have been surrounded by wooden objects, and the

"natural" appearance of wood that we prize so highly would have seemed

"common" and vulgar to the upper classes. Instead of "finishing," think

of "decorating."

 

The ultimate "high-end" finish can perhaps be found in tiny remnants on

such objects as the Coronation Throne of England.  The original finish, in

addition to polychrome paint (including white lead with red lettering),

included a gold foil surface on the back that was decorated by punching to

create the image of a king (possibly Edward I).  At a later but still

medieval date, the throne was partially covered over by a sort of lustrous

glazing.  My references do not tell me what this glazing was made from,

but it sounds sort of like coloured varnish.

 

Varnish made from linseed oil was known at least as early as the mid-15th

century, and possibly earlier; Cennini mentions how to make it.  This was

the base for the oil paint invented (some say) by Hubert VanEyck.  It was

almost certainly used to glaze over paintings on wood panels, and therefore

seems likely to have been used on decorative objects as well.

 

During the ReNAYsance (I pronounce it the way Blackadder did), of course,

this esthetic underwent considerable change and high-end wooden objects,

often inlaid with contrasting colors of wood, were finished with clear

varnish.  Again, this varnish was based on linseed oil, prepared by a

low-temperature cooking process that partially polymerizes the oil. Modern

linseed oil will produce a very acceptable imitation finish; do not use it

on eating utensils, as it contains toxic metals to improve the curing

process.

 

Hope this helps!  There is not, alas, a single good reference book

available for period woodworking techniques.  There are several books that

touch on the subject, but none that are comprehensive. Most of the above

information is distilled from snippets describing objets d'art in museums,

museum catalogs, and archaeological references.  There is one reference

that may contain more information, but I haven't been able to locate a

copy:  "Furniture in England, France, and the Netherlands, 1200-1500" by

Penelope Eames.  If anyone has seen this, let me know what it's like and

where you found it!

 

Colin de Bray

 

 

From: Tim Bray/Catherine Keegan <keegan at ix.netcom.com>

Mon, 31 Aug 1998 22:22:02 -0700

 

>>* Period finishing techniques (Medieval varnish?!).

>

>I've spent a fair bit of time searching for primary references to furniture

>finishing but have found very little.  A few secondary sources discuss it,

>but wih the usual warnings about trusting someone else's conclusions.

>

>In John Gloag's "A Social History of Furniture Design," the author asserts

>that medieval furniture was rubbed with beeswax, or a combination of

>beeswax and turpentine.  The primary decoration and preservative for

>furniture was painting, with annual repainting, particularly in the sooty

>environment of medieval houses.  The practice of staining wood was not

>popularized until the 19th century.

 

Hmmm... SOME furniture or objects may have been rubbed with beeswax, but I

strongly doubt that it was a common practice, for reasons stated in other

posts.  Painting, yes, but I haven't seen the references to back up the

claim of "annual repainting."  The medieval houses that were sooty, i.e.

open-hearth hall houses, probably had very little painted decoration in

them.   Painted walls and ceilings appear to have become much more common

after the 14th century, about the time chimneys became common in

upper-class dwellings.  The medieval wall-paintings that I have seen did

not exhibit any obvious signs of having been repeatedly re-applied.

Stained wood is mostly a 19th century Arts & Crafts esthetic, although

Renaissance woodworkers did stain wood to create contrasting effects,

especially for inlays.

 

>In V.J. Taylor's "Period Furniture Projects," the author asserts that

>linseed oil for finishing appeared in the early 16th century.  Shellac

>(also called "spirit varnish" or "lac"), made from the secretions of lac

>insects from India and Thailand, was known in the Middle Ages, but did not

>appear commonly until the 1650s when it began to be imported in quantity.

 

Actually linseed oil varnish can be reliably assigned to the 15th c.

 

>Spirit Varnish should not be confused with the general term "varnish,"

>which seems to have various meanings prior to 1600. In the 17th century,

>"polish" and "varnish" seem to have been used interchangeably.

>

>In Cennini's "Il Libro dell' Arte," a 15th century "craftsman's handbook,"

>he talks extensively about using varnish, but this appears to be in

>connection with paintings and frescoes. Unfortunately, he does not provide

>a recipe for varnish (at least not in my translation), so it isn't clear

>exactly what he's referring to.  Though he discusses using both linseed oil

>and "varnish" for waterproofing walls, I have not found any evidence for

>its use on wooden furniture (except possibly as an undercoat before

>painting).

 

Bingo.  I though Cennini gave a vague description of the process for

"boiling" linseed oil, but maybe I am mistaken. Linseed oil varnish was

used to prepare the "ground" and was also used to seal the surface of

gesso, which come to think of it should be included in this discussion

since it was used to decorate the surfaces of wooden objects from about

the 13th c.

 

>In Alberti's 15th century "On the Art of Building in 10 Books," he mentions

>preserving wood by smearing it with oil or pitch, and sealing some types of

>fir with oil so that it will hold water.  He also recommends curing certain

>types of wood in sea water.  By the way, this is an excellent source to see

>what period attitudes were towards different species of wood, and why they

>used some types over others.  Contrary to popular myth, not everything was

>oak.

 

Especially not in Italy!

 

>The earliest primary reference I have found that specifically addresses

>applying a finish (as opposed ot a preservative) to wood is Sir Hugh Plat's

>1594 book "The Jewel House of Art and Nature," where he recommends using

>linseed oil and walnut rinds to finish new wood to match old.  I have also

>read undocumented claims that iron (nails) in an acid such as vinegar was

>used to stain wood to a dull grey.

 

Sir Hugh was probably a nostalgia buff, possibly even a medievalist?

 

>My own conclusion is that if you want something approximating a period

>furniture finish, you can:

>Leave it raw (probably the most common, but not the mark of "fine furniture").

>Paint it (which I usually can't bring myself to do, even when I should).

>Use linseed oil, beeswax, turpentine, or some combination of the three.

 

The first two are certainly period and will give you the most authentic

appearance.  The last can be used to give you a sort of "antique" look,

like perhaps a 15th century piece owned by a 16th century gentleman.

...............

 

>We have something of a problem in the SCA in that we are used to bare

wood, (Not painted, at any rate) which in period was rare indeed.  But

some furniture was not painted.

 

Actually, it's the other way around.  Look at MS illuminations, and the

backgrounds of paintings; most of the wooden objects are "wood-coloured"

i.e. not painted.  Paint was expensive and specialized, therefore was

applied to highlight the more expensive objects.  Bare wood was so

common that it was "vulgar," that's why the richer classes painted their

stuff!

 

>> I sometimes use linseed/turpentine mix.  But to get a good finish

   requires multiple applications, and works fairly poorly for table

   tops.  Some people don't like the smell, as it redolent.  Beeswax is

   particurly good for turned things.  I have not found any period

   finish that is easy to apply and that holds up well. Most of the

   formulas I have found are 18/19th centuary.

 

There's a reason for that...

Note that beeswax was also very expensive in period, and as it makes a

very poor finish, was unlikely to have been widely used on furniture.

 

Colin de Bray

 

 

From: Tom Rettie <tom at his.com>   Mon, 31 Aug 1998 22:27:47 -0500

 

At 6:31 PM -0300 8/31/98, Gren Fredbosson wrote:

>I'd like to know about the following:

>* Period sanding techniques;

 

Good my lord,

 

None that I've found, at least comparable to modern sanding.  But a sharp

plane and/or a scraper will give you a more period effect.

 

>* Period finishing techniques (Medieval varnish?!).

 

I've spent a fair bit of time searching for primary references to furniture

finishing but have found very little.  A few secondary sources discuss

it, but wih the usual warnings about trusting someone else's conclusions.

 

In John Gloag's "A Social History of Furniture Design," the author asserts

that medieval furniture was rubbed with beeswax, or a combination of

beeswax and turpentine.  The primary decoration and preservative for

furniture was painting, with annual repainting, particularly in the sooty

environment of medieval houses.  The practice of staining wood was not

popularized until the 19th century.

 

In V.J. Taylor's "Period Furniture Projects," the author asserts that

linseed oil for finishing appeared in the early 16th century.  Shellac

(also called "spirit varnish" or "lac"), made from the secretions of lac

insects from India and Thailand, was known in the Middle Ages, but did

not appear commonly until the 1650s when it began to be imported in

quantity.

 

Spirit Varnish should not be confused with the general term "varnish,"

which seems to have various meanings prior to 1600.  In the 17th century,

"polish" and "varnish" seem to have been used interchangeably.

 

In Cennini's "Il Libro dell' Arte," a 15th century "craftsman's handbook,"

he talks extensively about using varnish, but this appears to be in

connection with paintings and frescoes.  Unfortunately, he does not provide

a recipe for varnish (at least not in my translation), so it isn't clear

exactly what he's referring to.  Though he discusses using both linseed oil

and "varnish" for waterproofing walls, I have not found any evidence for

its use on wooden furniture (except possibly as an undercoat before

painting).

 

In Alberti's 15th century "On the Art of Building in 10 Books," he mentions

preserving wood by smearing it with oil or pitch, and sealing some types of

fir with oil so that it will hold water.  He also recommends curing certain

types of wood in sea water.  By the way, this is an excellent source to see

what period attitudes were towards different species of wood, and why they

used some types over others.  Contrary to popular myth, not everything

was oak.

