for People with a Passion for Period Property

The definitive guide to wood finishing

By Toby Newell

Toby Newell is the owner of He is an apprentice trained French polisher and wood restorer.


Period properties normally have a greater amount of wood on show compared to modern houses, so properly finished woodwork really can make the difference between an average house and a really beautiful home.

The field of wood finishing is the area I get asked most about after stripping. I could probably write a book, but suspect you could not wait that long so we will only concern ourselves with interior work not including furniture or floors. I will concentrate on architectural items, doors, cills, panels, beams, skirtings, moldings etc. There may be a few trade and technical terms that are unfamiliar to you, do not worry I have numbered these and have included them in a glossary at the end of the piece, along with a list of professional product suppliers

The idea should be to do as little as possible, or (and here is the real trick) make it look like you have done as little as possible. If you want to get a great finish you are going to have to put some time into preparation, believe me it is worth it, the final finish can only ever be as good as the prepared surface allows.


Your wood, either new, in the white1, or stripped should be dry, smooth, and free of grease, wax, dust or dirt. It should be sanded to P180 grade2 or finer for staining and P240 grade or finer for finishing. For a really fine finish, for example on mahogany doors, you can wet the wood with water to raise the grain3 let it dry and re-sand. This will reduce the grain raising caused by staining and/or sealer and will give a finer finish. Water washing with a weak solution of mild detergent, such as washing up liquid or soda, will help to clean dirty wood by drawing dirt out of the grain and is more effective than sanding alone. (For advice on stripping, sanding and surface preparation please refer to my other piece "The definitive guide to wood stripping and sanding")


This is the area where most people can gain the biggest improvement in their work. There are basically four types of stain. Chemical, Oil/Nitro, Water and Spirit.

Stain glossary

Chemical: Traditional, cheap, can give great natural looking results. Work by reacting with wood acids (tannins) present in the timber to give good penetration4 and good light-fast5 properties. Difficult to apply due to variability in distribution of tannins in the timber which can result in patchy effect. Normal washing soda in warm water gives a lovely natural patina to oak of all ages, don't use too much and rinse off any excess crystals afterwards.

Oil: Easy to apply, good for larger areas as has a long "open time" (the time it stays wet) which helps to avoid overlapping and patchiness, excellent penetration, good for previously stripped work as they have a slight body6 which helps mask minor blemishes, glue, filler etc. Dilutable with white spirits, can be intermixed easily. Needs to be well sealed with shellac7 before coating with varnish or wax as the stain may bleed8 or pull9. Not as lightfast as water or chemical stains so not very good for very red colours (which fly10 faster) or for areas exposed to constant sunlight, south facing front doors for example. Probably the most widely used stain in the trade along with nitrostain due to ease of application, can be used to overstain previously sealed work to give a more subtle tint. Sub species are nitrostains (often referred to by polishers as oil stain as they are so similar). These are similar in properties but can be mixed with cellulose lacquers for spraying, used extensively in the trade, harder to apply as open time is slightly less, cannot be used for overstaining as stronger solvent dissolves sealer but can achieve deeper colours.

Water: Usually sold in crystal form, traditionally made from organic matter now aniline dyes are used as well. Large colour range, cheap and easily intermixable. Difficult to apply without going patchy, needs two people on large areas unless experienced. Good penetration, aided by a dash of ammonia or detergent which helps to break down the surface tension. Very light-fast, so excellent choice for front doors, south facing architectural features and very warm colours, can produce both very deep and very bright colours. Probably the second most used stain in the trade, used for high class work and the one I use most. Also there are no solvents so much easier if home is occupied, especially with children. Vandyke crystals give a lovely colour on oak, especially with the addition of a little water black and washing soda. Tone orangey pine boards down with a walnut stain with a little added green to kill the warmth. Lighten dark and cold woods with an orange-yellow stain. Turn dark orange woods like teak into more of a warm rosewood colour with a mahogany stain with a little blue added to deepen and kill the orange.

