Frequently Asked Questions About Furniture Refinishing
General Questions about Refinishing:
Questions about Refinishing Antiques:
Questions about Finishes:
Can you match existing finishes?
We can get very close--as close as our experience, artistic eye, and the capabilities of the materials we use will allow. For all but a very small number of our customers, we equal or exceed expectations.
We are very suspicious of any refinisher who claims they can exactly match a finish. Modern manufacturers closely guard their finishing formulas as a crucial part of their competitive edge. Unless you know exactly how much of what they used and when and how they used it, you are only guessing and cannot honestly say you have exactly matched a finish. For older finishes that have begun to oxidize, have changed due to fading and wear, it takes museum conservators very specialized scientific testing and analysis to offer their highly educated evaluation of the chemistry and color of existing original finishes. In some cases they might be able to say they have exactly matched a finish. For a refinisher to say they can exactly match finishes trivializes the marvelous complexity, capabilities and history of the craft of finishing.
Do you have samples of completed work?
For customers who can visit our shop we are happy to give tours. There are always items in various stages of the process including some that are completed and awaiting pick-up. The assortment of items on hand will vary and cannot be predicted. Other than a visit, the best source for seeing our work is this website.
Do you have samples of stain colors and finish sheens?
Yes and no. We can show you samples of the stain colors we use. However, colors and sheens are effected by the species and age of the wood, by the porosity of the wood, the cut of the wood, the direction of the grain as it exits the wood surface, the source, direction and intensity of light, and other factors as well. The color of a stain and the sheen of a finish are constant out of their packaging but may appear different on different woods and often even on different parts of one item of furniture.
For this reason our practice is to ask our customers to come in after we have removed the old finish. We then directly apply the stain of their choice to their piece of furniture so they can see whether that is the color they really want. If not, we can then work to determine what color will be needed to achieve the color they desire. For some customers, particularly out of area customers, this trip is not an option. In such cases, we need a separate sample of the color and sheen desired and we will, for an extra charge, work to develop a color and sheen that approximates that closely.
Sensitivity to fine variations in sheen is nowhere nearly the issue it is for color. A general range of sheen will most often suffice when sheen selection is determined.
Do you have samples of the decorative finishes that can be done?
The range of options in decorative finishes is endless. We occasionally will have a piece in progress, but the best source is the pictures on this website. After we have completed your project it may well show up on our website and you will provide inspiration for someone else! If you don't see what you have in mind, bring us your ideas and we will work to transform your ideas into beautiful reality.
Can an existing finish be changed to a different color without stripping?
- Color can be added but not subtracted.
- Color can be added in the finish layer but not to the wood itself.
These two factors control the changes that can be made to a finish without stripping. What these factors mean is that a finish color can be made darker or more opaque but never more transparent and not lighter unless also more opaque.
This answer focuses specifically on the issue of color change. Any decision to attempt a color change needs to consider the answer to the next question as well.
Can existing finishes be top-coated instead of stripped and completely refinished?
The key criteria in answering this question are the condition of the existing finish and the compatibility of the new finish with the old.
If the existing finish is chipping, peeling, gummy or soft, it needs to be removed for the greatest durability. Top-coating a finish in any of these conditions may slow the process of deterioration if successful, but may also cause an almost immediate reaction destroying the the entire finish layer. Crazed or crackled finishes may be top coated, with the same caveat, but often the crazing or crackling will be minimized by the overcoating.
If the new and old finish are not compatible, there will either be an immediate wrinkling of the finish or a subsequent peeling of the topcoat finish.
We make no warranty on any finish we apply over an existing finish. We will do it, but only if the customer is willing to take entire responsibility if the top-coating is not successful.
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Do you refinish antiques?
Some people believe antique furniture should never be refinished. We think that is a decision each owner of antique furniture needs to be free to make on their own. Our role is to serve our customers. If a customer has an old piece they want refinished, we will refinish it for them. We will offer whatever information we have about the piece to help them be sure in their own mind that they are making the best decision but we will not make that decision for them by refusing to do the work.
Should antiques be refinished?
The value of items of furniture old and new is based on the rarity of the piece, and the extent to which it remains in its original condition. Everything that is not currently being mass produced is at least rare in the sense that it cannot be readily replaced. It is not rare due to scarcity however, and that is the rarity that produces greatest value. What is it that makes a piece of furniture rare? What makes it a genuine "antique?" There are three definitions of "antique" in common use.
