Author Topic: Making an 18th Century Pistol Case Part 3: Finishing the Case (PHOTOS FIXED)  (Read 12959 times)

Offline smart dog

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Hi Folks,

In this part, I describe how I finished the outside of an 18th century-style pistol case.  After installing the hardware and gluing up the box, I proceeded to plane, scrape, and sand the box smooth.  First, I closed and locked the lid, then planed the sides (lid and case body) together as one solid unit to make sure all sides were flush and even.  I had to work around the hinges with scrapers but that was pretty easy.  I then smoothed the entire box with cabinet scrapers.  After that, I wrapped 240 grit sand paper around a block of wood and sanded the outside.  I repeated sanding with 400 grit and stopped there.  The inside trim was scraped where possible and then sanded with 120, then 240, and finally 400.  I rounded all of the corners and edges slightly with a 1/8" radius cornering cutter I bought from Lee Valley years ago.  It is a very useful little tool.  I then sanded the edges and corners with 240 and 400 grit paper.  Almost all of the original cases I've seen have slightly rounded corners on almost all edges and corners. 



Photos above show views of the case ready for the finish

In part 2, I mentioned carving a little decorative indent for the handle.  I cut a simple rococo shell for that feature, which is functional and decorative.  Most cases had simple half-round indents for the fingers.

Photo above shows handle indent

The only other decorations I included were incised straight lines cut as a border for the top of the lid and a border line all the way around the case just below the seam where the lid meets the case body when closed.  They were simple but very effective decorations.  Most pistol cases were austere without much decoration.  The beautiful wood was all the embellishment they needed.  They were built for traveling rather than for home decor. The incised lines were cut with checkering tools after marking the lines using an old wooden marking tool that was once my great-grandfathers.

Photo above shows decorative line across the front of the case.

I used Honduras mahogany for the case.  In the 18th century and throughout much of the 19th, Cuban mahogany (Swietenia mahogani) was the furniture wood of choice and the wood of kings.  Unfortunately, it was logged almost to extinction.  Anyone wondering why it was so popular should pay a visit to the Winterthur Museum near Wilmington Delaware. Visit their furniture restoration exhibit and look at some of the higher quality original furniture pieces on display.  Those made with mahogany (most likely Cuban) are exquisite.  Anyway, I mention all of this because I stained my wood using water-soluble aniline dyes to look like Cuban mahogany.  My color combination nailed it pretty well.  I applied two layers of stain, each of different color.  The first was a wash of dark purple red followed by a wash of orangy brown.  Some folks on this board have complained that their results using water-based dyes were blotchy and uneven.  That surprises me because I just slobber the stuff on like I was mopping a floor and my results are always good.  I think maybe they are too timid; "L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace" (sorry that was the bourbon speaking not me).  Anyway, I stained the case and then rubbed the stain back lightly with fine bronze wool wet with water.  The water helps to blend any uneven staining (if there is any).  I stain, whisker, and smooth in one easy simultaneous process.

Photo above shows stained case without finish.

This bulletin board archives reams of comments, descriptions, and information on wood finishes.  You could write a book using the threads.  Makers of the original cases probably used some sort of oil varnish.  I can sum up my preferences simply by saying: I like pianos but don't care that much for violins.  I want the wood on my projects (including guns) to have a slight gloss that looks like the wood is polished rather than looking through an obvious top coat of finish.  To accomplish that well you need to either apply small amounts of finish that you rub in slowly with your hand (or rag), or you build up a finish and rub it back with some sort of grit.  I chose the latter for the case and that dictated what coatings I used for the finish.  I wanted the wood sealed so any of the modern polymers, such as urethane, mixed with an oil, such as tung oil, is a good choice.  However, most modern polymers are a nightmare to rub back because they are too hard and can even chip.  The solution I used was to use the urethane-oil mix for the first coats and something softer on the surface for rubbing.  Many high-end furniture makers today use the same strategy and apply shellac over a polymer finish.  Nothing rubs or polishes as well as shellac. The trick is to let the first coats dry completely and roughen the surface a little with sand paper before applying the finish coats to help them bond with the previous coat.  I tested some finishes and found that relatively cheap and widely available Formby's tung oil finish low gloss worked really well for the final coats.  Formby's "tung" oil finish does not contain any real tung oil (except for some derivatives).  It just tries to mimic an oil finish.  That said, it is still a pretty good "wiping varnish" finish, which means that it is supposed to be applied liberally and then wiped off when still wet.  As such it fills the grain quickly but does not penetrate deeply.  However, it rubs back and polishes pretty well.  Consequently, I used a tung oil- urethane mix (25% tung, 25% urethane, 50% turps) for the initial coats, which penetrated deeply and gave the stained wood a warm glow.  After the grain began to fill, I switched to Formby's to build up the final finish.  I sanded with 600 grit paper before applying the top coat and wet sanded with the same between coats of the final finish.  After the last coat of Formby's I let the surface dry until slightly tacky and then wiped it hard with a rag soaked in turps.  That removes most of the dust nibs and evens out the finish.  I then let the case cure for a week.

After a week, I began rubbing back the finish using 1000 grit paper backed by a wood block and water.  I rubbed lightly with the grain and was very careful to avoid rubbing out corners. Next, I shifted to 1500 grit.  After that, I wiped the surface again with turps to remove any dust and sanding grit and let it dry for a few days.  For the final polish, I made a rubber from a small piece of foam wrapped with cheese cloth.  I sprinkled the wood surface with rottenstone, dipped the rubber in water, and lightly rubbed the surface in the direction of the grain.  After that, I wiped the surface again with turps, let it dry thoroughly, and then coated the case with a paste wax and buffed it.  The finish came out well and it looks rich and old.