Spirit: These are made from aniline dyes dissolved with methylated spirit (meths) and are mixed with shellac to give them body. Very difficult to apply. Not very light-fast. Used in the trade to apply translucent layers to tint and match up areas of different colour. Only really for professional use. Must be applied either by fad11, rubber12 or squirrel colour mop13. Sub species are Light-fast stains which are more light-fast, used in the trade to tint lacquers and polishes for commercial spraying.

An important note

The definition of a stain is a coloured substance dissolved in a solvent. A stain is translucent, enhances the figure14 and does not obscure it, the solvent soaks into the substrate taking the colour with it. A pigment is a coloured substance held in suspension in a solvent. It consists of tiny solid particles that when applied lay on the surface, they are opaque, do not let light through and obscure the grain (paint is a pigmented finish). Brewed tea is a stain, if left to stand the tea colour does not settle out. Chalk, mud or poster paints in water are pigments and when shaken will form a coloured liquid but when left will settle to the bottom leaving clear water once again.

The problem is that this definition has become confused. To save us all time DIY coating manufacturers have helpfully produced vast ranges of pigmented finishes which are in effect thinned out paints, and labelled them as "stains". So that if you go into your local DIY store and look in the wood stain section it is quite probable they will not contain any stains at all! The implied advantage is that the finish, normally an oil or water based varnish of some sort is incorporated into the stain and so you can stain and finish in one go. "Take two finishes into the home? Not me, I just stain and go". Well, we all know what happens when you try to cut corners. I can even understand people wanting to do things quicker but the fact is pigmented finishes are amongst the hardest to apply. It is almost impossible for an amateur to avoid, overlapping, patchiness and pulling. Also the colour rests on the surface and when the timber gets scratched it shows the "white wood" underneath which makes the scratch look even worse. These "stains" obscure the grain and after three or four coats some will actually bear more resemblance to a painted finish than anything else. If there is one thing you learn from this article it is to avoid these awful so-called stains. Also their colour range is poor, normally ranging from mahogany (typically post box red) pine (fluorescent orange) through to oak (either fluorescent yellow or green) Everything has its use and they are actually very effective for exterior work as the pigments resting on the surface reflect much of the sun's harmful UV rays which help to protect the wood from environmental damage. Please keep them outside where they belong.

I do use pigments, they are very useful, but I buy the raw pigments and intermix these myself so I can vary the colour, strength and solvent/carrier15 to my exact requirements. This is an advanced technique and is not covered here. Anybody wishing to make their own pigmented finishes can purchase raw earth pigments from either Liberon or Mylands. Make up a fairly diluted pigment in shellac and apply even coats quickly with a polisher's squirrel hair colour mop. Leave to dry overnight before applying another coat to avoid pulling.

So, which stain to use and how do I apply them?

As I stated earlier better staining will probably give you the biggest tangible aesthetic improvement in your work.

For large areas like floors and/or intricate items like banister spindles then oil stain is probably the easiest to use (greater open time is the advantage for the former and greater penetration for the latter). Oil stains can also be used after water stains have dried to add an extra dimension or tint the colour. They can also be used to overstain sealed wood which will give a very slight tint, remember to re seal the wood afterwards. With beams, skirtings, plain moldings etc (linear work where you can work fast) is when you can use water stains, you can achieve much deeper colours with water stain. If you want to use water stains on large areas like floors then it is easier if one of you applies the stain with a rag or brush whilst the other follows behind with a large clean cloth to remove the excess and even up the finish in the direction of the grain. For floors only work on one or two boards at a time, finish the row then go back to the start, work smartly and confidently and try to keep a wet edge16.

For intricate moldings and panelled doors use a brush to get into the corners. If using water stains on these areas be careful not to use too much stain as the water will "stick" in between the molding and the panel via surface tension and the colour will bleed back by capillary action as it dries leaving water marks at the edges. To reduce this dry the area as much as possible afterwards, use of a hair dryer can be a useful aid for this.

