The Restoration News

Hot Oils!!! Good for you but bad for your wood...read on....

With over 50 tables done so far this year, let's talk about those hot oil plug-ins. You know, the ones that contain scented oils or perhaps you have one that is a table top model. Pull the out of the wall, lay it down and watch it puddle or just tip the table mounted one over. These hot burners contain an oil that is made from glycol/alcohol based products, that once heated, act like one of the strongest stripping agents I have ever seen. And here is the real problem, they don't just stop penetrating at the wood level. They will continue to cut through the veneer surfaces and get stuck in the solid wood, particle core, paper core, or just about anything. Traces of that oil can even come back to the surface as repair work is attempted. So how am I repairing these oil blotches? We have developed a new type of cleaner that use some diatamaceous earth compounds which helps leach out the oils. Once that is done we can go ahead and seal, color, blend and finish the area as usual. It still requires skill and patience but it can be fixed. Problem solved....

Hot off the press, we've developed some techniques for restoring your "newer" furniture.
We've been hard at work this year trying to figure out how to help many of you with the increasing problems that all restorers face when working on new furniture. What we've come up with is pretty neat! First, we have pioneered some high speed dry sanding methods for removing clear coatings and stains on paper and wood laminate table tops. It requires a well trained person to do it but it is price competitive with chemical stripping of that same surface. Once stripped this way we can do "normal" stain and refinishing with great results. We have also further refined our "overcoat" process which can allow us to lighten, darken, make black or white the existing clear coat. And those chairs that have been coming in with stapled joints???, we now don't have to remove the staple (that was tearing up the wood joints) to effect the repair. And we can also take care of anothe common complaint that I hear quite often, the new "soft" coatings. Have you slid a plate across the table just to find a new scratch there? We can fix that by sanding back most of the soft coating and putting a new, harder and more flexible catalyzed clear coat in its' place. You get the look of a fine furniture finish with the increased toughness of a kitchen cabinet grade clear coat.

It's new and it's put together with NO GLUE, "Chipper Wood."
I had to go inspect some moving damage to a large entertainment pier system that was fairly new. The home owner reported a scraped effect on the bottom of every single pier extending up a couple of inches. I knew right away this was water damage and that the finish and veneer were delaminating or lifting from the core stock underneath. Seems the home owner had moved during heavy rains and these pieces soaked up water in the short time they were outside. We were able to repair the items but this really got me curious as to how this could happen so fast. I found that the pieces had been made in Mexico and were put together with the latest wood tech. which uses wood directly from the chipper process, you know when you have trees cut down and they mulch them. They can now process this chipper product into large sheets with veneer faces. Now this process is nothing new as it has always been around to make chip board however this latest process involves pressing the products out with NO GLUE! The only binders that keep this pressurized product together are the natural tree tanins themselves. If this product gets even the slightest bit wet you are headed for big trouble. Here's some friendly advice... If you have recently bought furniture and it is made in Mexico, Viet Nam, Malaysia, etc. watch about getting it wet especially when you have your carpets cleaned. Steam cleaning your carpets without lifting or moving this furniture is going to damage it quickly. Also watch about cleaning your hardwood floors with the wet or worse, steam jet products as this will do even faster damage to these pieces. The bottom line is that if you do get damage give us a call as we can repair most of it and add a waterproof hard clear resin to the bottom of the pieces to prevent it from happening again.

Is my furniture too dry???

This happens to me all of the time throughout the year. A customer asks, "Feel this wood, doesn't it feel dry to you?" Well, my answer is usually, NO! It is physically impossible for anyone to tell if a finished piece of wood is dry by simply touching it. Let me run out to my car and grab a digital moisture meter and I can tell you. Here are the general rules of woodworking (although they too can be violated sometimes). Most furniture grade woods are cut down and stablized by a kiln drying process or if you have locally built craft furniture the wood might have been air dried. If these drying processes are not done to woods pieces would rapidly fall apart and coatings would peel and blister. Ideally woods are dried to about 6% moisture and may slowly climb with age and environmental changes to as high as 12%. If any piece of furniture has been maintained in a normal home environment since it was made they almost always fall in this 6% to 12% range. What changes all this is if pieces get shoved into old hot attics, barns, or the other extreme which is wet basements. I've seen pieces from attics come in to our shop in the 3% to 4% range with shrunken boards and loose joints all over. On the flip side I've had pieces come out of the basement reading 19% with swollen joints pushing boards apart and completely delaminating coatings. So just what are people really talking about when they mention that dry surface effect? Several things make you think this. First, a coating that is beginning to fail actually starts to saponify (loosing fatty acids) and shrink away from the wood. A radical example of this is an "alligatored" or "checkered" texture to the wood. Second, high build furniture lacquers can fail and start breaking away from the wood pore structure so these dots and dashes in the surface give it a "grainy" texture. Third, you may not have much coating at all on your wood surface and you are feeling almost the bare wood texture. This has happened to a lot of the furniture that was finished with simple tung oils of the 1970's, although these products were decent when first applied they continued to sink into the wood over the years leaving the wood surface with almost no protection. So what can you do? Well, picking up a bottle of polish and trying to "feed" the wood is nothing but a short term cosmetic enhancement. And yes, paste waxes can also temporarily make surfaces like these feel good BUT what should be done is to address these underlying problems. First, at minium refurbishment (doing touch-up and adding more coating) can eliminate the textured surfaces in most cases. Second, if a coating is too far gone then stripping and proper refinishing would be the next choice. And once you've gotten the surfaces stable again you can also extend the life of the coatings by stabilizing your home itself. We all want to save energy so it is quite common for most people to program wide temperature swings in their thermostats. When you do this too much (5 to 10 degrees) you are increasing and decreasing the humidity of your home. This helps to delaminate your coatings, make drawers move stiffly, and can cause cracks in the wood itself. If you insist on cooling and heating cycles like this make sure and have a good quality humidifier on your central furnace system and also have your central air system checked for proper operation during the summer. Doing these simple things can protect your floors, doors, cabinets, etc., all through your home.