 

The earliest primary reference I have found that specifically addresses

applying a finish (as opposed ot a preservative) to wood is Sir Hugh Plat's

1594 book "The Jewel House of Art and Nature," where he recommends using

linseed oil and walnut rinds to finish new wood to match old.  I have also

read undocumented claims that iron (nails) in an acid such as vinegar

was used to stain wood to a dull grey.

 

My own conclusion is that if you want something approximating a period

furniture finish, you can:

Leave it raw (probably the most common, but not the mark of "fine furniture").

Paint it (which I usually can't bring myself to do, even when I should).

Use linseed oil, beeswax, turpentine, or some combination of the three.

 

Findlaech mac Alasdair

 

 

Date: Wed, 08 Sep 1999 21:59:06 -0400

From: Carol Thomas <scbooks at neca.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Woodwork question

 

>What sort of woodburning might one find in period? My guess is

>that is was more of a "branding" sort of thing rather than what is

>modernly considered "wood burning," but I could be wildly wrong.

>Can anyone direct me to good sources of period wood

>working/decorating/protecting?

 

I didn't keep a reference for this, but I read somewhere that

blackwork-style geometric patterns were found burned onto the rafters of

one Tudor or Elizabethan house, as decoration.

 

The author believed it had been done with a hot fireplace poker.

 

Maybe an embroiderer who ran out of silk and got really, really bored?

 

Carllein

 

 

Date: Thu, 09 Sep 1999 22:44:05 -0400

From: "Peter B. Steiner" <petersdiner at yahoo.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Woodworking Question

 

> Medieval "varnishing" isn't what we think of varnish today (the hard, shiny

> lac-based stuff).  Lac comes from the Far East and didn't come into common use

> until the Far East trade developed.  Medieval "varnish" probably referred to

> linseed or other types of oil (walnut?) that will oxidize to a hard finish,

> beeswax, or other preparations such as those used by artists to prepare wood

> panels for painting.  In some references, "varnish" seems to have been used

> synonymously with "polish."

 

> Fin

 

Lac resin was known in Period...though as you surmise it was probably not in common use for furniture.  Many other resins were known and widely used however....among them Colophony (the sort of pine rosin which violinists apply to their bows), Amber, and Mastic.  The latter remains one of the most durable, flexible varnishes known. Mastic is, to this day, the preferred varnish for below-waterline use on wooden boats.  It is far superior to both Dammar and the synthetic alternatives for use as an oil-painting varnish. Unfortunately, the bush that produces Mastic grows only on a single island (Chios) in the Mediterranean....and it is now prohibitively expensive. 100g (3.5 ounces) of dry Mastic resin costs $22.50 through the only art-supply house I know of which still carries it.  Quality surrenders to the Dollar

(Ducat?) once again.

 

-Peter-

 

 

Date: Fri, 10 Sep 1999 14:29:48 EDT

From: <DianaFiona at aol.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Woodworking Question

 

petersdiner at yahoo.com writes:

<< Amber, and Mastic.  The latter remains one of the most durable, flexible varnishes known. Mastic is, to this day, the preferred varnish for below-waterline use on wooden boats.  It is far superior to both Dammar and the synthetic alternatives for use as an oil-painting varnish. Unfortunately, the bush that produces Mastic grows only on a single island (Chios) in the Mediterranean....and it is now prohibitively expensive.  100g (3.5 ounces) of dry Mastic resin costs $22.50 through the only art-supply house I know of which still carries it.  Quality surrenders to the Dollar (Ducat?) once again.

 

-Peter-

  >>

 

    Hummmm, for what it's worth, mastic is also used as a seasoning in Middle

Eastern cooking, and can be found in small quantities in places that sell

that sort of ethnic food. Might be easier to find, if you only wanted a bit

to experiment with......

 

            Ldy Diana

 

 

Date: Fri, 10 Sep 1999 18:03:06 -0500

From: Tom Rettie <tom at his.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Woodworking Question

 

>Lac resin was known in Period...though as you surmise it was probably not

>in common use for furniture.  Many other resins were known and widely used

>however....among them Colophony (the sort of pine rosin which violinists

>apply to their >bows), Amber, and Mastic.  The latter remains one of the

>most durable, flexible varnishes known.

 

Good Peter et al,

 

Thanks for the info.  The best source I've found in period on preparation

is Cennini's book, but I'm a little baffled by what he means by varnish.

He provides a recipe for preparing linseed oil, but clearly in his context

varnish is something different.  I assume that as a painter, he would be

using varnish as a treatment for a painted or gilded surface, while the

actual wood panel would be prepared with gesso or something similar.  It's

possible my copy is abridged, because he says he gives a recipe for

varnish, but I can't find it.  I think I need to hang out with the painters

for a while....

 

Unfortunately, there's blessed little in the way of period documentation on

how furniture surfaces were finished, and very few original surfaces

survive. It was not uncommon in cities for the carving and painting of

furniture to be done by specialists, so it may be reasonable to assume that

the process for painting wooden furniture was similar as for painting on

wooden panels, in which case Cennini and others provide some insight.

 

But if you didn't paint it?  I did find an Elizabethan fix-it manual that

explained how to use linseed oil and walnut rinds to stain new wood to

match old wood when doing repairs.  Unfortunately, it's in the Folger

Library and getting access is really, really difficult. There are also

some references to preserving timbers by using oil or pitch (though pitch

would be a bit unpleasant for a chair). My working finish is linseed oil

and beeswax (I'm not a painter, though I should learn). It's easy to

obtain and really simple to apply.

 

I did peruse a copy of Dan Diehl's new book on medieval furniture and saw

that he's now advocating using olive oil.  Does olive oil harden?  I'd

think that it would go rancid.  Unfortunately, as usual he doesn't document

his sources.  Anyone ever hear of olive oil used for surfaces outside the

kitchen?

 

Fortunately for us late-period types, fabric was a very popular decorating

motif -- when in doubt, throw a cloth over it.

 

Fin

 

 

Date: Fri, 10 Sep 1999 21:42:19 -0400

From: "Peter B. Steiner" <petersdiner at yahoo.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Woodworking Question

 

I suspect that in Period the word "varnish" was used interchangeably with the

word "finish", both as a noun and as a verb. (In addition to which there were

complications imposed by differing languages, masters attempting to keep trade

secrets from one another, difficulty in obtaining some of the ingredients used

in particular varnishes, and ambiguity in the meaning of the names of

particular ingredients.) The oil painter meant one thing by "varnish", the

woodworker originally meant quite another.....

 

The woodworker can make use of some finishes which would damage (or have little

effect on) an oil painter's work.  (Application of -any sort- of finish or

varnish can cause irreversible damage to some types of painting.....a fact

driven home by hundreds of destructive "restorations" and "preservations" of

paintings which were attempted by 18th and 19th Century curators.  Varnish

containing oil, wax and/or resin has no legitimate use on paintings done in

historical water-based media.)  (That statement may or may not be accurate in

regards to Acrylics and Alkyd paints......I simply don't know enough about

either of those media to offer an opinion.)

 

Oil alone is a good working finish for some furniture.  It would never harden

to any great degree...but it would protect against moisture; and it would soak

deeply enough into porous wood that no residue would be left on the surface.

(Obviously as a woodworker you already know these things.....Danish Oil is

probably the best contemporary example of this type of finish.)  Oil is also

employed in traditional woodworking as a lubricant during the application of

abrasives (pumic and rottenstone.)   The oil remains in the wood as a finish

even after the abrasive has been removed.  Obviously none of these things (oil

penetrating the surface...abrasives changing the completed surface) would be

desireable in the process of protecting any painting.

 

Varnish, as the term is applied to oil painting, is not intended to penetrate

the surface.  For that reason oil painters' varnishes always contain resin

dissolved in some volatile compound such as rectified spirits of turpentine or

alcohol or some other similar substance which will completely evaporate -

leaving only the resin behind.  Also, preferably, it should be possible to

remove a varnish used on an oil painting without damaging the surface of the

paint.  This is because all resins, even the very best, yellow over time - and

need to be replaced.

 

Shall we complicate matters further?  Glair (beaten egg white) can be used to

"varnish" some paintings.  Resin-based varnishes eventually came to be used on

furniture.....and because of their durability(?) or convenience (?) or ease of

application (?) we now use them on wood almost to the exclusion of oil-only

finishes.  The yellowing of the resin, which is such a problem on oil

paintings, is often desireable on a resin-varnished wood surface.

 

I've raised a lot more questions than I've answered. Sorry.  <grin>

 

I'll check my copy of "Il Libro 'Dell Arte" tonight to see if it contains a

copy of Cennini's varnish recipe.

 

Something tells me that a full exploration of this subject has a great deal to

teach us!   This one is going to be fun!  :-)

 

-Peter Gwer Rychen-

Barony of The Rhyderrich Hael

Aethelmearc

 

 

Date: Sun, 12 Sep 1999 12:58:40 -0500

From: Tom Rettie <tom at his.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Woodworking Question

 

>I have another, related woodworking question: could I create a simple

>finish to a wood piece by rubbing the wood with beeswax?  I have a

>drawing of my device on a wood block, nd I was going to paint it, but I'm

>reluctant to slap shiny finish over it all - it seems "shiny and unreal."

> Would simple beeswax be acceptable?

 

Good Caro,

 

If you're talking about unpainted wood, then beeswax is probably

appropriate.  A traditional mixture (though one I've not been able to

document to period) is beeswax and mineral spirits (or turpentine).  Warm

the wax gently until it is soft.  REMOVE FROM THE HEAT SOURCE.  Add mineral

spirits in small quantities until the whole mixture is the consistency of

soft butter.  Some variations on this also add linseed oil.