The advice for chemical stain is as for water stain. Be careful, chemical stains are tricky to apply, always be careful when working on vertical surfaces of run down where runs will show up as streaks. Try staining from the bottom upwards, that way run off from further up the timber will be running onto a pre-stained area and will therefore not soak in so much. Wipe off any excess straight away.

Staining tips

Always make up or purchase more stain than you will need, if you stop halfway through you will notice the overlap (also the colour may be slightly different from a different stain batch and it is difficult to mix the same colour twice) By the same token always allow yourself enough time to finish the section you are on without interruption so lock up the kids, switch the mobile off and go to the loo first.

Work in small manageable sections that you can finish in isolation, for floors you will have to do these from start to finish unless you have wide gaps in between boards and you are very careful.

Always decant stain/make stain up in an appropriate container that is not affected by the solvent used, make sure this is oversized, do not overfill. Try placing the stain container within a larger empty one so that if knocked no stain will spill over.

Make sure you have as much rag available as possible and change your drying off/evening up rag as it gets loaded. Use small brushes to get into corners and nooks and crannies.

It is better to cut in17 than to mask as many stains will creep behind normal masking tape. Professional low tack decorators tape is better but is very expensive and not 100 per cent fool proof. Try "dry brushing" the edge, load your brush fully then remove as much as possible on the side of the container, dry the brush with your drying off rag until it is nearly dry. You will find you will be able to pick up enough stain from the still wet surrounding stained area to work the stain up to the edge in a feathering action which will not wet the adjacent surface, this takes practice but is quicker, cleaner and cheaper than using masking tape.

Do not overly worry about splashes/runs etc. Try and wipe these up as soon as possible but bear in mind it is much better to work swiftly and confidently in broad strokes than to concentrate on wiping up every spot as your wet edge will dry out. It is inevitable that some of the surrounding areas will get some stain on them, do not worry you can touch these up afterwards. It is a good idea to do any wood staining before applying the final coat of paint to adjacent areas.

If in doubt always start off with a lighter stain, when it is dry you can always re-stain it or over stain it darker. If your stain is too dark to start off with it is virtually impossible to lighten it without stripping the stain back by sanding (bleaching gives varying results)

Advanced techniques involve a combination of water staining, over staining with oil, and applying successive coats of translucent and semi-translucent spirit stains and/or pigments in subtle layers. In this manner it is possible to achieve an incredibly natural looking patination and match virtually any wood to another, whatever their respective age difference. (Sometimes called "faking" in the trade)


Why seal?

Because it is faster, cheaper and gives a much smoother final finish. Shellac is very un-reactive and forms a barrier between contaminants (especially on stripped work) and the final top coats therefore it is a good precaution to apply it to every project as it aids adhesion and therefore the ultimate strength of the applied finish. Unless you have used shellac sanding sealer before you will not be aware of its fantastic advantages, sealer is probably the most important material you will use and after staining will give you the greatest improvement in your work.

What is sealer?

Sealer is a mixture of fillers and lubrication additives suspended in shellac. It dries in about ten minutes and is ready to sand, although the longer you leave it the better it will sand. The fillers, usually mica or pumice powder, fill up the grain of the wood which reduce the sinking in of subsequent coats limiting the amount of "top coat" you need to apply. Lubrication additives such as stearates form a fine chalky white powder on sanding and help the paper to glide over the surface, this not only saves the paper getting clogged up but stops the abrasive grains tearing the finish which makes things even smoother.

How do you apply sealer and what would you use it on?

Apply with a good quality soft brush, polishing mop, or rag. Use a generous amount and work quickly. Be careful on vertical surfaces as it is very thin and you may get runs or spots if you are not used to using it. Do not be fooled by it's apparent lack of body, one coat of sealer which is sandable after ten minutes will sand far smoother than one coat of varnish which sands after twenty four hours.

Always use sealer to fix18 stains after they have dried. Leave stains as long as possible, preferably overnight, work swiftly and brush well in evening up along the grain direction. Some of the stain may bleed through so be careful not to go over an area too many times, confidence is the key.

