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Detail Of Table Pedestal

Historical Finishes And Government Regulations

One of the challenges in restoring items of antique furniture is preserving or reapplying an original finish. Solvents used in applying finishes to old furniture are no longer permissible under current air quality regulations in increasing numbers of states. Denatured alcohol, used with shellac; mineral spirits or naphtha, used with varnishes; and toluene, xylene and other solvents used with nitrocellulose lacquers, all contribute to air pollution and consequently are either restricted or can no longer be used. The dissolving solvents used in some waxes are likewise no longer permitted. What do you do when you have a valuable old piece which needs to be treated with the original finish to preserve its character and value?

Some states actually have a provision in their air quality regulations to allow the use of historical finishes which are non-compliant. This rule, called emissions averaging, allows the use of non-complaint materials as long as on a monthly basis--computed daily--the use of those materials does not cause a permitted business to exceed its emissions limit. Does that sound complicated? We have actually tried to condense and simplify a very complicated set of formulas and regulations. In simple language, if overall a business uses a very small amount of VOCs (volatile organic compounds--materials which contribute to air pollution), it may be permitted to use the high VOC solvents necessary to reproduce historical finishes. This is not automatic for all businesses, a business must apply for this special permit and obtain it before using these high VOC materials. It must then keep daily records of a rolling 30 day average of all usages, non-compliant and compliant, and submit those for review each year.

An unfortunate reality is that very few companies that offer finish restoration have made the effort to obtain the proper permit to allow them to offer this service legally. The good news is that some have! Here is a question for you: Why insist on working with a compliant business? That assures you of two important things. First, you know you are dealing with a company that values integrity and is seeking to work in an open and law abiding way. Second, you know you are dealing with a company that is doing its part to ensure we have healthy air to breathe. Makes sense, doesn't it?

Game Table WIth Restored Lacquer Finish
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