 

I did a six-board chest a while back with a pure beeswax finish (applying

warm wax with lots and lots of rubbing).  It's a nice effect, but the

finish will show water spots easily (easily fixed with a little touchup).

The mixture with mineral spirits is easier to apply and penetrates better.

You can also use turpentine, but I'm told that real turpentine is more

likely to contain pine resins that may give you a less pleasant finish.

 

I can give you a relevant quote from Gloag, John.  A Social History of

Furniture Design, from B.C. 1300 to A.D. 1960.  Bonanza Books, New York,

1966.  LOC 66-20207.

 

Gloag is a relatively good source on general furniture history, but I take

some of his claims with a grain of salt, as he doesn't provide sources for

his conclusions.  For example on page 22:

 

"When the oak chests and chairs, cupboards and bedsteads illustrated in

this book were new, they shone like gold, for they were polished with

beeswax, which warmed and deepened their naturally light hue."

 

Now this may well be true, but he doesn't say how he knows that new

furniture was finished in beeswax, so you have to make your own judgement.

So far I haven't found period references that indicate beeswax, but I'm

still looking.

 

If you're looking for a finish to put over a painted surface, you probably

don't want beeswax (see the recent discussion on varnishes and resins --

that's more what you're looking for).

 

Fin

 

 

Date: Sun, 12 Sep 1999 16:01:36 EDT

From: <Rese913654 at aol.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Woodworking Question

 

Another excellent and period finish is linseed oil.

 

IL Danach the Woodcarver

Bordermarch

 

 

Date: Thu, 16 Sep 1999 21:00:23 -0400

From: Carol Thomas <scbooks at neca.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Was it something I said?

 

> There seem to be many people in this group who are knowledgeable about how

> wood was worked. Being new, I am wondering where to start regarding wood

> staining. Would someone recommend references about stains?

>

>     Ivar Nielsen

 

But I read something today in a new book, _Medieval Furniture_.

 

"Much of the furniture produced during the Middle Ages was ornately painted

in bright colors with designs and figures; the concept of a clear finish of

the type applied to most furniture today was completely unknown.  The

beauty of natural wood, however, was appreciated." He goes on to talk

about sanding and oiling.  So the reason that you didn't have an answer on

medieval stains may be that they are mostly modern.

 

He does mention a stain for oak only, saying that it is a period recipe.

"Submerge well rusted iron in equal parts water and vinegar.

...iron..better than steel..  In one to two months the vinegar and water

solution will absorb...[color]."  Filter and test on a scrap.  The color

varies.  When dry, oil it.

 

Carllein

 

 

From: "Ld. Fergus de Botha" <cbooth at U.Arizona.EDU>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Midieval Varnish

Date: Wed, 15 Sep 1999 16:23:47 -0700

Organization: The University of Arizona

 

> There's also all the various oil finishes, which, if not period, would

> produce a softer, satiny, non-polyurethane effect.

> I would *guess* that the linseed oil finishes are period, but I don't

> know for certain.

> --

> Cynthia du Pre Argent

 

Me sainted Papa finished a mussle-loader pistol using muck. He would go

out in the garage and rub his hands on the cool engine. He would the go to

the garden and stick his fingers deep in the mud. He would ask me to hand

him the stock and would spend the next few hours telling stories and

rubbing his filthy hands all over that piece of unfinished wood. Sweat,

spit, more dirt, beer, blood, whatever he could find he would rub into

that stock. After a few weeks of this abuse he took a damp cloth and

cleaned it off.

 

The pores of the wood stood out in black and it was the most amazing shade

of golden brown I had ever seen. The same color of french toast perfectly

cooked and fresh out of the pan.

 

When people asked him what he used he said, "Elbow Grease".

 

Ld. Fergus de Botha

House Agni Vajra

Barony of Tir Ysgithr

Kingdom of Atenveldt

"For Odin! For Asgard!"

--Cookie Monster, 1973

 

 

From: "Ken Koll aka Lord Valdis of Gotland" <lvaldis at mail.cvn.net>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Midieval Varnish

Date: Thu, 16 Sep 1999 01:33:29 -0400

 

Patriarch wrote:

> Stupid question, I know.  But I was making a walking stick and I have

> yet to ask anyone about this, so I'll ask it here. What did they use in

> the middle ages as a sealant/protectant for wood so it wouldn't rot?

> I'm thinking the glossy coat of regular modern wood varnish might get me

> some scornful gazes.  Anybody ever dealt with this?

 

An easy period remedy is linseed oil, peanut oil, lemon oil.....try to

think...there are a few more.  These can all be bought at Wal Mart.  One

period method that is easily documented and readily at hand is ear wax, this

is from Theophilus On Divers Arts...dont ask me, I just read the book.

Linseed oil is also documented in there.  Oils are your best bet, they are

easily available, inexpensive and on a walking stick you will be doing

various applications as it ages, a varnish makes a nasty texture if put on

in too many layers over time.  Have fun.

 

Lord Valdis of Gotland

 

 

Date: Thu, 16 Sep 1999 00:15:43 -0500

From: ddfr at best.com (David Friedman)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Midieval Varnish

 

"Ken Koll aka Lord Valdis of Gotland" <lvaldis at mail.cvn.net> wrote:

> An easy period remedy is linseed oil, peanut oil, lemon oil.....try to

> think...there are a few more.  These can all be bought at Wal Mart.  One

> period method that is easily documented and readily at hand is ear wax, this

> is from Theophilus On Divers Arts...dont ask me, I just read the book.

> Linseed oil is also documented in there.  Oils are your best bet, they are

> easily available, inexpensive and on a walking stick you will be doing

> various applications as it ages, a varnish makes a nasty texture if put on

> in too many layers over time.  Have fun.

 

Peanuts come from the new world, and peanut oil, as best I recall, was

extracted by George Washington Carver quite a long time after our period.

 

David/Cariadoc

 

 

From: "Esther Heller" <munged at kodak.com>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Midieval Varnish

Date: Thu, 16 Sep 1999 11:25:25 -0400

Organization: Eastman Kodak Company

 

Patriarch wrote:

>Stupid question, I know.  But I was making a walking stick and I have

>yet to ask anyone about this, so I'll ask it here. What did they use in

>the middle ages as a sealant/protectant for wood so it wouldn't rot?

>I'm thinking the glossy coat of regular modern wood varnish might get me

>some scornful gazes.  Anybody ever dealt with this?

>

>-Scott

 

It isn't clear to me that they used what we would consider varnish

for most of period.

 

First of all, varnish does not keep a walking stick from rotting.

If it has dried out since being cut from the tree and you keep it

in a reasonably dry place most of the time, it won't rot. The things

that rot are items like boats and roof shingles and fenceposts, all

of which have in common spending a lot of time wet.

 

Secondly I haven't reread Theophilus recently, but IIRC he only

knows about _raw_ linseed oil because he comments on how slow

it is to dry.  I think Cenini know about boiling down linseed

oil so that it dries quicker.  Be cautious of modern "boiled"

linseed oil, it has poisenous metallic dryer in it instead of

being "boiled" (for the perennial how do I finish my goblet

thread!)

 

You could use beeswax, but I don't know that they did except for

possibly really high-end furniture, the stuff was expensive and

in demand for candles.

 

Shellac comes from a bug in India, might have been available in later

period.

 

For a period walking stick until sometime in the age of exploration

I would smooth it with a card scraper and use no finish. The later

folks started playing with finishes, but I don't have any serious

documentation before 1700-ish (Moxon, first woodworking book in English,

Roubou in French and the Encyclopediasts are same or later dates).

 

I would be curious what documentation you have for anything other

than a sapling with the branches lopped off?  Stuff like walking

sticks weren't heirlooms, they were rough and ready and easily

burned when you made another one.

 

Otelia eoh at kodak dot com

who has made a Windsor chair (~1750) with Michael Dunbar and various

other hand tool woodworking pursuits

 

 

From: "Esther Heller" <munged at kodak.com>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Midieval Varnish

Date: Thu, 16 Sep 1999 13:24:37 -0400

Organization: Eastman Kodak Company

 

Chris K. Hepburn wrote:

>When did they start using melted amber (gasp choke) as a varnish?

>

>I seem to recall hearing they melted down quanities of it in the 1800's to

>finish furniture.  Is this a solely Victorian phenomenon?

>

>Chris, AB

 

If you really want details check the North American woodworking magazines

for the past year or so.  The varnish was not _just_ melted amber, but

copal ("young" amber), kauri (some ancient gum from down under?) and

similar were ingredients in older varnish recipes.  There was at least

one major article in the past year or so but I don't recall where and

don't subscribe to all the magazines.  If you are curious the place to

start is Fine Woodworking on Finishing (a collection of article reprints

from the early years of FWW) or anything by George Frank. Some of the

FWW articles point you to the late 18th-early 19th original sources, Frank

was the end of the later Victorian traditional training.

 

If you are _really_ curious join the oldtools hand woodworking listserv

(FAQ at http://www.mcs.net/~brendler/oldtools/OTFAQ.htm ) and ask.

They are at least vaguely aware of the SCA, although most of the people

who do the serious study are 100+ years OOP for us.  Given the earliest

how-to book in English is Moxon circa 1700 (haven't gotten far enough

to know if he does finishes, he is the standard source for tools) and

a lot more furniture in North America is post 1700 most of the study

and interest is OOP.  But the tools don't change much from 1700 to post

US Civil war, and I think a lot of the technique goes back centuries.