I would always suggest that you seal before applying wax. One coat of sealer is equivalent to two or three coats of wax and is much cheaper and faster to apply. If you are waxing beams for example it is sometimes difficult to get the wax into all those nooks and crannies even with a small brush which can result in dry areas being left. It is much easier to coat the beam with shellac sealer getting into all those tricky places, then when you apply the wax not only will it go on nicer it will not matter if you miss a bit as none of the wood will be left looking dry.

For stained items one sealer coat is sufficient. If the wood is "hungry" i.e. soaks up a lot of finish then you can apply another coat. For items that are to be clear waxed I would apply two to three coats of sealer (only apply one coat for coloured staining waxes as you want the stain additive to "bite"). For floors you should thin the sealer with up to twenty percent meths and apply three or more coats. The only exception to this is oil finish, you should not pre seal any timber that you are going to oil as this will reduce penetration. For really intricate areas just thin the sealer with meths and apply an extra coat.

You should sand in between every coat you apply as a matter of rule, it may be tedious but if you want great results you have to put the effort in. I would use P240 or P320 for intercoat sanding.


Choosing the finish

This is mostly down to personal taste. All I can do is offer advice on ease of application and durability. If you follow my advice any finish can give great results. A well stained, sealed and smooth surface will tend to look good whatever final finish you apply to it. You may find my views differ from the established common views which are not always based in fact.

The majority of wood finishes can be divided up into the following groups:

Shellac based, cellulose based, oil based, wax based and water based. There are many more commercial finishes that are mainly used in the flooring industry or at the factory including UV cured finishes, polyester, melamine, acid-catalysed (ac) moisture cured and isocyanate crosslinked.


Sometimes called French polish, variations include, sanding sealer, button polish, garnet, special pale, pale transparent, lemon and white. The harvested and refined exudate of the Laccifer Lacca beetle, when dry it is odourless, non-toxic and is used for coating fruit, sweets and tablets amongst other things. It is dissolvable in alcohol (meths) it can be bought in flake or button form or ready mixed. The "cut" refers to the amount of solid shellac in pounds weight per gallon of meths, i.e normal two and a quarter pound cut contains two and a quarter pounds per gallon container. It has good penetration and can produce an outstanding finish to thickness ratio. i.e. the finish reflects more light per unit thickness, a thin coating of shellac will give a smoother and finer finish than a much thicker coating of varnish for example. It is fairly easy to apply (to a medium shine on small areas) dries very rapidly, is very un-reactive and used as a barrier seal between coats of different finishes. It has poor durability, having low dry and wet heat resistance and very poor water and solvent resistance, scuff resistance is medium. Used for fine furniture, for sealing after staining and prior to waxing, for tinting (with spirit stains) and for finishing wood where a superior looking finish is required that is not exposed to heavy wear, heat or moisture. Easy to sand and easy to strip. Can be dulled with fine wire wool or pumice and a dulling brush to give satin finish. Matting agents can be added to give matt finish but this is very difficult to apply over larger areas. Brings out the real beauty of interior wood, especially beams, mouldings, skirtings, frames and low traffic floors.


Sometimes called nitro-cellulose, stronger varieties include acid-catalysed and pre-catalysed. Cellulose is dissolvable in "thinners" which are volatile aromatic hydrocarbons like xylene, therefore a respirator is advisable for larger areas. Used extensively by professionals as it is cheap, quick drying and gives a great finish. Very hard to apply by hand (designed for spraying). Good scuff resistance, medium heat and wet heat resistance, water resistance ranges from poor to good. If you want to have a go try using precat with a polishers mop on small linear items e.g. windows (Morrells do excellent lacquers). Acid-catalysed lacquer can be used on floors to good effect but the fumes are so prohibitive I personally will not use this particular product. Gives a very smooth finish and more durable than shellac, oil and wax, only moisture cured polyurethane and some two pack finishes are more durable. Less water resistance than traditional varnish but much finer finish achievable and more scuff resistant.


