Finish on a Bombe' Chest

macchips4

Well-known member
I'm getting near the point of finishing a mahogany bombe chest of drawers. I was thinking of just using multiple coats of BLO and then a dark wax. But I came across some sites mentioning of Asphaltum as a stain/aging step....Also some mentions of using lye to age the mahogany....After all this work I don't want to just slap a coat of poly on it..........So I was wondering..."What would you do or use" to finish a bombe chest???? Thanks in advance for any replies or ideas...
 

CBWW

Well-known member
What do you want it to look like?  My 2 cents-  BLO is a waste of time.  Asphaltum?  thats roofing tar?  No way.  Lye?  cant control it.  If I wanted it to look like a period piece, I would seal the entire piece with blonde shellac.  Sand it way back between coats.  You are basically filling the pores this way.  It may sound time consuming but its not bad.  Then I would spray dye stain(alcohol dye) on top of this slowly building color/removing color in certain areas.  A turbine HVLP is probably less in price than your material cost.  Overspray with the correct settings with dye is close to zero.  You could pad color if you wanted but its slower.  When the color is where you want it, top coat with shellac, rub out with steel wool then wax. 


Pete Aleksa 
 

Tom M

Well-known member
Attached is the article - a lot easier to show it than explain it.  I used this process on my breakfast table and was very pleased.
 

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CBWW

Well-known member
Thanks for posting that Tom. 


Building a Bombe is no small undertaking and I would hate to see you mess up the finish.  Building it is only half the job.  Not knowing what your skill set is, what materials you have access to, and what you are comfortable doing, makes it difficult to give advice.  Plus everyone has different ideas of what is right and wrong and good and bad.


After looking at that attached article, I have some thoughts that may or may not help.  He starts by sealing the wood which is fine.  But then talks about a wire brush and 400 grit and walnut husks for color.  Sealing the wood, in theory, is to get the color to absorb evenly.  To much of it sealed and no color gets absorbed, to little sealed and the color gets absorbed to much.  Wire brushing the wood after it being sealed? I wouldnt do that.  What if you expose new unsealed wood then the color hits it and you go dark?  Sanding with 400?  you are just burnishing the wood making less color get absorbed.  Walnut husks?  never.  Everything I do needs to be predictable and repeatable.  You also cant adjust anything color wise with that hence the different color crest rail and splat in the photo.  Go to W.D. Lockwood and order a few colors.  I get water stains from them.  Your stain is now repeatable and can be adjusted.  Whenever I have sealed anything, water stain rarely penetrates the way I like or better yet what my clients want.  Especially after something is stripped.  I will then usually use a pigmented stain(depending on what it is) or usually alcohol dye. 


What I wouldn't do is sand the case past 150(depends on wood figure), or apply water stain directly on the case, or use walnut husks.  I also dont think the oil bw coats does anything and it does not help with adhesion.  I would be careful with orange shellac as I have had it go to "orange" .  If you are going to glaze anything or highlight areas/cracks etc.  Do a test sample if you are using shellac.  I use Mohawk products a lot and some of their products dont work with alcohol based products.  In sanding shellac- use 3M gold 220 or 240. 


Can you pad shellac?  if so, you can color the entire piece this way with tinted shellac. 


Hope this helps.
     
 

Antiquity

Well-known member
There are many ways to finish a piece and all are good. This is what I did for 30 years for my customers.


Wet the wood with distilled water, let dry and fine sand to nock down the whiskers. You may have to to this more than one time. I used water base aniline dyes from Woodworkers Supply. Then a coat or two of dark shellac which gave some age to the wood. Then several coats of either tung oil varnish or water base varnish. Yes, the water base varnish is not authentic but it dries fast and has no odor and I did not have to rub out the top coat.


Which ever method you do just practice on scrap wood first.


Dennis Bork
 

CBWW

Well-known member
Yes, there a million ways to finish a piece.  Good point on raising the grain.  Forgot to mention that.  But, I would worry about applying water stain on the bombe bc it will be absorbed more in the end grain areas.  It will look blotchy.  But it depends on what color he wants to go to.  I never used the oil varnishes.  Have always stuck with shellac or lacquers bc of the ability to color them and slightly alter/tint colors if needed. 
 