The Mastermyr find has instantly recognisable drawknives and a scorp,

you can only do certain things with those tools.....  and there are

some _experts_ on how to use the tools on oldtools.

 

Otelia

eoh at kodak dot com

 

 

Date: Thu, 16 Sep 1999 22:28:42 -0500

From: Tom Rettie <tom at his.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Stains (was Was it something I said?)

 

> There seem to be many people in this group who are knowledgeable

> about how wood was worked. Being new, I am wondering where to

> start regarding wood staining. Would someone recommend references

> about stains?

 

Staining does not appear to have been commonly practiced on wood, but it

was on cloth (for hanging, banners, etc.).  The trades of Painters and

Stainers were allied, and in London they combined in 1502 into the

Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers.

 

The idea of staining wood, esp. to make it appear to be some other type of

wood, isn't common in the Middle Ages.  When medieval furniture was

colored, it was usually painted, either monochrome (all one color) or

polychrome (multi-color).  For middling-quality furniture, painting may

have been used to hide when a mix of different wood types were used.

Something like staining appears in the sepia-black ink used for pen and

brush work in 16th and 17th centuries, but these are designs, not all-over

color.

 

Otherwise, oil finishes appear to have been used (linseed, nut, poppy,

etc.).  Also beeswax.  On some types of wood, oil will have a darkening

effect, and will make the grain more pronounced.

 

I commend to you a book by Victor Chinnery called "Oak Furniture, the

British Tradition."  Don't let the title mislead you, this book includes

the most complete scholarly discussions I've found of surface decoration,

joinery, wood types, etc., much of it applicable before his primary

timeframe of the 16th adn 17th centuries.  The notes above are from this

book.

 

I have found a recipe in an Elizabethan manual on how to stain new wood so

that it will match old wood -- such as when you are fixing a window casing.

The recipe uses linseed oil and walnut rinds.

 

Later, Carllein wrote:

 

>"Much of the furniture produced during the Middle Ages was ornately painted

>in bright colors with designs and figures; the concept of a clear finish of

>the type applied to most furniture today was completely unknown.  The

>beauty of natural wood, however, was appreciated."  He goes on to talk

>about sanding and oiling.  So the reason that you didn't have an answer on

>medieval stains may be that they are mostly modern.

 

Good Carllein,

 

While your conclusion is probably correct, beware of that book as a source.

The author makes a lot of unsupported and undocumented claims, and his

knowledge of woodworking is, well, less than complete. For example, he

makes the claim that "The process of aging and curing wood was unknown...",

which is entirely false.  There are several period references that discuss

how long wood should be seasoned, and surviving contracts that specify that

the wood is to be seasoned.  It's entirely true that much work was done

with unseasoned wood, at least initially, but understanding the seasoning

process was vital to building a piece that didn't split or fall apart.

 

Likewise, his discussion of "doweling" seems to completely misunderstand

the technique of drawboring (pegging a mortise and tenon joint so that it

will stay tight without glue).  He also seems to believe that pine and fir

are the same thing.  Forgive me if I sound particularly critical of this

work, but I know that a number of people pointed out technical and

historical inaccuracies to the author after the release of his first book,

yet they are repeated in the second.  You'll find much more accurate and

complete information on all of the above in Chinnery's book (which is

available through Barnes and Noble, though it isn't cheap).

 

I hope this is of some use to you.  Please write me if you have more questions.

 

Fin

 

 

From: Me at my.desk.com (my name)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Midieval Varnish

Date: Fri, 17 Sep 1999 08:59:27 GMT

 

Patriarch <jm123 at uswest.net> wrote:

>Stupid question, I know.  But I was making a walking stick and I have

>yet to ask anyone about this, so I'll ask it here. What did they use in

>the middle ages as a sealant/protectant for wood so it wouldn't rot?

 

It's not a period method, but will give very good period looking

results . . .  (mainly promted to share because you wanted some

moisture resistance).  

 

Scrape your walking stick smooth as possible, like smooth satin.  (or

sand it to 400 grit, using sandpaper.)  

 

Then (here comes the elbow grease part) apply Lin-Speed (r) "oil,"

which is a mixture of "boiled" linseed oil and varnish.

 

Wipe away *all* traces of dust with a tack rag.

 

Dip two fingers into the Lin-Speed, then start rubbing it into the

wood. Spread the liquid as far as you can then begin rubbing it in

until your fingers are warm from the friction then dip again and

repeat on an ajucent area until the entire walking stick is finished.

 

Set aside and let "dry" for at least a day (and for your fingertips to

recover ;).

 

Rub out finish with 000 or 0000 fine steel (finishing) wool.

 

Repet the entire process *at* least* 10 to 15 times or or until

satisfied with the depth and look of the finish.  

 

I learned this from an old time gunsmith who literally *hated* plastic

looking finishes and who did a *lot* of work on *very* expensive

antique and antique reproduction firearms. (Some in the $10,000+ price

range.)  He's departed now so I don't feel bad about sharing his

"secret finish."

 

The finish will be water *resistant* but not proof, e.g. water will

bead on it but will eventually soak through if left on the surface.

 

To improve the water reisitance, after you've finished your Lin-Speed

finish, give it a couple of coats of really rubbed out beeswax.

 

The finish is also not oxygen proof so the color of the wood under the

finish will darken and mellow with age very nicely.  

 

When finished, the color of the wood will be a couple of shades darker

to the amber side and have a wonderful satiny finish that warms to the

touch.

 

Note: This works best on dense hardwoods with close grain structure,

like walnut.  On woods with an open grain, first apply then rub out

(with 600 sandpaper or steel finishing wool) a *good* laquer sanding

sealer like Behlens.

 

Lin-Speed can be purchased from any *good* sporting goods store or

gunsmith.

 

Don't use this on surfaces that will come into contact with food or

drink because of accelerants.

 

It's not so differant from a late-period finish using boiled oils,

just more water resistant and quicker.  As someone else noted, a plain

boiled oil finish takes a very long time to polymerize (not dry).

 

Yours in Service to The Kingdom and The Society  

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

William of the West Merlands

                     Shire of Cloondara,  Kingdom of the West

                        -----------------------

 

 

From: "Ellen Anglin" <anglin at mi.verio.com>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Midieval Varnish

Date: Thu, 16 Sep 1999 13:53:37 -0700

Organization: Verio

 

Chris K. Hepburn <chepburn at calcna.ab.ca> wrote:

> When did they start using melted amber (gasp choke) as a varnish?

>

> I seem to recall hearing they melted down quanities of it in the 1800's to

> finish furniture.  Is this a solely Victorian phenomenon?

>

> Chris, AB

 

No need to gasp and choke- Lots of amber powder is produced whenever amber

is cut, polished and shaped- not to mention the large quantities of grainy -

non-gem quality stuff that surrounds much of the good stuff- all this dross

is great for incense  or for varnishes, etc.

 

By the by- another period substance used in varnish is propolis- it

dissolves easily in alcohol, and I know it was one of the components used in

the varnish on Stradivarius violins.

If anyone wants some hive scrapings, drop me a line- I save some of the goop

next time I am scraping equipment if anyone wants to experiment.

Ellen Greenhand

 

 

From: "James Fisher" <DamianM*nospam* at pacbell.net>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Midieval Varnish

Date: Fri, 17 Sep 1999 11:26:05 -0700

 

For what it's worth I thought I'd share my method for getting a Period

looking finish to figured woods.

Please note that this method produces a high grain contrast and will

artificially darken your wood.

 

Take your project and sand by hand with the grain (when possible) to a 320

grit finish.

 

Get yourself a scraper (I use a small putty knife that has been sharpened

and left with a pronounced burr) and scrape the entire project smooth. This

has the effect of opening the grain and smoothing off the light 320 grit

scratches. Keep a medium stone handy to re-raise the burr occaisionally and

stroke only the opposite side of the burr. Keep in mind that this process

may take HOURS to accomplish and be very careful not to gouge or cut into

your project by using the scraper like a chisel or letting it slip sideways

while scraping.

 

The next step invovles the use of a light acidic solution and heat. You can

use several different types of Iron oxide bearing solutions for this but I

have 2 favorite mixtures. The first is plain Ferric Chloride (you can get

this at radio shack, sold as board etchant) diluted 4 parts to 1 with water.

The second is plain red wine vinegar boiled with steel wool to reduce volume

and left in a glass jar for 4-6 weeks. Let me stress at this point that

using gloves and safety glasses is a MUST anytime you work with even a mild

acid or base solution and that it is also a good idea not to wear clothing

you are too attached to. Also boiling vinegar over an open flame is not

advised, use a double boiler on a electric stove. You will also need a

hairdryer or heat gun. For smaller items you can brush on the solution

lightly and heat to desired darkness (be careful NOT to scortch!) or for

larger items you can use a dip tank made from PVC pipe sealed at one end

with a pipe cap firmly glued on with PVC cement. The idea here is to use

VERY light coats and moderate heat to softly darken the wood evenly. Go just

a little bit darker than what your looking for and then lightly rinse with w

ater and dry. Let it sit overnight in a dry warm place and then lightly sand

with 600 grit. Your looking to take off any raised grain lightly.

 

Finish the piece with many light coats of boiled linseed oil. In between

coats, let the finish set and rub smooth with steel wool untill you get the

desired depth of finish.