I know, I know, it's been awhile since we talked here. I'd like to talk a little bit about furniture construction or what commonly used to be referred to as joinery. A simple explanation of a joint in furniture is usually two interlocking wood surfaces that when assembled and glued form one solid piece. In fact a properly assembled joint, say for example a spindle in the bottom of a chair, actually has a "resonance" or ring to it when tapped. If the joint is broken or not put together properly it will only "thud" when you tap on it. Almost all decent quality furniture prior to the mid 1980's or so followed very standardized methods of joinery. Tongue and groove, mortise and tenon, dovetails, finger joints, etc., were used extensively to assemble most items, giving you stable chairs, couch frames, tables and so on.... So what's changed??? When most of the manufacturing went off shore EVERYTHING changed. First, staples. These have nothing to do with properly joining furniture together. They simply hold things together until they fail. They rip their way through wood when installed so fixing the surrounding woods can be nearly impossible if the tearing is bad enough. Next, screws. These are simple better staples. What's the problem. They are most times put in without pre-drilling which again splits the surrounding woods. And speaking of wood, what wood??? A large chair frame I repaired the other day ($1000 plus chair) had no regular framing stock in it at all. The frame was made entirely of MDF paperboard and plywood. Their were NO joints in this piece at all. All the panels were slammed up against each other and stapled. For this customer all I could do is add some extra hardwood blocks and not offer any guarantee of how long my repair would last. This same area in older furniture would have had dowel pins which might, and I say might have broken, but would have simply been replaced making the joint like new again.
And while we are on this subject I can't help but think about a large chest of drawers I was working on the other day. We estimate it was built in the 1820's or so. Drawers weren't working as smooth as they could so I just leveled them up and added some internal shims and that was about it. Compare that to a large chest of drawers that was about 6 months old. My customer paid over $1500 for the piece. Each and every METAL drawer glide was bending and handfuls of sawdust was being cut loose in the process. What's the chance that piece will be around 190+ years from now? Do yourself a favor, shop for some quality old furniture, okay?

And more new furniture woes... Just today I saw two dining room tables I could not service. The first one was at least 15 years old so they got their use out of it. The problem? Thin wood veneers over compressed paper. The coating was peeling off just from moisture exposure and I could step back and see that the paper core underneath was raising the veneer in spots. "Can't you just sand it down and refinish it?" said the lady. I then proceeded to tell her that the veneer surface was only 1/28th to 1/64th inch thick. If I sanded hard enough to get the coating off I hit the the swollen areas cutting the tops of those areas off. And chemcial stripping???? Forget about it, the thin veneer will let the liquid get down to the compressed paper. Ever see a dry sponge hit the water?, well, with wood that's not a pretty sight. So just after I gave her the bad news I'm standing in front of another large dining room table (rather expensive) that is only 4 years old and showing the same problems.

So what can you do about tables like this? Well, the obvious thing is to look for better quality tables. If you do already own one have a pro company like us add adittional clear coating or at least check it to see if you've got enough protection on there. Remember, the only line of defense for those surface veneers and underlying paper core is the finish itself. Most of the finishes that are coming in on imported tables are under 3 mils thick. That's 3 thousandths of an inch thick which is the same thickness as a heavy duty trash bag. I don't think that's much protection, do you???

Home Refinishing hobby makes a comeback...Well, back in the 1970's we were getting ready for the 200th birthday of our great country. Homer Formby (anybody remember him???) was pushing refinishing products on TV and most home magazines were showing people how to save their own piece of "American Heritage." Lately we have seen the return of the home refinisher. We like these customers because one thing they don't like to do is remove the old paints and coatings. We can offer quality stripping at very good pricing as well as the General Finishes easy-to-use 2 step rag on coatings. Just think for about the cost of one modern dining room set you could have a whole house full of antique and collectable furniture that you "brought back to life" with your new hobby.

New furniture still on your mind?, read on......

Thinking about new furniture??? You might want to read this first...

