Polishing…

“Is to give brightness to any subſtance. The method of polishing amongst cabinet-makers is various, as required in different pieces of work. Sometimes they polish with bees wax and a cork for inside work, where it would be improper to use oil. The cork is rubbed hard on the wax to spread it over the wood, and then they take fine brick-duſt and sift it through a ſtocking on the wood, and with a cloth the duſt is rubbed till it clears away all the clammings which the wax leaves on the surface.

At other times they polish with soft wax, which is a mixture of turpentine and bees wax, which renders it soft, and facilitates the work of polishing. Into this mixture a little red oil may occasionally be put, to help the colour of the wood. This kind of polishing requires no brick-duſt; for the mixture being soft, a cloth of itself, will be sufficient to rub it off with. The general mode of polishing plain cabinet work is however, with oil and brick-duſt; in which case, the oil is either plain linseed or stained with alkanet root. If the wood be hard, the oil should be left standing on it for a week; but if soft, it may be polished in two days. The brick-duſt and oil should then be rubbed together, which in a little time will become a putty under the rubbing cloth, in which ſtate it should be kept under the cloth as much as possible; for this kind of putty will infallibly secure a fine polish by continued rubbing; and the polisher should by all means avoid the application of fresh brick-duſt, by which the unskilful hand will frequently ruin his work inſtead of improving it: and to prevent the necessity of supplying himself with fresh brick-dust he ought to lay on a great quantity at first, carefully sifted through a gauze stocking; and he should notice if the oil be too dry on the surface of the work before he begin, for in this case it should be re-oiled, that it may compose a sufficient quantity of the polishing substance, which should never be altered after the polishing is commenced, and which ought to continue till the wood by repeated friction become warm, at which time it will finish in a bright polish, and is finally to be cleared off with the bran of wheaten flour.

Chairs are generally polished with a hardish compound of wax rubbed upon a polishing brush, with which the grain of the wood is impregnated with the composition, and afterward well rubbed off without any dust or bran. The composition I recommend is as follows: take bees wax and a small quantity of turpentine in a clean earthen pan, and set it over a fire[1] till the wax unites with the turpentine, which it will do by constant stirring about; add to this a little red lead finely ground upon a stone, together with a small portion of fine Oxford ochre, to bring the whole to the colour of brisk mahogany. Lastly, when you take it off the fire, add a little copal varnish to it, and mix it well together, and then turn the whole into a bason of water, and while it is yet warm, work it into a ball, with which the brush is to be rubbed as before observed. And observe, with a ball of wax and brush kept for this purpose entirely, furniture in general may be kept in good order.” [2]

London brick dust seller. Thomas Rowlandson, c. 1799.

Bear in mind that mahogany was virtually the cabinetmaker’s sole medium at the time this was written; hence the recommendation of red oil and (red) brick dust – which was employed as much as a colorant as an abrasive.


[1] DO NOT DO THIS! Leave the wax and turpentine to safely infuse under the sun or in a warm room.

[2] Thomas Sheraton, Cabinet Dictionary, London, 1803, vol. II, p. 289.

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About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
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One Response to Polishing…

  1. Peter Oster says:

    I would be a little careful grinding the red lead also.

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