 

A similar method was used by early gunsmiths to finish thier gunstocks of

figured maple and walnut. They used AquaFortis and a red hot iron then hand

rubbed boiled linseed oil for the same effect.

 

Regards,

L.D.M.

 

 

From: caerleon at tfs.net

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Midieval Varnish

Date: Sat, 18 Sep 1999 03:48:48 GMT

 

I recall from a reading of The Artist's handbook of materials and

techniques that by the 16th. C there were a wide variety of varnishes

and shellacs available. Many of these had vegetable resins like gum

arabic and waxes in a solvent carrier.

 

Ternon

 

 

Date: Sun, 19 Sep 1999 15:38:13 +0100

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

From: Tom Holt <lemming.co at zetnet.co.uk>

Subject: Re: Midieval Varnish

 

The message from  A C <CelticWolf at worldnet.att.net> contains these words:

> Try Tung oil.......repeated layers.

 

Traditional bowyer Jim Hamm's recipe for "old-time" varnish -

 

"Gather the pitch from pine or cedar trees from where the sap oozes

out of a damaged area on the trunk... The pitch is dried until hard,

then crushed as fine as possible with a mortar and pestle. Place the

powder in a glass container and add enough spirit to cover it... In

the old days turpentine was used, and since turpentine is distilled

from pine sap, it may be the better choice... The mixture is stirred

occasionally over a 24 hour period to dissolve the pitch, then

strained through an old T-shirt into another glass container. The

resulting varnish is a translucent amber color"

 

(Traditional Bowyers' Bible Vol.1, pp289-90. The TBB isn't just for

bowyers; there's loads of cool stuff about making 'period' glue and

string, working bone, horn, antler, sinew etc)

 

 

Date: Tue, 18 Jan 2000 10:20:59 -0500

From: "Pratt, Danette" <pratt at exchange.oucom.ohiou.edu>

To: "'sca-arts'" <sca-arts at listproc.cc.ukans.edu>

Subject: furniture varnishes

 

http://www.natmus.min.dk/cons/lab/kirkerup/kkrp.pdf

 

This is an address that I thought a few of you out there may be interested.

I am not a wood worker but I remember that there was a 'big' discussion of

wood varnishes and paint not so long ago. I thought that some of you would

be interested in these articles from the National Museum of Denmark. I did

not read the articles, so someone will have to review and get back to us!

 

Barbara atte Dragon

 

 

Date: Tue, 18 Jan 2000 09:16:11 -0800

From: Tim Bray <tbray at mcn.org>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: furniture varnishes

 

>http://www.natmus.min.dk/cons/lab/kirkerup/kkrp.pdf

>

>This is an address that I thought a few of you out their  may be

>interested.

 

Wrong URL - yours points to an article about salt damage in a brick

church...

 

The article you referred to is:

http://www.natmus.min.dk/cons/furn/varnish/furnvarn.htm

 

>>>>

<excerpt>Transparent surface finishes on Danish furniture between 1550

and 1827

 

Vibe Edinger, Bodil Holstein, Birgitte Larsen

 

Section for furniture restoration, Conservation Department, The National

Museum of Denmark

</excerpt><<<<<<<<

 

But I will save you the trouble - only a brief summary is available in

English, the actual article is in Danish.  Here is the summary of

findings:

 

>>>>

<excerpt>The main conclusions of the article are:

 

Lacquers were mostly made from linseed oil, oil of turpentine and

alcohol. A greater variety of varnish compositions is described in the

literature but this is not reflected in our analyses.

 

Wax was seldom used as a surface treatment in Denmark in the 17th and

18th centuries. This is clear in both the written sources and in the

results of the analyses.

 

 

Shellac came into common use around 1800, according to both the written

sources and the modern analytical results.

</excerpt><<<<<<<<

 

The finding about wax is interesting, apparently confirming my suspicion,

although the objects they studied are mostly out of our time period.

 

Colin

 

 

Date: Mon, 02 Oct 2000 12:01:21 -0400

From: rmhowe <MMagnusM at bellsouth.net>

Subject: Walnut Husk Stain / Stains and Finishes Book

 

Stains and Finishes:

 

Someone on MedEnc or SCA-Arts was discussing using Walnut hulls this

week. More books have defected to the Magnus Library this weekend. :)

One mentioned to me...

 

How to use Walnut husks for stain:

 

Use a glass or ceramic container, not metal or plastic as some

chemicals can react with them.

 

Walnut husks start out green - let them turn brown.

 

Take one quart of household strength ammonia.

 

Take one cup of walnut husks, shredded is probably better.

 

Put husks in ammonia, let set for several days.

 

Add more husks if darker is wanted.

Dilute with water if lighter is wanted.

 

Pour off liquid thru a strainer - cloth or filter.

 

Brush on with a synthetic fiber brush and let dry.

 

Top finish to taste. Wax, oil, etc.

 

Ammonia deepens the color and makes it more permanent.

Ammonia itself reacts with tannins in wood and produces a range of

brown tones.

.............

 

Recommended Book:

Classic Finishing Techniques by Sam Allen, Sterling Pub. Co., Inc.

NYC, 1994, ISBN 0806905123  Includes bibliographical discussion of

stains and stain books back to 1688.

 

Covers French Polishes, Varnishes, Oils, Waxes, Stains, Chemical Stains

and Fumed Finishes, Milk Paint preparation, Shellac, Lac, Natural Dye

Stains and Mordants, and equipment. Discusses planing, scraping, using

natural abrasives such as stones, sharkskin, sanding leathers, various

natural abrasives - sand, rottenstone, pumice, glass papers, scouring

rushes, rubbers used in french polishing, etc. Basic period covered is

mid 1600's to mid 1900's but little exists before that period in the

way of books on finishing. Covers a great deal. Discusses probable age

of some earlier finishing methods. Earlier periods are not documented

well though. Descriptions of methods of preparation and technique are

very thorough and well illustrated.

 

Magnus Malleus, OL, Atlantia, Great Dark Horde

 

* Permission to repost within the reenactor community granted on closed

subscriber based email lists, but not on newsgroups, especially the

Rialto.

 

 

Subject: Re: [MedEnc] Re: Storing Stuff

Date: Sun, 5 Nov 2000 10:46:12 -0800 (PST)

From: coffeegoddess <tigerna at yahoo.com>

To: MedievalEncampments at egroups.com

 

--- John LaTorre <jlatorre at midtown.net> wrote:

> By the way, you furniture junkies might be interested in my

> latest column:

> http://midtown.net/dragonwing/col0011.htm

>

> which shows plans for a period-styled wooden chest

> for storing and seating.

Why oil finish?  There is a fairly simple way to get a

period, waterproof built-up type of finish for wood.

Spirit varnish!  Not having more than minimal hand

tools, I haven't used it on any furniture, but it

works great on my longbows!  WONDERFUL water

protection!

 

Go out and collect some pine sap from the bark of

trees.  Grind it up very fine and drop it in rubbing

alcohol or turpentine (turpentine not period at all!),

stir it, and let it dissolve over several days,

stirring occassionally.  Then strain it through cloth

rags (old T-shirt works well).  Apply it with scrap

cloth, thinly! and allow to dry thoroughly in between

coats.

 

Tigs

 

 

Date: Mon, 4 Dec 2000 00:34:54 -0600 (CST)

From: "Jack C. Thompson" <tcl at teleport.com>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Drying agent for linseed oil

 

Since the surface is still tacky after nearly two years I suspect

that you used raw linseed oil.  That may work alright for a piece

of raw wood in furniture, but not as a finish.

 

Raw linseed oil contains linolenic, oleic, and stearic acids which

prevent the oil from completely drying out.  If you wish to use raw linseed

oil leave it out in an open container for a few days/weeks to let the

'foots' drop out. The oil will darken, but it will also dry.  This happens

as the oil absorbs oxygen from the air allowing the oil to polymerize

(dry/harden).

 

What I would suggest is that you remove the tacky film (turpentine or

turpentine substitute) and use copal varnish.  This is a hard, slightly

dark resin.  Linseed oil, even if you get it to dry, will continue to

darken over time, making the ikon more and more difficult to see, and

the solvents required for removing aged linseed oil are quite toxic.

 

Jack

 

>Does anyone know of a drying agent (medieval or renaissance would be

>nice) that speeds up the drying time of linseed oil? I have an ikon that

>is still tacky after nearly 2 years drying time.

>Thanks in advance.

>

>Scot

 

Jack C. Thompson

Thompson Conservation Lab.

7549 N. Fenwick

Portland, Oregon  97217

USA

 

 

Date: Wed, 06 Dec 2000 16:55:36 -0500

From: rmhowe <MMagnusM at bellsouth.net>

To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu

Subject: Re: Drying agent for linseed oil

 

Sounds like what you want is called Japan Dryer(s).

Essentially they are metallic salts like magnesium that

force the drying. You can buy them at any paint store.

Usually you add them to the paint ahead of time.

I'd ask for directions at the store from someone knowledgeable.

 

Linseed oil comes in more than one form - boiled and unboiled.

Perhaps you used the wrong one.

 

One thing about Linseed oil though is that it is a powerful

oxidizer, tools coated with it will rust, rags will often

self-ignite if left in a lump. A friend almost lost his shed

that way. Still it's good stuff for tool handles and easy finishing.

 

Magnus

 

Scot and Domino Eddy wrote:

> Does anyone know of a drying agent (medieval or renaissance would be

> nice) that speeds up the drying time of linseed oil? I have an ikon that

> is still tacky after nearly 2 years drying time.

