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Re: Medieval Finishes Redux

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  • John LaTorre
    Regarding this issue of varnishes and such, it might be worth pointing out what spar varnish really means, and why urethane varnishes are well suited for it.
    Message 1 of 18 , Oct 12, 2010
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      Regarding this issue of varnishes and such, it might be worth pointing
      out what "spar varnish" really means, and why urethane varnishes are
      well suited for it. Spar varnish must not only be tough and UV
      resistant, but it must flex as the spar flexes without developing
      cracks. Urethane varnishes do this particularly well, although you have
      the usual hassles of stripping off the original finish when refinishing
      your work. But unless your work actually flexes, like a spar or a tent
      pole or whatever, spar varnish isn't really better than any other
      varnish for outdoor use.

      We do have varnish recipes of a sort from Italian musical instrument
      makers (although not Stradivari, I'm sorry to say). Again, the finish
      wouldn't be optimum for furniture or chests, but this time for exactly
      the opposite reason. Musical instrument varnish is designed to be as
      hard as possible, to stiffen the tonewood and increase resonance. It
      isn't really designed for wear, and certainly not for moisture
      inhibition (in fact, many stringed instruments don't have the interiors
      of their soundboxes finished). So I guess we're still looking for the
      recipe for a finish that does what we expect our everyday furniture or
      tool finishes to do.

      As for "Tried and True" finishes, I've tried them and haven't had much
      luck with them. It may have been a quality control thing, but I found
      that one of the cans I opened had already oxidized to some extent. Has
      anybody else used this stuff?

      One last comment about tool finishes. I've used "Tru-Oil" which is yet
      another varnish/oil hybrid like Watco or Tried&True. The difference is
      that it's formulated mainly for gunstocks, so it expects to get a lot of
      hard handling and abuse. It's also a favored finish for guitar necks,
      which get a similar amount of skin contact. Available from your local
      gun shop.

      --Johann von Drachenfels
      West Kingdom
    • Jeffrey Johnson
      You forgot resins, pine pitch, gum, amber etc. (See Cennini) There are other blends in there that are hard waxes.
      Message 2 of 18 , Oct 13, 2010
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        You forgot resins, pine pitch, gum, amber etc. (See Cennini) There are other blends in there that are hard waxes.