- The first, most widely used definition is: as old or older-than my parents. This should not be taken as an insult against those of us who have children old enough to own furniture. It is rather more a discredit to those who use this definition, exposing their lack of understanding of the significance of rarity. They may truly be referring to old furniture, but to call it antique broadens the meaning of the term excessively.
- The second definition is most widely used by sellers of antiques: one hundred or more years old.
- The third definition is used mostly by appraisers and auctioneers of highly valued pieces: made prior to the beginning of the industrial age, approximately the 1840s.
Each of these definitions is anchored in time. The "should you refinish" question is not simply a time or age related question. Again, rarity or scarcity is a more important concept. A fine Berkey & Gay piece from the 1920's with a worn but fundamentally intact finish, for example, although not yet old enough to qualify for the stricter two definitions of "antique," certainly would be a valuable piece and could eventually greatly appreciate in value if its originality was retained. A Stickley piece with the original imprint, though mass produced, possesses rarity because of the stature of its maker and the presence of his stamp. When that type of rarity is present, and the piece is still possessing its original finish without modifications or major losses, values are the greatest. Refinishing such pieces would be extraordinarily costly in terms of the loss of potential value and therefore would be ill advised. Mass produced furniture of lower quality from the twentieth century becomes more rare as time goes by, but because mass produced, still widely distributed and of lower original quality, their values may never appreciate significantly or not for a long time to come. For such pieces, originality is often a liability and they would have greater value if refinished.
Can you apply historically accurate finishes to antiques?
A qualified yes. Yes we are capable, but yes qualified by the fact that the state requires a special permit to do this work legally. It is quite a bit of work and takes quite a while to get this permit. Most refinishers either don't know they need to get it, or have chosen to do the work without the required permit. All of us who have obtained the required permit can legally apply historically accurate finishes to antiques.
Here are the qualifiers: we don't have a scientific way to ascertain the exact finishes used originally, sometimes the original finish has been removed, shellac finishes could have used any of a number of different colors of shellac flakes, wax could have been used as a stand alone finish or over another finish and could have been a single wax, like beeswax, or a blend of waxes, original oil varnish finishes had no standard set of ingredients and were commonly formulated uniquely by the finisher whether in a one man workshop or in a furniture factory, twentieth century nitrocellulose finishes are no longer available. What we offer is a historically representative finish. We use tung oil for finishes originally oiled, a shellac that seems appropriate to the piece for shellac finishes, a modern blended wax from a manufacturer that has been selling waxes since the mid nineteenth century, and the best modern, water based finish that looks like or can be adjusted to look like a classic varnish or lacquer finish.
Additionally, for a historical varnish finish, we have a copy of an early twentieth century formulary which includes various recipes for authentic varnishes.
How hard is your finish?
We have options in the finish we use which offer varying levels of hardness depending on how they will be used. Our standard finish is plenty hard enough to stand up to the rigors of daily use. Chairs, drawer chests, display cases, most tables and most everything else will appropriately call for the standard finish. For conference tables, unprotected desk tops, kitchen cabinets and similar pieces that could use a harder finish we use a finish with about double the hardness rating of our standard finish.
Do you use "green" finishes?
We use non-flammable, non-toxic, low VOC (volatile organic compounds--the precursors to air pollution) water based finishes.
Do you have an exterior finish?
When finishing items expected to be used outdoors, we do use stains and finishes formulated specifically for exterior applications. They contain U.V. absorbers and mildewcides to enable them to withstand the major causes of exterior finish failure.
Do water based finishes change color with time?
No, unlike old lacquers and varnishes, water based finishes do not change color with time.
Are waterbed finishes harmed by contact with water?
Many people assume that because the resins in water based finishes are dissolved in water when applied, contact with water will cause them to dissolve again. On the contrary, once the chemical reaction takes place when the finishes dry and harden, the finish becomes incredibly resistant to damage from water. Unlike virtually every other kind of finish, these will not blush or have the typical white water rings left by a sweating water glass.
Are there any unhealthy vapors from water based finishes?
These finishes are completely non-toxic and have no lingering offensive or unhealthy odors.
If you have questions we haven't answered, please send us an email!
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