NEW FURNITURE- I've been flooded with calls this year about problems with new furniture so I thought you might need some of this information. First, about the only manufacturing concerns that are making "American Made" furniture are the Amish. If you are buying almost any retail store item, NO MATTER HOW EXPENSIVE OR WHAT BRAND, it is at best, being made overseas and simply assembled here. Several chair makers have now decided that it is not COST EFFECTIVE to use glue in their chair joints anymore and simply spot nail, screw, and bolt their chairs. Have a medium to dark brown bedroom set with a lot of fancy carvings? Do the the nicks "in the wood" look yellow or white? The yellow underneath is expanded polystyrene plastic overlayed over pressed paper. The white color is art gesso and plaster overlayed over pressed paper. Think that just because a piece is "heavy" that makes it better? Wrong, compressed paper and particle boards can be heavier than most natural hardwoods. People are paying big bucks and financing this furniture for 5, 10, 15 years, yet they're calling us in as little as a month with problems. What to do? First, educate yourself. If you think certain pieces are going to get beat up more, disposable furniture is fine for that purpose, just buy it as cheaply as possible. If you want to have furniture that's going to be around for the next decade your best bet is shopping for older furniture that was made before the 1970's and simply have it refinished to your tastes (color, gloss, etc.). Need new furniture? Look up Amish and local craft furniture dealers in your area. If you already own some of these new problem pieces you've come to the right place. I do have specific training for repairing pressed paper, plastic, plaster, etc. type furniture surfaces. No, I may not be able to refinish these pieces but I can probably extend their life until you get them paid off! - Darrel

And it still gets worse...

Yes, there are reports of more leaded finishes appearing on imported furniture. A lot of it seems to be the new black coatings (although we tested a few stains that had it, too) you see. The reasoning behind using lead is simple, it is the cheapest way to make coatings more durable, but of course it makes the finish TOXIC. Another restorer from the northern Illinois area said that he encounterd some more African furniture finished in motor oil. I can't even imagine what level of metal toxins would be in that stuff. There's a good reason we recycle motor oils in this country. THEY CERTAINLY DON'T BELONG IN OUR LIVING ROOMS!!!

So you like designer black finishes... Hmmm... how can you get them without buying new??? That's easy, we can do this to almost any furniture for you from a dull or eggshell soft black to higher gloss looks. We can also do "strike outs" on your edges. A strike out is done by removing some of the black on edges and spindles (just about any area you want) to achieve wear patterns. This makes pieces look hundreds of years old but still giving you the protection of clear sealers under those strike out areas. Several people in recent months have had us match table tops to cherry or mahogany cabinetry while doing the table base and chairs in these black effects. Furniture from the 40's, 50's, and 60's take on a completely contemporary look when done in satin black.

Maintenance tips for your furniture... Too much polishing??? Can you polish your furniture too much? Absolutely. In fact I would say that one of the most common failure problems with clear coatings involves too much polishing and protection. If you are using any type of cream polish that has a white color to it and feels like thin toothpaste between your fingers that liquid contains abrasives which wear away your surface with each application. Even if you are using clear liquids these too can cause problems by putting them on "too wet." This can cause wetting through minor finish micro cracks and further lifting of the clear coats.

So what about waxes? Although some paste style wax can make an older coating look good for awhile the biggest problem is most people think that if a little is good a lot would be great. By over applying wax you can cause your surface to hold dirt and grime. The heavy wax coating can also start to soften your clear coat and again cause coating failure.

Furniture Pads??? Probably the best and worst protective thing for your furniture. If you use them the way they were designed you should be just putting them on when you actually serve on your table surface. The premium wool surface underneath protects the fine furniture finish while the upper plastic surface prevents liquids and heat from penetrating. The problem you can have with pads is leaving them on too long. Many times we have seen customers incorrectly leaving the pads on the table all the time, then taking them off when they serve. That wool part of the pad will eventually migrate into the clear table coating and try to stick permanently to the table. If you've reached that point it can be very expensive to have the pads removed and yes, at that point most times, refinishing is needed.

So what's the best way to take care of my furniture??? If you've got furniture made between the 1960's and the late 1980's you've got some of the best coatings that were produced on American made furnitue. Go to an automotive supply store (Advance Auto, AutoZone, Pep Boys, etc.) and buy yourself a micro-fiber polising cloth. Next go to Krogers, Target, Meijer Square, etc. and buy a bottle of Guardsman Lemon Oil Polish. Lightly spray the cloth with the polish and put it in a zip lock bag for at least a week. Simply use this rag for your dusting and your done! When finished, very lightly spray the rag again and put it back in the bag until your next dusting. If you follow this method of caring for your furniture you won't be oversaturating the surface. If you do get some dry dust build up between these dustings just buy a feather duster and use that to knock down the dust for vacuuming. If your furniture is newer mass manufactured furniture from the 1990's till present you may have some very fragile coatings on your furniture. While you can definitely do the same style of polishing as already stated, just keep in mind that you must be much more careful with these imported coatings. Always try to immediately wipe off spills using a slightly damp but never wet rag.