> Thanks in advance.

>

> Scot

 

 

To: Norsefolk at yahoogroups.com

Date: Thu, 01 Feb 2001 22:19:40 -0600

From: jorunn at swbell.net

Subject: Re: wood finishing

 

Many of the furniture items in the Oseberg find were painted.  I know the

chair and the bed were painted.  Tomorrow I'll check to see if any of

the chests were.

 

Jorunn

 

 

To: Norsefolk at yahoogroups.com

Date: Thu, 1 Feb 2001 23:11:48 -0600

From: "N.L. Foust" <shadewes at dtgnet.com>

Subject: RE: wood finishing

 

>Many of the furniture items in the Oseberg find were painted.  I know the

>chair and the bed were painted.  Tomorrow I'll check to see if any of

>the chests were.

>

>Jorunn

 

I have heard this in passing before - any of the pics of wood items of course did not really show any intact color or painting. Does anyone have info on what colors were used and how they were painted, IE: did they color in carved designs, paint designs on flat wood, leave parts unpainted or paint the whole thing??

 

We have some Viking type furniture items we are going to be working on

soon - a little color would be very cool.

 

Mor

 

 

To: Norsefolk at yahoogroups.com

Date: Fri, 2 Feb 2001 00:05:00 -0500

From: jamesahowell at juno.com

Subject: Re: wood finishing

 

      From what I've been able to find, there is evidence of folks painting

wood items of the Viking era.  The shields on the Gokstad boat were painted black and yellow.  There is some painted on designs on one of the tent frames, either from Oseburg or Gokstad-don't remember which right off hand. There are fragements of a shield from Ballateare, Man.  Now it was covered with leather first, then gessoed, then painted in a creamy white, red, and black. The history of oil paint,as I recall is traceable back to at least the 1200s, and it apparently originated in Denmark or thereabouts.  Generally most of the folks that I know use milk based paint.  Many of the monument stones were painted to make the designs stand out more.

- Finnr-sorry for the brevity-getting ready for University

 

 

To: Norsefolk at yahoogroups.com

Date: Fri, 02 Feb 2001 09:18:05 -0600

From: jorunn at swbell.net

Subject: RE: wood finishing

 

This is the English summary of the portion of _Oseberg Fundet_ that deals

with painting.  There are more details in the description of each item as

well but this covers most of it.  

 

Jorunn

 

"Painting (pp 233-238)

 

As supplementary to the descriptions of wood-carving and metal-work, a

brief accountis given of the few remains of decorative painting occuring in

the Oseberg collection.  As previously mentioned, colours were often

employed to emphasize the carving, e.g. on the frame of Schetelig's sledge

(fig 83) black contour linesand rows of black dots, on Gustafson's sledge,

brown and red in connection with carved, geometrical surface designs. (fig

168).  In later works from Oseberg the centre ornamental part is blackened

to increase the effect, and in the objects from Gokstad both two and three

colors are employed on the carvings.  Colour is constantly used in connection with carved decoration.

 

Independant, painted decorations occur on the bed-boards, ends of the

tent supports, and the 'chair'.  There is always a smooth surface covered

with a light uniform background, and on this is a painted figure in darker

colours.  Unfortunately, the paintings were in a bad state of preservation

when found, the colour was soft and washed out, and there were only small

portions in which the drawing of the decoration could be discerned.

Neither was it possible to preserve the painting.  It could not be treated

in a wet state, and inevitably had to be sacrificed when it was necessary

to preserve the wood.  All efforts were thus concentrated upon securing

illustrations at the excavation and afterwards.  Chemical analyses were

also made of the colours.  The yellow-white ground colour on the bed-boards

was found to contain iron ochre and a little zinc white.  The black lines

were of lamp-black or soot.  No information is available regarding the

medium used ofr the paint.  Specimens of the bedboards are depicted in

figs. 245 and 246.  The ground is yellowish white, the drawings of either

black or brown-black lines and in some cases the surface inside the

figures is painted a deeper yellow.  Along the neck of the animal there are

painted locks over the surface in indication of a mane, and in addition there

is a row of small triangles along the contour.  On the surface, in the

midst of the animal's head, there is painted a free orniment, a richly designed

cross, fig 245, and animal motif fig. 246.  The cross has undoubtedly a

paraphylactic purpose, like the drawings on the heads of the Kent

supports (Vol.I, p.328).

 

Only three of the heads on the Kent supports bore traces of painting, but

of these two were exactly alike.  The two different designs are depicted in

figs. 247- 248.  It has already been mentioned in Vol. I, that one of them

bears the figure of three united triangles, the other a combination of

three magic signs, a cross, a man's head, and a serpent.  In addition, we

find rude designs of rectangles, a number of pointed tongues projecting

inwards from the edge, a border of false meander, etc.  They are all

painted in brownish strokes on a light ground.  As in the case of the

bed-boards immediately preceding, the object of the painting is first

and foremost to fill in the work of the wood-carver.

 

Only one object in the Oseberg collection has decorative painting

independent of the wood-carving.  This is the 'chair' a remarkable object

which is described in Vol.I p. 67, and depicted ibid, fig 54.  It is shaped

like a box with whole sides, all of which are paintedwith ornaments in

several colours on a light ground.  Along the edges there are geometrical

borders, and the entire compartment is filled with close and complicated

ornament.  All the painting was badly preserved.  In order to give and idea

of it's character, one side is depicted in fig.249, from a sketch made

during the excavation.  In spite of the defective state it is possible to

distinguish all the animal ornament, with the remarkable smooth heads and

long serpent-like bodies, composed with entrelac, the drawing executed with

manifold contour lines, series of dots and vigorous oblique stripes. The

motifs and design differed considerably from those of the ornament of the

wood-carving, and there is thus reason to believe that on the whole the

painting belonged to a different artistic circle, in the same way that

textile art had its own style and form.  This, the only work which we

possess, thus gives us a glimpse of decorative painting as a special form

of art in Vestfold.  The existence of painted decorations is proved, but

nothing beyond that."

 

 

Date: Fri, 2 Feb 2001 10:06:03 -0600

From: "Schuster, Robert L." <halvgrim at bigfoot.com>

Subject: RE: wood finishing

 

      From what I've been able to find, there is evidence of folks painting

wood items of the Viking era.  The shields on the Gokstad boat were

painted black and yellow.  There is some painted on designs on one of the

tent frames, either from Oseburg or Gokstad-don't remember which right

off hand.  There are fragements of a shield from Ballateare, Man.  Now it

was covered with leather first, then gessoed, then painted in a creamy

white, red, and black.  

 

For a little more on the Gokstad shield and its decorations, and a few other

shields as well, take a look at

http://www.ozemail.com.au/~chrisandpeter/shield/shield.html#Decoration.

 

contained in his footnotes:

[6] Red pigments in ancient paints seem to derive from mineral sources i.e..

red ochre (Fe2O3, as on the Jelling figurine: Marxen and Molkte 1981); or

cinnabar (HgS, as on the Illerup shield of c.200AD: Forhistoriskmuseet,

Moesgard Denmark: pers. obs. 1994). Also on the Jelling figurine were a dark

blue paint made by mixing powdered white chalk with burnt organic matter

(charcoal?), and a yellow of orpiment (As2O3) in an oil base.

 

as a side note if that page interests you also check out info on the

Ninth Century Shields from Tirskom Bog, Latvia at

http://www.ozemail.com.au/~chrisandpeter/shield/tirskom.html. no

finishing info but some info for those looking for info on reconstructing a

period shield.

 

 

From: Krista Wohlfeil <Krista.Wohlfeil at PictureIQ.com>

To: "'stefan at florilegium.org'" <stefan at florilegium.org>

Subject: amber

Date: Tue, 6 Mar 2001 15:26:24 -0800

 

<snip of lots of good amber information - see amber-msg>

 

   Amber varnish can still be bought today. The best places to find it are

in violin repair and materials shops or at high priced artists supply

stores.  It's expensive, but beautiful, and worth every penny considering

the time it takes to make it.  I have had a chance to work with it on wood.

If you ever seen a well done shellac, think of that, but deeper and less

"waxy" looking.  The color can be dependant on the type of oil used

(typically walnut or linseed, sometimes cut with turpentine, mineral

spirits, or olive oil. Soem recipies also talk about usign lavender oil.)

and the color grade of amber.  It's also harder and more resiliant than

shellac.  Other resins such as copal and dragon's blood can be used with the

amber varnish to enhance the color.

 

This site

http://www.mauigateway.com/~donjusko/paint1881.htm

 

has a laundry list of paint and varnish formulas which include several different variations on the amber varnish.  The big thing to remember with the processes used in the middle ages and Renaissance periods was that they used heat, something rarely done today with the availability of factory made cold process oil paint.  I doubt amber varnish can be made using cold process.  Also, if you

choose to attempt to make your own amber varnish you need to be extremely

careful as many of the materials can be highly volitile when heated.

 

Krista Wohlfeil

Kushala of the Highland Korsairs

Kingdom of An Tir

 

 

From: Andy Dingley <dingbat at codesmiths.com>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: SCA period paints and pigments for FURNITURE

Date: Sat, 27 Mar 2004 13:31:21 +0000

Organization: Codesmiths, UK

 

On Thu, 25 Mar 2004 18:40:14 GMT, "minosgallery"

<spotlightREMgraphic at hotmail.com> wrote:

 

>I don't know what era you are trying to adhere to, but many modern oil

>paints are still made in the exact same way as they were 400-500-- years

>ago,

 

For artist's paints, and by extension those used for strictly

decorative work on fine furniture, that's a fair comment. For larger

scale work though, and anything that was painted or oiled as a means

of protecting it from the weather (militaria, travelling equipment)

then the oil preparation has changed (most of it fairly recently).

