Author Topic: shellac/Varnish finish repair  (Read 2482 times)

Offline Hungry Horse

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shellac/Varnish finish repair
« on: January 20, 2014, 07:44:38 PM »
 I am working on the Lehigh style rifle I was given for Christmas. It is a complete gun, with some forearm damage. The finish is a surface finish, that is either a varnish, or shellac, with the color added to it. This makes a beautiful finish when new, but really shows its age when it spends a couple of hundred years rattling around in wagons, cabins, and closets, and then has some modern owner scuff some of the finish off one side of the forearm, for reasons unknown. Is there some way to figure to what is on it? And is it possible blend a closely match colored finish into the original?

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Offline Majorjoel

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Re: shellac/Varnish finish repair
« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2014, 09:25:18 PM »
Hi Hungry Horse,  If it were me, I would not apply a new finish coat of anything to an antique rifle. Could you post some pictures of your rifle? With good photo's I'm sure the knowledgeable folks that see the Lehigh will chime in with their ideas of how to best fix the problems doing the least amount of disruption to the rifle's original finish. 
Joel Hall

Offline Mark Elliott

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Re: shellac/Varnish finish repair
« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2014, 03:46:58 AM »
It is probably some form or violin varnish.   There are many recipies.  I think Allen Martin just tints an oil finish rather than using a spirit varnish.   Please don't use shellac.  I have seen some nice original guns degraded with a crude application of shellac.  It would probably be best just to leave it as is, maybe protect it with some wax.   If I did have the nerve to try to touch up  an original,  I would probably make up some violin varnish and color with natural pigments to match.   I would then apply it in very thin coats kinda more like a french polish. 

Offline Hungry Horse

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Re: shellac/Varnish finish repair
« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2014, 04:10:56 AM »
 Mark;

  If the gun was in untouched condition no matter how rough, I would leave well enough alone, but some previous owner removed the finish, and possibly lightly sanded the left side of the forestock. Something needs to be done to at the very least to make the contrast less obvious. I would like to find out what was originally used on this gun, and endeavor to repair the finish as best I can. I suspect the bare wood on the forearm is the result of someone trying a finish repair with a material that reacted with the original finish, and want to avoid the same results. The stock is a very nice piece of curly maple that appears to have been originally treated with a vinegar base stain. I say this because the wood where the finish has been removed has a grayish tinge to it, that is common with vinegar based treatments.

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Offline Artificer

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Re: shellac/Varnish finish repair
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2014, 07:17:50 AM »
Unfortunately, the only way to know what kind of finish is on the stock is to test it with various solvents.  Furniture Conservators talk about testing the finish in out of the way places, but unless you pull the lock or barrel and find the same finish there, that is hard to do on a gunstock.  

Here is an article that pretty much sums up everything I have often been told by those who are conservators, though of course you won't be trying to take even one layer off the whole finish as conservators sometimes do on furniture.  http://antiquerestorers.com/Articles/jeff/saving_the_finish.htm

I like the author mentioning using dry powdered artist's pigments in shellac or maybe better for guns - use them in specially prepared original boiled linseed oil preparations (not hardware store BLO) outlined on the forum in other threads and waxes that come in different colors to blend in the color, though as Mark Elliot stated, I've also seen some awful things done with poor quality shellacs from hardware stores painted on too thick.    

Most Conservators I've spoken with suggest "building up the color" a little at a time and perhaps stopping just before it looks dark enough.  It looks more natural for certain areas of the finish to be lighter from wear and tear, anyway, and too dark splotches really look bad.  

Bottom line if I were doing it, I probably would try to make it look better by using colored waxes as they can be removed later on if needed. 

Gus
« Last Edit: January 21, 2014, 07:19:03 AM by Artificer »

Offline E.vonAschwege

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Re: shellac/Varnish finish repair
« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2014, 07:37:46 AM »
Hey Hungry Horse,
    Would you please post some photos of the rifle and areas that have good original finish and on the forestock where you say the damage is?  Seeing the color and damage would help in figuring out the best options for repair. 

    The two primary red colorants back in the day were madder pigment ground into a thick varnish and dragon's blood resin dissolved in spirits.  Both have a brilliant red, but are completely different in their application and ultimately their appearance.  I've seen some guns that appear to even have an orange color pigment instead of the more common red varnish.  I have a short tutorial on my site for mixing up traditional red varnishes here: http://www.neahkahnieflintlocks.com/red-violin-varnish.html.   I've lately been playing with translucent red iron oxide pigments to develop red colors in finish.  These aren't as translucent as madder or dragon's blood (which is almost perfectly transparent), but are better than earth pigments which are completely opaque.  Be wary of applying too much of any pigment, as it will quickly begin to look like paint instead of aged finish. 

As for restoration/conservation, I generally like the mantra of "do nothing that cannot be undone" - and for that, colored waxes and shellac sticks definitely have their place.  That said, if it were my gun I would opt to repair the damaged section using an appropriate refinishing technique to match the existing color and patina elsewhere.  Hope this helps
-Eric
Former Gunsmith, Colonial Williamsburg www.vonaschwegeflintlocks.com