        On Oct 11, 2010 9:39 AM, "Siegfried" <siegfried@...> wrote:
        > So, I know that we've talked, at length, about medieval finishes on this
        > list in the past. But I'd like to bring the topic back up, as we have
        > new/different people on the list, and I myself am starting to have my
        > memory 'fade' a bit ;)
        >
        > Plus I have some different directions I'd like to take it.
        >
        > ----------------
        >
        > THE PAST:
        >
        > In the past, general discussions about 'medieval finishes' have revolved
        > around things that they definitely had:
        > * Oils (w/ linseed or modern tung filling in)
        > * Waxes (bee's wax, or modern paste wax filling in)
        > * Turpentine (as solvent)
        > * Shellac (common in 16th century, documented back to 12th IIRC)
        > * Paint (The most common)
        >
        > I think we all agree on this (mostly), and this has led most people down
        > the routes of either painting things, or if they want to appeal to the
        > modern 'show the wood' sensibilities, they end up using just oil, maybe
        > with a top coat of wax.
        >
        > Or they (as I myself have done), make some 'medieval mix' of ingredients
        > and end up with a 'that could be done'. Usually this involves a
        > combination of linseed oil, bees wax, and turpentine.
        >
        > Depending upon the quantities, you end up with a thick goop (as I have
        > done) ... or I've seen it mixed HEAVY on the wax, to where it makes a
        > very nice period beeswax-paste-wax
        >
        > -----------------
        >
        > Now all that being said. I'm trying to solve some 'problems' with these
        > finishes. Specifically for heavy use items. Specifically for 'show the
        > wood' sensibilities.
        >
        > I realize that I may not be approaching this from a perfectly 'medieval'
        > mindset. But I'm ok with that at the moment. What I'm trying to do,
        > is to find a hybrid. Using 'conjecturally / arguably' period
        > techniques, to achieve a modern sensibility/protection.
        >
        > So, the problems that I've found, personally, with all the oil/wax/turp
        > style finishes. Is that they are 'soft' finishes. As 'soft' finishes,
        > they allow a heavily used item, that will be handled while people are
        > sweaty and dirty ... like, say, a crossbow (*wink*), to get very very
        > very dirty.
        >
        > Dirt/grime gets into the wax/oils, and things start to look very 'worn
        > down'. Not that there is a serious 'problem' with that, it's medieval
        > afterall. But most folks I made a crossbow for, don't like it when
        > their expensive crossbow, after a summer's shooting, looks rather worn
        > down. Especially when right next to them, is someone shooting a
        > plastic-y-coated polyurethane crossbow. That glistens with it's 'modern
        > beauty'. I don't want that on my crossbows (or other woodwork). But I
        > WOULD like a finish that's more durable and resistant to grime.
        >
        > So, a few discussion thoughts:
        >
        > ----------------
        >
        > * Shellac - Now, shellac is period, and is a film-forming finish.
        > Granted, you have to keep the booze away from it. But at least it's
        > easy to refresh if you need to :) I've used shellac a fair bit in the
        > past on kid's furniture and the like, I do like working with it. (Who
        > can argue with a 10-30 minute drying time for coats!)
        >
        > In fact, to help with 'grime' issues on open pored woods, I plan on
        > starting to use shellac as a pore/grain filler on future projects
        > regardless of final finish. Giving it that one coat of sanding
        > sealer/dewaxed shellac, then sanding/scraping it back down, then
        > finishing it.
        >
        > But my question, for people who have used it more than I ... is just
        > this: How 'durable' is it? Specifically in terms of being 'touched'.
        > My gut instinct just tells me that by it's nature it's not as
        > 'hard/firm' and is a more delicate finish. To where I'd expect in the
        > case of, say, a crossbow, that it might get actually 'worn off'.
        >
        > Am I right in this idea? Or is it a much more durable finish than I'm
        > giving it credit?
        >
        > * Varnish - So, now-a-days, we basically only think about polyurathane
        > when it comes to a hard-coat-varnish. But lots of different varnishes
        > have existed over time. I've read documentation of ancient eqypt using
        > pine sap w/ solvent to create a golden hard-varnish. And of other
        > natural materials being used as well (amber, etc). And there were
        > period references to 'varnishing' items, but without good 'what they
        > meant' ;)
        >
        > My question is: What other semi-commonly available varnishes might
        > exist, that might better approximate a period varnish, than poly, but
        > that don't have that 'Oh that's been polyd' look, while providing good
        > protection.
        >
        > * Lacquer - Lacquering is period for the Orient. Is there any
        > documentation for lacquer in the West? And is there any documentation
        > for 'clear/amber' lacquer, instead of solid color?
        >
        > -----------------------
        >
        > One final topic: UV Protection
        >
        > None of the period finishes I've used, have ever provided any UV
        > protection. This isn't a real problem if you are using basic woods,
        > that either don't really care about the UV. Or that get prettier with
        > UV exposure (Cherry).
        >
        > However, there are times when I find myself making something, with very
        > specific colorful woods, IE, exotics. Purpleheart, Osage Orange,
        > Bubinga, Bloodwood, Padauk ...
        >
        > In these cases, the result of the finished piece, is often, always,
        > striking.
        >
        > Until someone takes that item out into the hot sun for a season of
        > shooting. Then, after only an oil/wax finish ... everything has turned
        > muted shades of brownish-brown ... the hard work put into inlaying woods
        > of striking difference is lost as they become nigh the same color, etc.
        >
        > YES, I realize that this is a 'not period issue'. In period, if you
        > were inlaying woods, they were striking to begin with. Pear vs Ash,
        > Cherry vs Ash, etc (I've seen lots of Ash inlay).
        >
        > Anyway, to my point, I'd love again, a period-ish finish that contained
        > some UV protection. So that if someone commissions me to make a bow
        > with bloodwood or purpleheart inlay ... it looks as striking on day 1,
        > as it does on day 500.
        >
        > Yes, I realize that one solution here is just to say: "Hey, I'm putting
        > non-period wood into it, put a non-period finish on it"
        >
        > But really, I do want to keep stuff as CLOSE to period as I can, even
        > when I'm straying from the field. So I'd much rather have a period
        > finish on something, even if the underlying wood, isn't.
        >
        > So any thoughts on this? My current solution I'm planning on trying.
        > Is to make a custom blend of linseed oil and Spar Varnish. Heavy on
        > the linseed. To try to get some UV-spar finish protection, without
        > causing a poly-look
        >
        > But are there any other options here that people know about? Basically
        > the ONLY UV-protecting finish I know of, is Spar Poly
        >
        > Siegfried
        >
        >
        >
        >
        > --
        > Barun Siegfried Sebastian Faust - Barony of Highland Foorde - Atlantia
        > http://hf.atlantia.sca.org/ - http://crossbows.biz/ - http://eliw.com/
      • erik_mage
        The point was to find a finish cleaner than waax or linseed oil that was still period. I have done many gun stocks with a product called Linspeed it basicaly
        Message 3 of 18 , Oct 13, 2010
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          The point was to find a finish cleaner than waax or linseed oil that was still period.
          I have done many gun stocks with a product called Linspeed it basicaly gives a fast drying finnish like boiled linseed oil.
          I suspect it is just that with some japan drier in it.
          ERIK ' mage
          --- In medievalsawdust@yahoogroups.com, John LaTorre <jlatorre@...> wrote:
          >
          > Regarding this issue of varnishes and such, it might be worth pointing
          > out what "spar varnish" really means, and why urethane varnishes are
          > well suited for it. Spar varnish must not only be tough and UV
          > resistant, but it must flex as the spar flexes without developing
          > cracks. Urethane varnishes do this particularly well, although you have
          > the usual hassles of stripping off the original finish when refinishing
          > your work. But unless your work actually flexes, like a spar or a tent
          > pole or whatever, spar varnish isn't really better than any other
          > varnish for outdoor use.
          >
          > We do have varnish recipes of a sort from Italian musical instrument
          > makers (although not Stradivari, I'm sorry to say). Again, the finish
          > wouldn't be optimum for furniture or chests, but this time for exactly
          > the opposite reason. Musical instrument varnish is designed to be as
          > hard as possible, to stiffen the tonewood and increase resonance. It
          > isn't really designed for wear, and certainly not for moisture
          > inhibition (in fact, many stringed instruments don't have the interiors
          > of their soundboxes finished). So I guess we're still looking for the
          > recipe for a finish that does what we expect our everyday furniture or
          > tool finishes to do.
          >
          > As for "Tried and True" finishes, I've tried them and haven't had much
          > luck with them. It may have been a quality control thing, but I found
          > that one of the cans I opened had already oxidized to some extent. Has
          > anybody else used this stuff?
          >
          > One last comment about tool finishes. I've used "Tru-Oil" which is yet
          > another varnish/oil hybrid like Watco or Tried&True. The difference is
          > that it's formulated mainly for gunstocks, so it expects to get a lot of
          > hard handling and abuse. It's also a favored finish for guitar necks,
          > which get a similar amount of skin contact. Available from your local
          > gun shop.
          >
          > --Johann von Drachenfels
          > West Kingdom
          >
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