Author Topic: To fill or not to fill  (Read 8173 times)

daveknuth

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To fill or not to fill
« on: November 14, 2014, 11:48:13 AM »
When finishing open pore woods (mahogany and walnut) should the pores be filled? Were the original 18th century pieces filled? I used to fill but got lazy and quit doing it but I think it looks better filled.

Bruce Leonard

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Re: To fill or not to fill
« Reply #1 on: November 14, 2014, 08:20:58 PM »
I am by no means an expert on the matter, so you should take my commentary with a grain of salt.  However, whether one fills in the grain is entirely a personal choice. Personally, I agree with you that the finish, particularly on today's mahogany, indeed looks much better filled than not, especially on higher style pieces.  Did the 18th century cabinet makers fill the grain?  I had a very experienced cabinet maker tell me they didn't.  But I tell you what.....based on examples  I've seen in the usual roster of museums we all visit, something is responsible for that mirror finish that one can only achieve with the grain filled!!  Perhaps  the quality of mahogany available then was so far superior to today's in terms of density and tightness of grain, etc, that there was no need for the extra effort.  Regardless, I intend to continue the practice because the results are worth it.  I spend a boat load of hours on projects and want the finishing process to be over ASAP.  But I've learned the hard way that there are no short cutting the process.

Jeff L Headley

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Re: To fill or not to fill
« Reply #2 on: November 14, 2014, 10:25:14 PM »
Walnut with its grain also needs to be filled. Back countries Mahogany above the fall line.

Bruce Leonard

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Re: To fill or not to fill
« Reply #3 on: November 17, 2014, 08:03:45 AM »
If anyone has favorite method of filling grain, please chime in. I've been using the finish (shellac), building it up, letting it cure for two weeks, leveling, inevitably cutting through which leads to more dye in the cut through patches, more finish, more cure time, more leveling, cutting through again, etc......you get the picture. Obviously this method is laborious, inefficient and wasteful....other than that its great! (And don't suggest I go for a thicker build, Mr. Obvious.  : ) )  I will be using a different method next time around.


R Bohn

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Re: To fill or not to fill
« Reply #4 on: November 17, 2014, 09:50:06 AM »
I agree that open pore finishes don't look right on most furniture. But with that said, I'm not a fan of pore filling with fillers. 18 c furniture might have been filled with brick dust or dirt sifted to a fine powder.  I think using the shellac to fill the pores is not only the fastest way, but will insure that 20 yrs from now the pores will not change color. It's been my experence that most pore fillers are not UV stable.  Working in Kansas City last week I came across a piece I did 32 yrs ago. I pore filled it with a Star Chem filler[ I keep records].  Anyway, the pores were filled with a dark walnut filler and with UV exposure the pores had turned a shade of gray. I had finished the surface with a Nitro Lacquer and was done before my French Polishing days. I can't say I never use fillers but, it's been a long time since I've used them. A good   French Polishing technique is the answer.
  It's no secret, most projects are lost in the finish process.
    Randy
Restoration and Conservation of Fine Antiques Serving Museums, Dealers and Private Collectors Nation wide since 1979

Bruce Leonard

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Re: To fill or not to fill
« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2014, 11:07:55 AM »
Alriiiiighty then. Maybe I need to reconsider.

Score: shellac/finish 1; Other: 0. Won't you please weigh in? Every vote counts.


Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd.

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Re: To fill or not to fill
« Reply #6 on: November 17, 2014, 01:16:03 PM »
Years ago I used grain/pore fillers. They are fairly fast to use but they give a "muddy" look to the wood. It's like the difference bewteen using an oil stain vs. a water base dye. And it can darken the color of the wood.

Using just shellac is very labor intensive but it gives a more natural look. I've watch a 90 year old-timer (near me) fill the pores using only the French polishing method. He can fill the pores of a bureau in one day with the bureau outside in the sun (fast drying). It produces a mirror-like finish that looks fantastic. But then he has been doing it since he was 15.

