Her youthful complexion is gone,
rough crepe-like skin,
odd spots here and there,
and a general lackluster appearance.
and a general lackluster appearance.
Lucky for her, I can reverse some of the damage.
Before I get into the how, let me be clear about the why.
I want to make Freddie a functional machine again. I see some dainty and delicate fabrics in her future. So, functional equals a clean, smooth finish. I also want to stabilize her finish, which has been compromised, to protect what is left of her decals and prevent further damage.
Step 1: The Gentle Approach
- Start by gently wiping off the loose dirt with a dry cloth.
- Apply Liquid Wrench, or sewing machine oil, let it set and gently wipe off, be very careful around the decals. I tried olive oil for this, as well it seemed to work as good if not better than the other oils.
In the pictures above, you can see the results. The darker sections have been oil cleaned. If your machine looks good after this, STOP.
In Freddie's case, she is looking cleaner, but there is more work to do. From the beginning, there was something weird about Freddie's finish. Some places, have crazing, others are rough like sandpaper, and then there are those grey spots. After some research, I feel pretty certain the hot, humid summers, that Freddie spent stored in an attic, cause the original shellac to fail resulting in the problems I see.
I'm not an expert, the following is the process I used on Freddie. I stumbled on this by accident when some metal polish got onto one of the rough painted parts. It worked for me, but may not work for you. I guarantee that the materials used have the potential to permanently ruin your machine's finish. Always try restoration methods on a hidden spot first. Mixing household chemicals can be dangerous. Please use common sense, wear gloves, work in a well ventilated area, and proceed with caution at your own risk.
Step 2: The Much Harsher Approach
- Avoiding the decals, apply metal polish (I used Brasso) to a small area of the machine about 3" x 3".
- Gently, rub in a circular motion with the pads of your fingers adding a few drops of oil to reduce the friction and keep the metal polish "wet". The polish will turn brown as it lifts the old darkened varnish and embedded dirt.
- Wipe off with a soft cloth.
- Add a few drops of oil or liquid wrench and wipe again to remove any gritty residue.
- Move to the next section and repeat.
- When finished do a final wipe down with a damp cloth to be certain all grit is removed, then wipe dry.
What's Actually Happening?
From what I know of shellac and the polish I used, the ammonia and alcohol in the polish are softening the shellac, and the grit is breaking it up, effectively removing most if not all of the damaged shellac.
The polish smooths out the roughest areas. It may take more than one application.
In the end, Freddie's rough spots are much smoother, but her lines remain. She is also more lackluster in parts where the shellac was removed. So on to Step 3.
Step 3: Bringing Back the Shine
it is excellent at telling you how to deal with that damaged shellac finish once you have it clean.
On the bed, where cleaning wasn't as aggressive, I still had some of the original shellac and followed the instructions from the site above. In other places, I had no choice but to add a new layer of shellac.
WOW! She sure is shiny!
And if you are after that super shiny showroom finish, then I guess you could stop here.
But as I see it a super shiny finish combined with signs of obvious wear, like chipped paint and missing decals looks funny and screams I just put a fresh coat of shellac on this old machine.
It reminds me of a story that my Museum Practices professor told us about his first restoration project. It was a very old gun. It came to him filthy, grungy, and in pretty bad shape. He worked diligently and cleaned that gun til it sparkled like new money. He was very proud of his work until he showed it to his supervisor who pointed out that he had committed one of the great sins in museum restoration. By making it so clean and shiny, he had removed the patina and with it some of the value. Instead of looking like a well cared for old piece with the natural patina of age, it looked like a replica. He never forgot his mistake.
At this point, Freddie doesn't look like a replica, but she does look like a restoration job taken a step too far. To remedy that, we go to step 4.
Step 4: Changing the Shine to a Glow.
- First, make sure to give any shellac a day to really dry well.
- The using super fine 0000 Steel wool go over the surface avoiding the decals. The goal here is to soften the shine, and smooth out any accidental ridges or drips in the shellac. Wipe it clean.
- Next, add 3 very thin layers of shellac. Let that dry overnight.
- Then, go back with 0000 steel wool again, only this time go over the whole machine being very gentle with the decals. Wipe clean. This should make the surface appear satiny.
- You can stop at this point, or you can add a coat of high quality paste wax and buff well for a lovely glow. BTW, all 3 pictures above were taken with a flash.
I just found a this post by Miriam over on The Quilting Board. Great post, with lots of pictures. It shows another way, not using metal polish, to deal with damaged shellac.
Wish I saw this sooner.
Coming in Spring
(or once the weather warms up)
Refinishing Freddie's Cabinet and Treadle