 

Rw linseed oil doesn't work. It needs to be "boiled" if it's to cure

usefully. There are many procedures for doing this.

 

Gunsmiths (particularly fine English shotguns) use a low temperature

slow boiling of the oil alone. This gives a very poor drying oil, so

the application process is one of many (many !) thin coats and drying

between them.

 

Most boiling though consists of a couple of hours high heat, with some

metal salt added to the pot (a siccative).  The expert on this is Bill

Knight, a US chemist and black powder shooter - he has a very good

booklet on the subject, which you can find through the US shooting

circuit.

 

Historically, the metal of choice was lead. This works really well -

it's particularly good at curing in a damp climate and it makes good

oilcloth for covering luggage.  Manganese (from umber pigments) was

also used. This gives an oil with different behaviour - needs a dry

atmosphere to cure.  One also expands with moisture whilst the other

contracts, so the best oils used a mixture of both siccatives to avoid

movement cracking over time.

 

The quantity of lead is small - about 1/4% to 1/2%. Compared to lead

paints, where lead was a piment (20% - 30%) this is a tiny amount.

 

Modern boiled linseed oils are fairly commonplace in hardware stores,

but they have two process differences from the old recipes.

 

"Boiling" is now  just a process of warming the oil slightly to make

it less viscous and stirring in a pre-cooked chemical additive. These

"Japan driers" began in the Georgian period - cabinetmaker's workshops

were now urban and boiling up the drier mixtures is a long and very

smelly process. Although cabinetmakers would still mix their own oils,

they'd buy in the driers.

 

The metal has been replaced by cobalt - or cobalt and manganese. These

are nowhere near as good as lead or lead-manganese driers, but they do

avoid the toxicity hazard of lead.  Of course, in recent years we've

become much more concerned about cobalt !

 

If you care about oil recipes and authenticity (I can bore for hours

on the subject) then there's much to be said for making your own

formulations from raw linseed.  An easier route might be the range of

"Tried and True" varnishes and oils, available from Lee Valley

http://www.leevalley.com/wood/page.asp?SID=&;ccurrency=2&page=45105&category=1,190,42942

 

"Paint" is an 18th century invention (I'd date it from Pontypool japan).  

Recipe and some biblio suggestions are at:

http://paranoia-towers.com/alchemy/pontypool.htm

 

Before this date there were artist's paints (decorative, varied, and

not hard wearing) and also oil and varnish finishes for exterior use.

There just wasn't anything around like the modern paint that was

stored ready-made and ready-for-use in a vessel, was hard-wearing or

waterproof, and was also opaque or colourful. - you couldn't even get

two out of three.

 

>. The only thing you don't find is blues from lapiz lazulis

 

Lapis is certainly around - although the price is amusing. Given its

period rarity though, I don't think it's unreasonable to use it for a

detail like a Marian cloak on a reliquary.  

Maybe not for a reproduction of the Duc de Berry though !

http://humanities.uchicago.edu/images/heures/september.jpg

 

 

From: Andy Dingley <dingbat at codesmiths.com>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: SCA period paints and pigments for FURNITURE

Date: Tue, 30 Mar 2004 00:18:39 +0100

Organization: Codesmiths, UK

 

PS - If you care about this stuff, Marianne Webb's Lacquer book

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0750644125/codesmiths

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0750644125/codesmiths-20

is well worth it - mainly Eastern, but very good coverage of Western

practice since the mid-17th too.

 

 

From: Andy Dingley <dingbat at codesmiths.com>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: SCA period paints and pigments for FURNITURE

Date: Mon, 29 Mar 2004 20:42:50 +0100

Organization: Codesmiths, UK

 

On Sun, 28 Mar 2004 08:01:20 GMT, Zebee Johnstone <zebee at zip.com.au>

wrote:

>What's the difference in the end result from say an indoor clear satin

>varnish?

 

Depends on what your "varnish" contains.

 

If it's a modern store-bought varnish, chances are that it's chock

full of polyurethane resins. Any half decent woodworker can spot this

from across a room. Poly varnishes all have a "plastic"  look to them,

even the good ones.

 

For SCA-period work, any sort of varnish is inappropriate, and pretty

crassly so. I'm continually surprised by some of the web sites out

there on SCA-style furniture where someone has gone to a lot of

trouble over researching styles and details, then made a complete

bollocks of the end result by using an entirely inappropriate finish

(or even worse, dark blue paint !)

 

OTOH, poly varnishes do have hard-wearing and water-resistant

qualities. I admit that I do use the gel ones - so long as it's no

more than two coats, then the effect isn't too obvious:

http://codesmiths.com/shed/furniture/gothic_chair.htm

 

If you're doing any sort of 17th century or earlier woodworking, look

into oil finishes. Commercial finishing oils are quick and easy to

use, and they give a _much_ nicer effect than any varnish.

 

If you want shiny, use shellac   (www.shellac.net).

 

17th & 18th century spirit varnishes are possible to recreate, but

they're a real swine to work with. They're very bad-tempered things,

they really need to be made fresh shortly before use, they're finicky

about application temperature and they're highly skill dependent.

 

 

From: Andy Dingley <dingbat at codesmiths.com>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: SCA period paints and pigments for FURNITURE

Date: Mon, 29 Mar 2004 23:28:52 +0100

Organization: Codesmiths, UK

 

On Mon, 29 Mar 2004 20:16:07 -0000, herveus at radix.net (Michael

Houghton) wrote:

>>If you want shiny, use shellac   (www.shellac.net).

>

>When did shellac start being used as a wood finish?

 

Now there's a question !

 

Shellac is very old (unknown date) in the middle East and India. It's

rare in the far East, as urushiol (a plant product) was used instead

(the classic Chinese or Japanese lacquers).

 

In the West, it basically dates from the beginnings of trade with the

East. This is itself a vague date, so its introduction seems to have

been gradual rather than sudden.  At first, shellac was used as a

dyestuff rather than as a resin - there's a 19th century reference

that claims it was imported into Spain in 1220.

 

Shellac certainly wasn't widespread in the West at this time though,

even if it had appeared in rare cases. The usual finishes would be

spirit varnishes (plant resins in alcohol) or oil varnishes (plant

resins in essential plant oils, such as oil of spike or turpentine).

The first resins were probably amber (Northern Europe), or mastic

(Mediterranean). Gum benjamin was used since Biblical times and there

was also a trade in Moroccan sandarac or copal and anime from the Gulf

area. Zanzibar also supplied dragon's blood, a red dyestuff from the

rattan palm (I still use this stuff).

 

The real beginnings of shellac as a resin for finishes began at much

the same time as Eastern lacquer objects started to appear in the

West. Urushiol resin doesn't store and can't be applied in the Western

climate, so even today it's effectively unavailable. Finished objects

were traded though.

 

By the mid 17th, shellac was firmly established. The first

mass-printed textbooks on wood finishing appear around this date and

treat it as an established product. Stalker and Parker's 1688

"Treatise on Japanning and Varnishing" is perhaps the best known.

 

The idea of "japanning", meaning "An opaque paint for wood, distinct

from oils or spirit varnishes, and used to emulate the imported

lacquer ware from Japan (sic)" also dates from this period.

 

By the mid-18th century, japanning had spread to leather and papier

mache. Leather bottles had long been finished with black tar for

waterproofing, but that was applied hot.

 

Japanning didn't work on metals though, and it wasn't until the 1780's

that a usable stove-enamelled black japan for metals (the newly

fashionable tinned iron) was developed (Pontypool japan).

 

>How was it applied?

 

Brush.  The use of "French Polishing" and a rubber (cloth pad) is much

later - mid 18th century, around the French court.

 

>Modern shellac is dissolved in alcohol. When did alcohol start

>being produced as an industrial chemical

 

Ancient, certainly Roman.  Usually described as "spirits of wine", and

basically similar to a toxic brandy.  The earliest reliable ref is in

Aristotle.

 

Early distillation wasn't drinkable - the difference between ethanol

and methanol wasn't appreciated, or if it was, they appreciated the

toxic effect but not how to avoid it !   Roman-era (around 100AD)

there seems to have been use of industrial distilled alcohol and

there's some possibility that by 300-400AD the Romano-British culture

was distilling mead for drinking.

 

In the early medieval period, maybe 900AD, distillation seems to have

begun again  with alchemists and herbalists, probably as an import

from Arab cultures.

 

By 1644 (an infamous year), a Scottish parliament taxes whisky !

 

 

From: Andy Dingley <dingbat at codesmiths.com>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: SCA period paints and pigments for FURNITURE

Date: Mon, 29 Mar 2004 20:46:29 +0100

Organization: Codesmiths, UK

 

On Sun, 28 Mar 2004 07:11:31 GMT, "Ishka Bibble" <spam at nospam.com>

wrote:

>It seems that when linseed oil fully cures

 

Linseed oil will never _fully_ cure.  A highly boiled oil will cure

about 80% in a month or two (depending on conditions), then another

10% over several years. Around 10% of it just never cures. This is a

good thing in its way, for it remains flexible, especially on

oilcloths.

