A lot of folks online at various treadle collector sites recommend using Howard's Restor-A-Finish to give an old wood cabinet a boost. The claim is that the stuff is a mild solvent and it softens the finish so it will spread around and fill in cracks, take out water rings, dullness, etc , and maybe on something less damaged, it does that. I got some at the hardware store and gave it a try, but the results were disappointing. Actually, I didn't see any difference at all. I'm sure I'll find a use for it eventually so it's going into my paint stash for now. Then it was back to the shop for some stripper specially made for antique finishes.
Gloves and fine steel wool and scrubbing away over a century of dirty, discolored, cracked and crazed shellac-- this is what I call a good time! I love doing a project where the improvement is so quick and obvious, with a great result.
So, just as a reminder: here's the sewing cabinet top before...
And here it is after stripping.
It's so light! Along the left edge of the top piece, the veneer has been damaged and chunks are missing, so it looks a kind of rough. I've read that filling it in with Plastic Wood or a similar product works, but I can't believe it would look nice. I'm thinking I'll just sand down the rough patch and leave it at that. At 144 years of age, she's going to have some scars and around here we call that authenticity. And see in the lower right hand corner there, there's a dotty discolored ring? It won't come up with stripper. I'm not sure what it's from, but all I know is, that's where I'd set a cup of coffee while sewing. Heat damage? Perhaps.
I'm itching to rub some oil into the clean wood, but I'm holding off until I get the whole thing stripped. One thing at a time! Originally, I planned to just do the top and sewing surface, but the results are so dramatically lighter that it would look very strange, so it looks like I'm going forward with the whole piece.
Light top, dark body. See? It would be weird. But I'm excited to see the beauty emerge, so it will be worth the extra work.
Side of one of the drawers. This is what I mean by a "cracked and crazed" finish. Some restorers call this "alligator skin". After years of the wood expanding and contracting in heat and cold and damp conditions, the shellac breaks up. In some places, it flakes off if you rub it. Yeah, I couldn't leave her like this.
That carving is beautiful! It's hard to get in all the nooks and crannies to get all the old finish off, so I'm just doing the best I can with a toothbrush and my steel wool and leaving whatever is stubbornly resistant. The shellac comes up, but the darker color stays, and I"m okay with that. It adds dimension, and also 144 years, authenticity, etc.
Okay, I gotta head to work. Stay tuned in the following weeks to see more of Julia and her cabinet. Then the sewing projects start!