Photos above show the finished, polished case.



In part 4, I will describe how I built the internal partitions and lined them with cloth.  Again, I hope you found this essay valuable.

« Last Edit: September 12, 2017, 03:53:16 AM by smart dog »
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Offline Dennis Glazener

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Re: Making an 18th Century Pistol Case Part 3: Finishing the Case
« Reply #1 on: June 23, 2009, 08:06:48 PM »
Quote
In part 4, I will describe how I built the internal partitions and lined them with cloth.  Again, I hope you found this essay valuable.
Yes its a good tutorial and I really look forward to part 4 since that is the one I have always had problems with on other type cases that I have made.
Thanks
Dennis
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Offline Tim Crosby

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Re: Making an 18th Century Pistol Case Part 3: Finishing the Case
« Reply #2 on: June 23, 2009, 08:54:23 PM »
 Super job Dave, the finish looks great and once again Pts II aand III are very well done.

 Thanks, Tim C.

Offline Brian Jordan

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Re: Making an 18th Century Pistol Case Part 3: Finishing the Case
« Reply #3 on: July 08, 2009, 02:06:06 AM »
Beautiful job Dave, I look forward to the rest of the project!!
Formerly known as Melsdad

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Offline brokenflint

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Re: Making an 18th Century Pistol Case Part 3: Finishing the Case
« Reply #4 on: August 01, 2009, 04:04:43 AM »
Dave how is Part 4 coming?  I'm in suspense  ;)
Good Journeys
Brokenflint

Offline smart dog

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Re: Making an 18th Century Pistol Case Part 3: Finishing the Case
« Reply #5 on: August 01, 2009, 06:00:49 AM »
Hi Brokenflint,
I am sorry, but it took a back seat to finishing a remodeling job in our home.  I meant to get it out earlier but it will have to wait until mid august.  The case is done and it came out great but it will take me a little time to put the post together because it is a little long.  Thanks for the the interest.

dave
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Offline brokenflint

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Re: Making an 18th Century Pistol Case Part 3: Finishing the Case
« Reply #6 on: August 02, 2009, 06:32:23 PM »
Well there ya go Dave, letting little unimportant things like real life gettin in the way LOL j/k   Thats for the posts so far I've enjoyed them.
Good Journeys
Brokenflint

eseabee1

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Re: Making an 18th Century Pistol Case Part 3: Finishing the Case
« Reply #7 on: August 09, 2009, 09:50:07 AM »
Looks great

highlander

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Re: Making an 18th Century Pistol Case Part 3: Finishing the Case
« Reply #8 on: April 05, 2010, 07:18:35 AM »
Thanks for the great information on finishing.  I wasn't exactly sure what to use, but now plan on the tung oil much like yours.  Wish I'd have found your posts sooner.

Offline smart dog

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Re: Making an 18th Century Pistol Case Part 3: Finishing the Case
« Reply #9 on: April 06, 2010, 07:38:27 AM »
Hi Highlander,
Certainly there are many ways to skin the wood finish cat.  I chose mine to achieve an old "polish in the wood" look.  I am sure there are other good ways to do that.  Good luck and please let us know how you make out.  Thanks for looking at my tutorials.

dave
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highlander

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Re: Making an 18th Century Pistol Case Part 3: Finishing the Case
« Reply #10 on: April 21, 2010, 07:16:52 AM »
I used a tung oil- urethane mix (25% tung, 25% urethane, 50% turps) for the initial coats, which penetrated deeply and gave the stained wood a warm glow.  Turps is TURPENTINE?

Offline smart dog

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Re: Making an 18th Century Pistol Case Part 3: Finishing the Case
« Reply #11 on: April 22, 2010, 06:49:26 AM »
Hi Highlander,
Yes.  Turps is turpentine.  Also use good tung oil.  Sunderland Wells makes very good pure tung oil or the polymerized tung oil sold by Lee valley is very good.  Polymerized tung oil dries and cures quickly compared to pure tung oil.  Mixed with polyurethane however, any tung oil will dry quickly.

dave
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highlander

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Re: Making an 18th Century Pistol Case Part 3: Finishing the Case
« Reply #12 on: April 23, 2010, 03:37:17 AM »
OK, mixed with Urethane? or Poly-Urethane?  I got pure tung oil at Woodcrafters, and Urethane.  Do I need to exchange it??? 

Thanks for all of the great advice.

Steve

Offline smart dog

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Re: Making an 18th Century Pistol Case Part 3: Finishing the Case
« Reply #13 on: April 23, 2010, 05:57:49 AM »
Hi Steve,
No.  Both will do the job nicely.  The polyurethane is more highly polymerized, dries harder, and is probably tougher.  The urethane will act a bit more like an oil, sink in deeper, but take a little longer to dry, and not be as hard.  For your purpose, the ultra hard finish of poly is not needed and the urethane will work well.  Just test the finish on some walnut scraps Steve to make sure it gives you the look you want.

dave

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highlander

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Re: Making an 18th Century Pistol Case Part 3: Finishing the Case
« Reply #14 on: May 06, 2010, 07:00:32 AM »
I have some stain on the wood, and ready to start with the finish (I know, I just piddle with it, and don't get in any hurry)...     and one from the front