Oil finishes include linseed oil, tung oil, teak oil, Danish oil, oil-based polyurethane varnish.

Linseed oil: from pressed flax seed, tricky to apply can go sticky.

Boiled linseed oil: as name suggests, linseed oil is boiled then drying agents e.g. terbene are added to aid drying, gives darker colour, slightly easier to apply due to dryers but not as durable. Traditionally various gums and resins were added during boiling (which resulted in the first effective varnishes) they dried in around a day. Their formulation whilst quaint frequently involved the use of chemicals which are now accepted to be bad for your health usually including some form of acid, lead or zinc compounds.

Tung oil: from candlenut and similar Chinese deciduous trees, used for millennia by the Chinese, a pure oil, easy to apply, more durable than any other oil, medium durability on non-oily woods, medium scuff resistance, medium water resistance (rising to good on oily woods such as teak and rosewood) the best out of all the oils, slightly more durable than shellac but inferior to cellulose, polyurethane or water-based materials. Apply several coats, thin the first with turpentine, wipe off excess. I find ten coats minimum are required for a decent finish, apply over several weeks. (The Chinese would usually apply around thirty coats)

Teak oil/Danish oil: practically the same products. Combination of linseed oil (which is cheaper and less durable) and tung oil (which is more expensive and more durable) solvents, alkyd and urethane plasticisers and drying chemicals, basically just a polyurethane varnish with up to 20 percent more oil, better quality oils have more tung oil and less linseed. Easier to apply due to solvents and dryers but, not as strong as tung oil or polyurethane. I am therefore constantly perplexed at the fervent adoration they receive, perhaps they sound traditional?. Follow instructions on product as these vary with composition. Normally at least two or three coats are advised.

Polyurethane (PU) oil varnish: essentially an oil finish (contains 40 to 60 percent oil normally linseed, soybean or tung with both alkyd forming resins for strength and UV resistance and urethane forming resins for reduced drying time and moisture resistance. Excellent adhesion, especially on oily timbers, good water, heat and chemical resistance, faster drying than teak/Danish oil but still fairly slow. Has tendency therefore to run if applied too thickly and pick up dust. Available in gloss, satin and matt. Excellent for exterior use, possible to achieve good finish but requires patient sanding and multiple coats (minimum five coats) have a tendency to yellow over time.

Oil finishes in general are low build, low penetration and have low to medium durability. They can look very attractive but contrary to popular belief have poor water resistance on non-oily woods. Widely misrepresented as having greater strength and water resistant properties they need to be maintained regularly at least every year, preferably every few months. Apart from their totally natural appearance (although the wood does darken considerably over time) their main benefit is that they are very easy to apply and can be "spot repaired" if partly damaged without renewing the whole surface. Uses are as for shellac but remember, it will require regular recoating. Polyurethane oil varnishes are fairly easy to apply and applied clear over previously stained and sealed wood with careful sanding can look good. Use many thin coats, apply with good soft brush, "lay off" in direction of grain (feather the top of the coat out) and watch for drips. Only really used by professionals for exterior work, but probably one of the easiest finishes to apply properly for the amateur. Apply thinly as possible, if your arm is not aching you are not going thin enough! Use a decent quality clean brush. It is possible to get a decent finish with PU it just takes time.


Waxes, like all solvent finishes dry by evaporation of the carrier solvent. Turpentine or turps (the lighter fraction distillate of coniferous tree resin, expensive) or white spirit (distilled from oil, much cheaper) are used.

Traditional waxes were made from beeswax (either yellow or white, refined from bee hive combs) and turpentine, this gave a very soft wax that had low durability. These were then modified by the addition of harder vegetable waxes like canuba wax (the hardest and most expensive) and Candelilla wax (softer and cheaper). Modern waxes also contain some paraffin wax (the softest and cheapest) this aids application but too much can reduce durability and sheen level. Some modern waxes also contain aromatic solvents and drying agents which are supposed to aid drying but I find them very difficult to use and do not recommend them.

