Maintaining the Mahogany

Where footmen are kept, the charge of rubbing mahogany furniture devolves on them, otherwise it becomes the care of the housemaid. The chairs and tables should be rubbed well every day; and on the mahogany tables a little cold drawn linseed oil should be rubbed in once or twice a week, which will, in time, give them a durable varnish, such as will prevent their being spotted or injured by being accidentally wetted. The Italians, after thus saturating the surface with oil, apply a solution of gum arabic in boiling spirit of wine. Bees-wax should not be used, as it gives a disagreeable stickiness to every thing, and ultimately becomes opaque. When there are any spots or stains upon a table, they must be washed off with warm water before the oil is put on.[i]

Jack Plane

[i] Mrs. William Parkes, Domestic Duties; Or, Instructions to Young Married Ladies, on the Management of Their Households, and Regulation of Their Conduct in the Various Relations and Duties of Married Life, J. & J. Harper, New York, 1829, pp. 135-136.


About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
This entry was posted in Antiques, colouring and polishing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Maintaining the Mahogany

  1. hiltonsister says:

    Lawksamussy me! My furniture is lucky to get some linseed once a blue moon. And yes, I have committed the sin of bees-wax. And I thought I was being kind.


    • Jack Plane says:

      You probably are being kind. On most (too involved to expand on here) old mahogany that has now obtained a good patina, oil on its own should not be used.

      Pure bees wax should never be employed to maintain any furniture; as mentioned above, it is far too soft and sticky to be of any use as a furniture polish. It doesn’t really buff up, attracts dust and highlights every fingerprint and smear. How the manufacturers of ‘pure bees wax furniture polish’ continue to sell the stuff eludes me.



      • hiltonsister says:

        Oh thank you Jack for the warning about proprietary rubbish! I’ve been tempted to buy some whenever I’ve read a line somewhere about a house smelling faintly of furniture polish, but, having access to the beeswax I’ve always made my own. I like to add a tiny bit of pure beeswax to the linseed and in fact I do find that if I buff it long enough the finish is hard and softly glossy which is how I like it.

        I also mix BW with Neat’s Foot-Oil for nourishing leather and oil-skins (not recommended for those with a sensitive nose) and horses’ feet. Thank you for your uniquely interesting website. Your reproductions are amazing and the information fascinating.


      • Paul Murphy says:

        I think the most likely answer is the pleasant aroma. I don’t disagree with the observations you’ve posted, but the aroma is lovely. Consumers will ignore your most grave admonition if the odor pleases them.


  2. D.B. Laney says:

    I’ve been wondering why my finishes have been looking a bit sub-par. I’ll be having a little discussion with the footmen straight away and the butler will have to explain himself! What’s that old “saw” about “once a day for a week, once a week for a month, once a month for a year” and then twice a week as long as the domestic staff gets paid? I always thought that it was something that the flax growers made up…


  3. Nicho says:

    “The chairs and tables should be rubbed well every day”

    Gott im Himmel! Every day? Lucky if they get dusted every week. Rubbed? I need more staff.


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