Antiquity

Well-known member
The oil and water varnishes can also be tinted with ultra fine touch up powders (not the aniline dye powders used to make a stain, although they might work) from Woodworkers Supply.


Dennis Bork
 

macchips4

Well-known member
All this just makes me get "gun shy"...... as CBWW says...I don't want to mess it up after all the work ( and expense of the wood)....Lance Patterson, in a FWW article says he finishes with many coats of just BLO and wax. I read the G. Landon articles and it seems to be a process that begs practice....not a first time try on a bombe...The bombe's top has some crotch figure, that I don't want to hide with too much color/dye/stain...but I also don't want that "pinkish red" of new mahogany...I've wiped the piece down several times with water, sanded, alcohol, sanded etc to raise the grain...but I did sand to 220...maybe too much?...read a few articles in FWW and it seems that a first coat of BLO would bring out any figure...but Landon used shellack to do the same....and CBWW uses shellac as a first sealer coat........wonder if I mix BLO and very thin shellac...soak in to bring out figure....then wipe on an oil varnish like waterlox or Minwax antique oil....If needed, a glaze could be added between those to get rid of that "pink".......Looks like I'll be using the left over mahogany for test boards....Thanks everyone for replying...it's great ......
 

CBWW

Well-known member
Dont be gun shy.  Its really not that hard to do.  Definitely nerve racking.  A few more thoughts/advice.  Sanding to 220 is no big deal.  The reason why I don't do it is bc if you are going to color the wood, it reduces the amount of color that gets absorbed and its just a waste of time.  Some woods with cathedral grain or figure may need to be sanded past 120 or 150.  The BLO notion of making the grain pop?  I dont agree to that.  Ive tried it many times but with a quality shellac or lacquer finish, its just not needed.  My opinion though.  Plus I worry about drying and adhesion issues by doing blo first.  Mixing shellac and BLO?  I dont see the benefit in that.  Doing multiple thin coats of shellac will add more pop than any BLO will ever do.  If you need to adjust the color- get rid of the pink/red, that is super easy with tinted shellac padded on thinnly.  You may need a blue or a green to adjust off the red.  Start with a very thin color and slowly work your way up to where it needs to be.  When you have a small amount of shellac on the piece, if the color goes bad, you can remove it easily.  Adjust the color early on in the process, not in the end.  If you are able to work with shellac then do the entire piece in it.  It will come out much better than using waterlox or minwax oil.  I would use those products on my floor, not my furniture- again just my opinion.  If you are going to use some oil varnish be careful.  Oil varnish is a bit of a vaque term to describe a finish.  If the resin is hard like poly, going over a softer finish  is not good.  To much and it will crack.  It depends on the resin and the thickness of the finish.  Its not a good idea to mix or layer different finishes. yes, it can work but there is risk depending on things. 


Pete Aleksa
Cherry Brook Woodworks 
 

macchips4

Well-known member
I always thought of shellac as a federal type finish....I've used it on several projects...in my mind I am searching for a "hand rubbed" finish. Not as high gloss/smooth as the finishes I wound up with on my federal pieces. So...thinking of: Thin shellac to "pop" grain, adjust color (the chest is from one board but there is a difference between the top two book-matched drawer fronts and the lower two book-matched drawer fronts...) then seal color with another thin coat of shellack. This I hope will not fill the grain...Then topcoat with some sort of wiping-oil-varnish I have some minwax, waterlox, enduro-var, tried and true varnish oil and a commercial BLO varnish for marine .........I know you spoke of not using a varnish and sticking to shellac. I guess if I padded/rubbed on the shellack I could control the film thickness and get a smooth a "hand rubbed" finish.......Was shellack originally used on bombe chests/ pieces of early 18thC? .... Again looks like I'll be cutting up the left over mahogany and making a crap load of samples.............
 

CBWW

Well-known member
Why would you not want to fill the grain?  or at least get the majority of it filled?  You can fill the grain and not have it Glossy.