It is widely accepted (in the trade) that a good wax should contain beeswax, paraffin wax and canuba wax with turpentine as the solvent. The beeswax and turps smell wonderful and the paraffin aids application whilst a good percentage of canuba increases shine and durability. Whilst it is fun making your own wax, it is quite messy and there really is no need as there are some wonderful traditional waxes still available at prices cheaper than you can make them for. Mylands wax for example is based on Gedges recipe dating from the late nineteenth century. As mentioned in the sealing section it is far better to seal the wood before you apply the wax. Another tip is do not leave the wax to dry too long before you wipe off and buff up. On almost all wax containers the instructions will tell you to wait five minutes, after this time it will prove very hard work to remove the wax, do not wait that long. Personally I suggest getting three cloths and a brush, one to apply (with brush as well) one to wipe off the excess straight away and even up and the third to clean and buff up. Work in small sections and start wiping off immediately you have finished coating an area, do not apply too much wax and change your cloths regularly. You can also apply the wax with fine wire wool, 000 or 0000 grade which will dull surfaces and smooth out any minor imperfections. Leave at least two or three days between wax coats (preferably a week) or you will just soften the previous coat and make everything smeary. Less is more, apply too much and the wax will just smear. Remove the wax every year or two with pure turps, white vinegar and meths and reapply to avoid dirt build up.


Most waterborne varnishes in the DIY stores are acrylic based for interior use, some are polyurethane acrylic copolymers for exterior or floor use and only some professional lacquers are 100 percent polyurethane. Water based products are very useful for large areas like floors where the absence of solvents is a distinct advantage. They can also prove very useful for window cills, bathrooms and kitchens as they have excellent water resistance and for kids rooms as they are tough (i.e. flexible) and easily cleanable. They do tend to raise the grain and do not give good results on very dark timbers where they can impart a blue cast. They never achieve 100 percent clarity so gloss finishes are always lacking compared to their solvent counterparts, they can however give a very even matt finish. They are fairly easy to apply and for a satin or matt finish look quite good. Take great care when sanding as these finishes whilst very flexible lack ultimate hardness especially when freshly applied and it is very easy to tear them. Apply very thin coats and sand well with fine P320 or P400. Do not apply more than two or three coats as they tend to look plastic-like when applied too thickly.


So you want to achieve a superior finish? Not only will you require professional materials to apply, decent brushes to apply them with but also decent abrasives to smooth them with. Traditional sandpaper (yellow glasspaper) is frankly rubbish, will shed abrasive everywhere, clog up and scratch your finish. For once modern technology beats traditional hands down. For sanding bare wood you require resin bonded aluminium oxide paper (Alox) P100 or P150 grit are good for smoothing, P180 and P240 are good for finishing preparation. Garnet cabinet paper is cheap and good for preliminary smoothing. For intercoat sanding (that is inbetween coats) then a lubricated paper like 3M Tri-m-ite Frecut, Sia Sia Lac and EAC lubrasil are far superior. These are blue and white and are made from harder Silicon carbide grains with added stearates for lubrication. You should use P240 or P320 grit for sanding inbetween coats (you can go "up" to P180 for varnish to avoid clogging and go right "down" to P400 on shellac for an ultra fine finish) Always sand with the grain, especially with the coarser grits. Try and use a cork block where possible on larger flat surfaces. Use of powered sanders are fine for floors but not really recommended for sanding finishes as their speed will not only clog up the abrasive but melt, burn or even create a hole in the finish. Much better to take a little longer by hand than to risk ruining all your hard work. Fine wire wool is messy but is excellent for applying waxes and for final dulling before the last coat. Remember to dust off after every sanding operation. If you can attach an upholstery brush to your vacuum and clear the dust that way, it is much healthier and you will get a better finish. Wipe down sanded surfaces with a very slightly damp cloth to remove more dust. Tag rags are fine but I find a cloth works just as well. If you have unsealed floors or there is a lot of dust around (maybe from other works) then "dampening down" the floor by flicking water everywhere will reduce the amount of dust kicked up before vacuuming/sweeping.