I vote for the shellac French polishing method.

Dennis Bork
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Professional period furniture maker since 1985.  Received a B.S. degree in physics then apprenticed and worked as a wood patternmaker for 12 years. Retired Dec. 2018.

Peter Storey Pentz

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Re: To fill or not to fill
« Reply #7 on: November 17, 2014, 01:53:20 PM »
Bruce, and everyone else,

You are all correct.  1) It is well documented that early furniture makers filled the pores in order to get a smooth, shiny, finish on formal furniture.  A very good period reference for this is to look at the paintings of John Singleton Copley that include furniture, especially table tops.  Yes, it did help that the mahogany and old-growth walnut they used was denser.  2) In using pre-made fillers I have encountered both the cloudy, muddying effect and the subsequent fading of color in the pores.  I strongly recommend avoiding them.  3) I have used the slow, but sure, layering of pure shellac and it works well, especially in situations where I had to stain the wood heavily and could not use the next method.  4) When I have a project that requires  little or no staining, I apply a very light dusting of rottenstone to the surface before French polishing.  It is dark grey and looks black when it is rubbed into the pores, this speeds things up.  At one point, I used to use pumice, which fills even faster.  All was well until I saw one of my efforts, the top of a tilt-top tea table, at an antique show that was being held in a gym lit with sodium vapor lights.  The pumice, which is white, fluoresced.  The table top looked like it was covered in snow.  So, now I use the rottenstone.     PSP

Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd.

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Re: To fill or not to fill
« Reply #8 on: November 17, 2014, 03:08:37 PM »
A well known conservator (forgot his name) said that the 18th c. furniture makers spend little time filling the pores.
This is going to confuse everyone.

I have also seen sprayed on lacquer produce a mirror surface equal to French polishing.

Dennis Bork
Professional period furniture maker since 1985.  Received a B.S. degree in physics then apprenticed and worked as a wood patternmaker for 12 years. Retired Dec. 2018.

Woodmolds

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Re: To fill or not to fill
« Reply #9 on: November 18, 2014, 11:20:34 AM »
"I have also seen sprayed on lacquer produce a mirror surface equal to French polishing."

Using lacquer still requires multiple coats and sanding back between coats to fill the pores. It would be wonderful if it self leveled, but alas that is not the case. Done correctly it does produce a very level finish and can be polished to higher sheens if desired. But it still requires a lot of labor. Not sure it would be any faster than french polishing done by someone with experience.

Tony Joyce
"Only those who have the patience to do simple things perfectly ever acquire the skill to do difficult things easily.? Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805)

Bruce Leonard

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Re: To fill or not to fill
« Reply #10 on: November 19, 2014, 07:06:33 AM »
This (all the input) is good stuff.....makes SAPFM worth the price of admission on that basis alone.

Speaking of French polishing  (hey, why didn't we try to rename that back during the Gulf war or whenever it was we tried to do same with French fries, etc.?!  : )  ), I'd love to know half of what the 90 year-old gentleman mentioned above has forgotten. What a treasure trove of information.  Sadly, I'm assuming once he's gone, all that knowledge is gone as well. I bet most of our membership would agree that (Don Williams aside) finishing is an underserved topic for our chapter meeting presentations, publications, etc.  Regardless, if anyone knows of a good source for a (shellac) French polishing class somewhere in the Mid Atlantic area, I'd be interested in hearing from you.