If you want hand rubbed, pad on shellac, heck you can even brush it on heavy. I may actually brush it on to start to make sure I get a good base.  Sand it with 220 to level it.  3m gold paper is the best and wont clog.  Shellac will be shiny.  When the finish is colored and built up, rub it out with 0000 steel wool.  If you lubricate the steel wool with water it cuts better and faster.  Then wax.  There are other ways to adjust the sheen.  Certain waxes impart more sheen than others. 


Any quality finish should be rubbed out.  Any wiping oil, waterlox etc typically do not rub out well.  I dont think I have made a piece of furniture in 25 years that hasnt been rubbed out.


Shellac wasn't imported into this country until the mid 1800's or so.  It was not originally used on Federal furniture. 
 

Mark Maleski

Well-known member
It seems likely to me that a shellac finish would be true to that piece.  A bombe in 18th century Massachusetts was a high form, and the maker would've chosen the best finish available.  Perhaps the maker would've gone with a BLO and wax finish, that seems reasonable - but it's not a stretch to think he also could've used one of the available oil or spirit varnishes.  That includes colophony, (made from the pine trees of New England), sandarac, etc. I've tried a turpentine/colophony varnish on test pieces - it's slow (each coat dries overnight) but the end result looks just like shellac.  My conclusion was to stop the experimenting and just use shellac.

I don't understand - and am skeptical of - the conventional wisdom that shellac wasn't available in 18th century America.  It became known to the Europeans in the 13th century and there was a steady supply line to the colonies (barring a few blockades here and there).  How can we be confident shellac wasn't being shipped?  In fact, it served as a foundation ingredient in japanning, which was popular in Boston beginning early in the 18th century.  Even if I'm somehow misunderstanding the shellac import timeline, makers at that time were clearly using spirit vanishes of some sort for the japanning.

Agree/disagree?  What am I missing?

Mark Maleski
 

macchips4

Well-known member
Mark, From what I've read/found...I'm the farthest from any thing resembling knowledgeable....There's evidence of advertising for shellac in the early 18thc but there are no records showing any purchases...or any written "diaries" stating the use of shellac. and ...I'm assuming (bad choice of word) because surviving furniture has been refinished, repaired, "polished" etc over time..there is no assurance that the finish on any pieces is the original finish.....So far, after about a dozen 4x6 samples....... I think a thin shellac wash  with a rubbed oil varnish top coat is what I'll be doing.....just need to see how the color on different parts of the chest turns out after the first shellac coat....At least that's the plan/idea for now.............things change by the hour!
 

macchips4

Well-known member
I also want to thank everybody for their time to respond, the information, and ideas.....Shows how valuable a resource this forum and the SAPFM group is....Hope all have a safe and happy holidays.....while I'm hiding in the basement finishing little pieces of wood.......
 

CBWW

Well-known member
From what I understand, the first record of shellac being imported into this country is around 1849.  Could it have been brought in sooner?  maybe.  It was used in Europe prior but its main use was for the dye that came from it.  It wasnt until the mid 1830 that it was able to be processed for furniture use.  The info that I have read on this is vague so take it for what it is....


Shellac is used extensively in the antique conservation/restoration trade.  I would actually look into the conservation trade area for more info on it.  The folks that do micro analysis on period finishes- The Beckerdite series come to mind over this.  I know I've seen info on all this somewhere but cant pull it out of my memory. 


As far as your bombe, I hope it comes out great in whatever you decide to do.  Finishing is a trade, in and of itself, and the deep knowledge of what and how to do it is not publicly accessible.  Its not even taught in the woodworking schools.  Even Nbss.  I would advise you to do samples, more samples, and then some more.  Try new things, new techniques that you havent done.  Push your boundary. 


I found that when I have a new piece where the client isnt dictating color, Ill still find some photo of a piece I like and match that.  It gives me direction and a goal.  I actually did that recently on a CT cherry table that a dealer had.  Long story... but a picture of a "light, not red" antique from the Kuggelman book gave me guidance. 


Good Luck. 
 

macchips4

Well-known member
At first I was going to do an oil and wax finish, then a "satin" varnish for more protection But.......Well it is "not as planned" But the figure just needed to stand out more ...and I just kept going... so shellac, color and shellac it is.....rubbing and French polishing..... got to leave it alone for a few days.......
 

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