 

One of your big problems with linseed oil under heavy wear is with

adhesion. It's quite easy (especially on oilcloth) to produce a

coating that's stronger than it is sticky - the stuff can start to

delaminate and peel off.

 

If you really care about good surface wear, use tung oil as a base

instead of linseed and look at Danish oil recipes (oil + varnish).

 

 

From: Andy Dingley <dingbat at codesmiths.com>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: SCA period paints and pigments for FURNITURE

Date: Tue, 30 Mar 2004 20:31:06 +0100

Organization: Codesmiths, UK

 

On Tue, 30 Mar 2004 15:55:11 -0000, herveus at radix.net (Michael

Houghton) wrote:

>Urushiol? I'm not familiar with that sense of the word. The sense I

>*am* familiar with is "what makes poison ivy so special".

 

Yes, they're related.  Contact dermatitis is a problem with

lacquerwork.

 

>Can you give any references to help educate us?

 

Either the Marianne Webb book, or the refs down the bottom of this

page:

http://paranoia-towers.com/alchemy/pontypool.htm

 

Those are _the_ classic 17th & 18th century source texts for wood

finishing.  There's also odd stuff in alchemical literature - shellac

also make a useful glue (still used today on fountain pens) and

general purpose sealer for all sorts of hermetic uses.

 

From the late 18th century onwards we see a plethora of cabinetmaker's

and varnish-maker's recipe books, particularly the beginnings of them

in America. If you check Dover press' catalogue, they offer several of

them as reprints.  From the arrival of shellac to the invention of

coal tar chemistry there was little real innovation in everyday

woodworking finishes (asphaltum enamel japans and the technique of

french polishing being the major ones) and so the recipes (if not the

texts) remain fairly consistent.

 

The 1220 ref for shellac comes from Merrifield's  1849 "Original

Treatises on the Art of Painting", but I don't have a copy of that to

hand (there's a Dover reprint)

<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0486404404/codesmiths-20>;

<http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0486404404/codesmiths>;

Damn good book, but more useful for painters than cabinetmakers, so I

don't have my own copy.

 

Again, Bill Knight's pamphlet "Staining and Finishing for

Muzzleloading Gun Builders" is an excellent piece of research on the

chemistry of oil finishing.

 

>Again, references, please.

 

If you're that fussy over history, then get the Marianne Webb book,

despite its cost. I've a longer review of it on the Amazon UK site.

 

>I'm not convinced that shellac resin, as a wood finish, is a period

>phenomenon.

 

What is "period" though ?  When are where are we talking ?

 

>I'd really like to see references that support the vague

>claims made here.

 

I'd like to employ a typist and get 48 hours in a day.

 

 

From: Andy Dingley <dingbat at codesmiths.com>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: SCA period paints and pigments for FURNITURE

Date: Thu, 01 Apr 2004 01:35:27 +0100

Organization: Codesmiths, UK

 

On Wed, 31 Mar 2004 14:37:38 -0000, herveus at radix.net (Michael

Houghton) wrote:

>You confidently state (or appear to) that shellac was used as a finish

>on wood in period (where that is taken to mean "before 1600").

 

No, I do not wish to be misrepresented as saying that shellac was used

as a commonplace wood finish in the 16th century.

 

Into the 17th century, furniture was unfinished. In an affluent house

(i.e. one with surplus servants), for the last century or so of this,

then it may have been polished in use with a beeswax polish.  The

notion of "wood finishes" just didn't really occur until the 18th

century.  Dates are (as always) vague and there could easily be 200

years difference between the fashion in the London court and a

provincial town, or a Welsh farmhouse. The Welsh borders are well

known for having still been producing clamp-front oak chests (a

particular interest of mine) into the 16th century, to a pattern

that's generally thought of as 13th century.

 

Before this period, timber was generally bare and was only finished

for one of two reasons; weather resistance  for exterior use, or

artistic endeavour.

 

Weather resistance was obtained by wrapping in leather or oilcloth,

tarring, applying oil finishes or applying spirit varnishes. Shellac

isn't a particularly good product here, even today, and there's no

evidence for its use.

 

Artistic endeavours are another matter. Shellac was in rare use as a

dyestuff for as long as there was a trade with the East Indies. The

1220 ref in Merrifield doesn't seem unreasonable - after all, we were

importing lapis lazuli as a pigment from Afghanistan long before this.

 

Where small caskets or reliquaries were decorated, then a significant

number of them were protected with shellac, and from an early period.

Painting was done with egg termpera over gesso and this just doesn't

stand up to handling without some further protection.  It was also

used as an adhesive and sealer over inlay work, such as ivory or

abalone inlay. It's rare to find such pieces because this was the very

highest non-goldsmithing craftsmanship of the period and there are

simply few pieces at this level.

 

The use of overall paint or varnish decoration on large pieces of

furniture was first popularised in Venice (then later throughout

Italy). There are a number of 13th century references to painted or

varnished cassone, often dowry cassone which were deliberately

impressive as part of the dynastic shenanigans of marriage. The

definition of varnish isn't always clear, but it seems to have been a

spirit varnish based on gum benjamin or mastic, both traded around the

Mediterranean. At some time, shellac began to be used as well. JAIC

31:2 (1992) describes the use of infrared spectroscopy to identify a

shellac coating on a 16th century cassone.

http://aic.stanford.edu/jaic/articles/jaic31-02-006.html

This is also the first situation where we begin to find "varnisher" as

a distinct trade, separate from both carpenter and artist.

 

JAIC also organised the well-known "Painted Wood: History and

Conservation" conference of 1994. The proceedings are hard to find

(certainly in the UK - a US university library should have no trouble)

but worth digging out.  I wasn't a woodworker back then, although I

was actually in the adjoining state at the time and nowadays you

couldn't keep me away from such an event.

 

As to other references, then you've had most of the good ones.

Marianne Webb and Mary Merrifield are pretty much essential. Stalker

and Parker (which is unreadable) and Dossie or Watin will give you the

techniques, although they're post-period and not intended as a

historical survey.

 

Some other period handbooks that are easily available as reprints are

Cennini

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/048620054X/codesmiths

and Theophilus

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0486237842/codesmiths

 

There's another from 1550, "Secrets of the Arts" by an Italian named

Alexis of Piedmonte, although I've only read extracts of this,

describing spirit varnishes. Although they're not as well known as S&P

et al. there are also a number of 17thC Italian finihsing handbooks

(for some reason, mainly authored by priests).

 

You may also find some useful information through looking at violin

maker's varnish and finish recipes - but I've not looked.

 

Another (rather obvious) consumer of shellac is sealing wax.

Woods C., The Nature and Treatment of Wax and Shellac Seals, Journal

of the Society of Archivists, 15 (1994) discusses the various

formulations, and the period when shellac started to be added to the

previous beeswax recipes.

 

In summary, shellac was known to artists from very early on, was

initially used as a dyestuff rather than a coating, and if it's little

used as a finish for furniture, then that's more to do with furniture

being left unfinished than it is with choice of materials. The "period

of widespread introduction" would seem to be around 1550 to 1650, when

it moves from being a rarity on highly decorated pieces to being a

substance that's described in the standard texts of the day.

 

 

From: renscribe at aol.com (Maitresse Yvianne)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Date: 31 Mar 2004 15:41:04 GMT

Subject: Re: SCA period paints and pigments for FURNITURE

 

>Let me put it more clearly: have you seen specific references to the

>use of shellac dissolved in alcohol as a wood finish that date its use

>to prior to 1600? If so, please tell us where you found that.

 

I'm not a woodworker, but as a scribe I work with period materials all the

time. I may have run across some info that will aid those trying to answer this

question.

 

There are numerous recipes for varnishes in Mary P. Merrifield's _Medieval and

Renaissance Treatises on the Arts of Painting_

 

In my hasty research to see if there was an easy answer to this question

(wishful thinking... there never is an easy answer if it involves research)  I

found several references that may prove helpful. The ones below came from 16th

century sources. One is a varnish for picture frames made from pine resin and

wine. Several others for use on any wooden object recommend benzoin and wine.

The index for the book, while helpful is not all inclusive. I have no doubt

there are other recipes in the book that would be interesting to woodworkers.

 

Yvianne de Castel d'Avignon

 

 

Date: Mon, 3 Oct 2005 07:26:16 -0700 (PDT)

From: Pat <mordonna22 at yahoo.com>

Subject: [Sca-cooks] Linseed Oil

To: SCA Cooks <sca-cooks at ansteorra.org>

 

From childhood memories of Daddy cleaning his brushes, I think it  

stinks and taste bad, but from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

 

Linseed oil is a yellowish drying oil derived from the dried ripe  

seeds of the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum, Linaceae). It is  

obtained by pressing, followed by an optional stage of solvent  

extraction. Cold-pressed oil obtained without solvent extraction is  

marketed as flaxseed oil. It is suitable for human consumption  

(though not recommended for cooking) and is used as a nutritional  

supplement which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, especially alpha  

linolenic acid, and relatively low in omega-6 fatty acids, allowing  

it to be used to lower the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 oils in the  

diet, which may have health benefits.

 

Boiled linseed oil was used as a paint binder or as a wood finish on  

its own. Heating the oil makes it polymerize or oxidize more readily.  

However, today, metallic dryers are used instead of heat. The use of  

metallic dryers makes boiled linseed oil inedible.

 

Lady Anne du Bosc

known as Mordonna the Cook

Shire of Thorngill, Meridies

Mundanely, Pat Griffin of Millbrook, AL

 

<the end>



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