Grit system:

In the modern European grit system "P" denotes the number of smallest openings per linear inch in the screen (sieve) that the abrasive grain will pass through. i.e. P240 denotes the abrasive grains are 240 to the linear inch or that each grain is one 240th of an inch across.

Materials suppliers

I have no connection with any of the companies. They are all on the net apart from Lakeone and Liberon (unless you can read French) between them they supply everything you will ever need. Mylands are probably the oldest and most traditional, famous for their French polish, Liberon are famous for their wax and Morrells for their more modern lacquers, oil and nitro stains. Jenkins do good modified polishes. Mylands do the wax I recommend and Liberon do the excellent Black Bison wax that I also like. Jenkins, Mylands and Morrells are all trade Manufacturers, Lakeone and Liberon cater for the craft market but make a few products that are unique to them. The main three have a technical advisor but please do not abuse them!. Just punch these names into your browser.



1. in the white: previously unfinished raw timber

2. P180 grade: see grit system above

3. raise the grain: timber can be thought of a system of compressed fibres which swell when wetted causing the grain to raise up and feel furry and rough

4. penetration: measure of how deep a liquid is absorbed into a timber surface

5. light-fast: a measure of how well a pigment or colour resists fading due to action of UV component of sunlight

6. body: denotes that finishing material has real substance, e.g. that a stain has some thickness to it when applied and will act partly like a top coat

7. shellac: solution of natural resin (exudate of beetle) in alcohol (see also finishing section)

8. bleed: action of primary coat being partly dissolved by a subsequent coat due to same solvent carrier in both resulting in irregular blending and merging of both coats, esp. common in staining

9. pull: action of primary coat being partly dissolved by a subsequent coat due to same solvent carrier in both resulting in primary coat losing adhesion and "rucking" up like a rug

10. fly: as in the Shakespearian sense, to leave, to go, esp. for red (warm) pigments and stains which are attacked more readily by the sun due to them absorbing higher amounts of UV radiation

11. fad: used wadding from inside of rubber (see below) partially air dried and used to apply stains, sealers or finishes prior to final finishing, can also denote shaped pad of mutton cloth more commonly used today, to fad : verb. Action of using fad e.g. "I was fadding up before polishing"

12. rubber: traditional way of applying shellac and only way to achieve a "French polish" double skinned cotton wool like wadding shaped and placed into a white "wiper" which allows controlled amount of finish through

13. mop: traditional brush for applying shellac, lacquers and varnishes. Hand made, wooden handle, swan quill ferrule bound with brass wire, with large dome shaped head. Hair can be squirrel (for colouring, second only to sable in softness) zorino (combination of badger, squirrel and goat, good all rounder) or bear (horse or hog hair, for rough work)

14. figure: denotes colouration and patterning of timber surface (e.g. fiddleback or flame pattern in mahogany or birds eye in maple) not to be confused with grain which is the pattern of small holes left where the tree used to pump nutrients to its leaves

15. carrier: denotes material that gives body (see no. 6) to a stain or pigment to aid application

16. wet edge: edge of current area being coated which needs to remain wet in order to avoid pulling (see no. 9) in bodied (see no. 6) finishes or streaking in stains. To keep a wet edge: to work fast and skilful enough to avoid the edge drying out before it is incorporated into a new area of finish/stain

17. cut in: action of using brush to carefully coat right up to edge or corner without need to mask adjoining area

18. fix: to protect a stain which has no body by overcoating it with a compatible finishing material to avoid bleeding and/or accidental damage before finishing

About the Author:


The author is the fourth generation to run a small French polishing and specialist wood finishing company now incorporating traditional carpentry, floor laying and finishing. His qualifications include City and Guilds in both wood finishing preparation and antique restoration, he also read Materials Engineering at Sheffield University. He has a passion for antiques and period properties being lucky enough to have worked in many of England's finest listed buildings



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