R Bohn

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Re: To fill or not to fill
« Reply #11 on: November 19, 2014, 09:24:01 AM »
If we are voting on witch is faster, French Polish or Lacquer, I know a well seasoned French Polisher will end up with a finer finish faster than Lacquer [Nitro Lacquer ] and with the ability to tweak the color in a way that lacquer can't compete. One might get the mirror finish with Lacquer but not the color.  I'm working on 3 English game tables from the 18 c and none have been pore filled.
 So, my question is , are pore fillers for the most part, used by and for, beginners to produce a mirror finish the pros produce without?
  Bruce, send me an email and the area you are in and I think I can set you up with a seasoned polisher.
Randy
Restoration and Conservation of Fine Antiques Serving Museums, Dealers and Private Collectors Nation wide since 1979

Woodmolds

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Re: To fill or not to fill
« Reply #12 on: November 19, 2014, 01:38:07 PM »
If we are voting on witch is faster, French Polish or Lacquer, I know a well seasoned French Polisher will end up with a finer finish faster than Lacquer [Nitro Lacquer ] and with the ability to tweak the color in a way that lacquer can't compete. One might get the mirror finish with Lacquer but not the color.  I'm working on 3 English game tables from the 18 c and none have been pore filled.
 So, my question is , are pore fillers for the most part, used by and for, beginners to produce a mirror finish the pros produce without?
  Bruce, send me an email and the area you are in and I think I can set you up with a seasoned polisher.
Randy


Please enlighten me why lacquers can not produce the colors French Polishing can.
« Last Edit: November 19, 2014, 01:45:36 PM by Woodmolds »
"Only those who have the patience to do simple things perfectly ever acquire the skill to do difficult things easily.? Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805)

Peter Storey Pentz

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Re: To fill or not to fill
« Reply #13 on: November 19, 2014, 06:49:28 PM »
Randy,

The answer to the question of whether or not wood fillers are a professional technique can best be answered by the late George Frank.  He was a professional wood finisher who started his career in France between the World Wars.  George landed his first job by producing different samples of oak stained different colors with contrasting filler colors.  All the samples were French polished (what else?)  Trust me, doing something like that without having the colors bleed is not easy.  It was George's two books that got me interested in all the varied techniques to make wood look "old".  I got the idea of using pumice as part of the polishing process from him.   PSP

R Bohn

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Re: To fill or not to fill
« Reply #14 on: November 20, 2014, 11:00:11 AM »
Why Lacquer can't get the same colors? I use to teach this stuff, and strange enough, I was taught to French Polish by George Frank him self. I first met George as a student of DCTC wood finishing course, He was promoting his first book and spent time at the school. Some years later, he was promoting his second book and returned to the school, I was an assistant instructor then.
 So, in the lacquer process you sand and stain the wood, you then seal and at this time correct the color or blemishes, shading/glazing. At this point you are now working with aerosols and fine placing color is in the fan pattern of the sprayer.  Great for general coloring but not so good for fine work. As I French Polish, I continue to add color and with my finger tip adding dry powder stain to any blemishes and toning/shading. In the polishing process, besides the bottle of shellac, I have shellac mixed with colors and as I polish, I can place color where and as much or as little as needed. For example, In my shop I have a cabinet that was sun bleached on one side and in moving it was scratched on the same side. At first site you would think stripping was the answer, but by toning with colored shellac and then French Patching with my finger not only do I not have to strip but can add color where and only in the places I need it. George once told me the difference between lacquer and shellac is like using a pipe wrench to repair your pocket watch.  I had to think about that for awhile also.
 As for fillers, in class with George we used anything we could get are hands on to fill pores, Jello [ I liked cherry ] Oreo's [ after I ate the white stuff ] Dirt, etc.  As I remember, George only used pore fillers to create a look. If we were finishing, he used pumice as a abrasive more than a filler, although it did have some filling effect.
 In short, and my eyes, Lacquer can't offer the fine color effects shellac can offer. Maybe I should say technics?
 Minneapolis Institute of Art is celebrating 100 years this year, I have been working there as conservator/ wooden artifacts for 30 years, check out my period room [ the Frankfurt Kitchen ] one of three in the world.
 Randy  
  
  
  
« Last Edit: November 20, 2014, 06:08:02 PM by R Bohn »
Restoration and Conservation of Fine Antiques Serving Museums, Dealers and Private Collectors Nation wide since 1979