Friday, December 5, 2008

Hey, that's not a guitar!

Well this week finds me working on a large restoration project. From time to time I take on projects that are not guitar related and this one is particularly interesting. I am refinishing a gilded walnut hutch that I am guessing is between 200 to 250yrs. old though I can't be sure. When I first saw this piece the owner asked me if I could strip it to raw wood and finish it clear as she did not care for the look of the patina on the gilded finish & it was badly cracked and damaged. The first thing I did was try to talk her out of altering the original finish but she was not dissuaded. The next thing I did was let this piece sit in the corner of my shop gathering dust for two years. Luckily she is a patient and understanding women! Well this piece as it turns out presents some very interesting challenges as well as some life lessons. My previous restoration work has involved pieces that had lacquer, shellac or varnish finishes which respond well to chemical strippers or alcohol. Alas upon attempting to strip this large and intricate piece I discovered that these techniques did nothing but make a mess. I discovered that using dental picks, scrapers and patience I could fake the old finish off quite nicely but this is VERY time consuming. I was fortunate enough to discover the work of Nancy Thorn of (gold leaf restorations) in Portland, Oregon. She was kind enough to help me determine that this piece could be stripped with stripper made for water based finish, as the gilding is on top of a sizing or undercoat of gesso. This sealer coat consists of rabbit hide glue and calcium carbonate so it will respond to hot water & strippers used on latex finishes. Having said this I am still having better luck flaking the old finish off by hand as it leaves behind a nice burnished clean walnut without any mess. I plan on proceeding with a combination of approaches and it looks like I may be at it for a while. Pieces like this reinforce the need to live in the present moment as I can only work on one small part at a time. If I think too much about the whole picture I can become impatient and loose sight of the goal. I will come back to this piece as more progress is made.

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