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Joel Warren Method: Before and After Refinishing

Bruce Alexander

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Most of you are probably already familiar with the Warren formula used to obtain a clean and polished appearance to a badly weathered and alligatored shellac finish. I'd like to point out that when applied with 4-0 Steel Wool you can also achieve a nice, hand-rubbed finish to newly applied shellac.

In case you're not familiar with it, here it is:
I have dealt with this many times. I use a formula that feeds the finish, fills the "gullies" and cleans out the grime. It is applied with 0000 steel wool and wiped clean with a soft cotton cloth. The recipe is: 1 c boiled linseed oil 1 c turpentine 1 c vinegar ( either type ) and 1 tbs alcohol. Over the years I've beefed up the alcohol a little, and added a little lacquer thinner to gently soften the varnish. Applying it with the steel wool gets to the grime and rounds off the edges of the dry finish. You can use a paper towel to wipe away the initial grime though I prefer an old cotton tee shirt or something of that nature. As you wipe away the residue you will begin to see the incredible amount of dirt, and with a little elbow grease how quickly and effectively the finish and color start to come back. You will begin to see that wonderful color start to appear. Using successive applications will really bring out the patina. As you advance through the process you can dispense with the steel wool and use a soft cotton cloth. You'll be filling the "channels' with linseed oil which is one of the fundamental solid elements in the old varnish. CAUTION you must hang the paper towels or soft cloth out to dry over night before throwing away. This stuff is highly combustible and WILL spontaneously do so.
Joel Warren


I like to try it even when I'm fairly sure that the alligatoring will still be pretty prominent after it has been applied because it's an excellent prep/cleaning step and the results just may be sufficient. Preserving the original finish is very desirable to most collectors if the finish isn't too badly damaged. It's really nice to clearly see the grain patterns again but the dark, aged color is gone for a very long time if you refinish.

I recently worked on a Seth Thomas Tambour case which was badly alligatored. After applying the Warren Formula with 4-0 Steel Wool, I personally would have stopped there if the clock was mine. It gave the case a smooth "leathered" appearance instead of the old, crusty alligatored look. The owner of the clock, however, wasn't satisfied and wanted the case refinished, which I did. I used alcohol and a new Scotch-Brite abrasive pad to remove most of the original shellac. I then mixed up fresh garnet shellac and applied approximately 6-7 coats with a quality paint brush. That's all pretty typical but after giving the shellac a couple of days to more fully harden I used Warren's Formula and 4-0 steel wool to hand rub the new finish. I also applied 1000 grit wet/dry sand paper followed by Warren/4-0 Steel Wool to remove brush marks or other flaws/runs not taken care of by the Warren/Steel Wool alone.

Below are some photos before, after initial Warren, and after new shellac and Warren and ready for some paste wax.

Before:

P1120658.JPG P1120659.JPG P1120660.JPG

First Warren Application with 4-0 Steel Wool:

Warren Front.jpg Warren Left.JPG Warren Right.jpg

Refinished and hand rubbed with 4-0 Steel Wool and Warren Formula

Rideau Handrubbed Front.JPG Rideau Handrubbed Left.JPG Rideau Handrubbed Right.JPG Rideau Handrubbed Top.JPG
 
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upstateny

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Nice! I have an old Waltham (my own) that is in need of some finish TLC, I will be trying your method soon!
 

Bruce Alexander

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Nice! I have an old Waltham (my own) that is in need of some finish TLC, I will be trying your method soon!
Thank you. Please let me know if you have any questions. Just a word of caution, be careful around edges and corners with steel wool or any abrasive. You can go through the finish/stain pretty fast around those areas.
Regards,
Bruce
 

MLS

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That’s the only wood cleaning formula I will use. Even on old furniture.......and lately a nice Singer sewing machine cabinet.

I’ve never thought of going over a new shellac finish with it though. I will have to try it. Have you ever tried applying the shellac with linen wrapped over an absorbent core and tied off?

Great job by the way, the case looks outstanding .
 

Bruce Alexander

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Great job by the way, the case looks outstanding .
Thank you MLS. Yes, I've used the French Polish Technique a number of times. It's really hard to beat as far as obtaining a beautiful glass smooth surface. If a case has a lot of carvings or intricate detail, I tend to shy away from it as I personally find it too difficult to get uniform coverage into and around the detail. In those cases I like using a quality paint brush to quickly build up coats and fill in pores. Although I work in ample lighting, invariably there will be brush marks or slight runs that the Warren approach can help with. It also gives a nice satin sheen.
Regards,
Bruce
 

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