Wood Finishing & Decorative Techniques

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link to finishing article

Annotated bibliography

Books on finishing:

Allen, Sam.
Classic Finishing Techniques
New York: Sterling Publishing. 1994
ISBN: 0806905131

Sam Allen gives a good overview of 18thand 19thCentury finishing techniques. The book covers making and using shellac (including an extensive section on French polishing), varnishes, and oil and wax finishes. There are also a number of extracts from Stalker and Parker's Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing which is one of the earliest (1688) English works on the subject. The historical information is a little thin, but the book is aimed at woodworkers rather than historians.

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Binski, Paul
Medieval Craftsmen: Painters
London: British Museum Press, 1991
ISBN: 0714120529

One of the British Museum's series on Medieval Craftsmen.  The book is a brief overview of the craft and practice of painting in the Middle Ages intended for the general reader.  Like the other books in the series it is well illustrated with pictures of craftsmen at work and their products.

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Cennini, Cennino d'Andrea
The Craftsman's Handbook: "Il Libro dell' Arte", Cennino d' Andrea Cennini,
Translated by Daniel V. Thompson, Jr.  
New York: Dover. 1954
ISBN: 048620054X

Cennini contains some information on finishing, primarily from the perspective of an artist who may be called upon to paint a box or some interior woodwork. His methods are similar to those use for panel painting i.e.; several coats of gesso over the wood to form a ground with the decoration applied in egg tempera.

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Chase, Sara B.
Preservation Briefs 28: Painting Historic Interiors.
Washington, DC: National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1992.

A brief introduction to painting historic houses with a focus on American history.  Some good notes on pre-industrial paint technology.  Found on the web here.

Oak Furniture: The British Tradition. 
Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors' Club, 1979.
ISBN: 1851490132

Chinnery documents the use of paint on Tudor through Stuart furniture and points out that painted surfaces were more common than we generally expect and were found on high-style pieces as well as lower class ones. He also examines what we know of 16thCentury paint technology and the paucity of contemporary sources.

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Doerner, Max.
The Materials of the Artist and their Use in Painting, with notes on the Techniques of the Old Masters

New York: Harcourt Brace, 1984
ISBN: 015657716X

Fairly thorough coverage of artists' materials and their use.  The notes on the old masters are pretty thin.  More useful for the artist than the historian.

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Dorge, Valerie and F. Carey Howlett eds.
Painted Wood: History & Conservation.
Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 1998.
ISBN: 0892365013

Proceedings of a conference held in Williamsburg in 1994.  The papers touch on a wide range of topics and techniques, mostly from a museum conservator's perspective.  There is a lot of useful information scattered throughout the book, although much of it is technical and assumes some background in conservation and/or art history.  The most useful articles for the generalist are the three introductory papers on wood and painting media.  If things like microstratigraphy of paint and varnish layers turn you on then you'll love this book.

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Eastlake, Sir Charles Lock.
Methods and Materials of Painting of the Great Schools and Masters
[Formerly titled: Materials for a History of Oil Painting]. Vols. One and Two [Including Professional Essays ].
New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 2001
ISBN: 0486417263

A Dover reprint of an 1847 work on the history of painting technique.  There are some useful nuggets of information scattered throughout the text, but the author has a bad habit of not footnoting all of his references.

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Flexner, Bob.
Understanding Wood Finishing: How to Select and Apply the Right Finish
New York: Reader's Digest, 1999
ISBN: 0762101911

A modern "how to" book that concentrates heavily on basic finish chemistry.  Pretty good on the tips, but inclined to be dogmatic.  The chemistry sections are good for understanding what is going on with different finishes as they set.

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Huth, Hans.
Lacquer of the West: The History of a Craft and an Industry 1550-1950
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971
ISBN: 0226360155

An overview of the history of European lacquerware.  Only the opening chapter is of interest for our purposes but it reveals several interesting tidbits.  For instance, the varnishers of Venice were organized as part of the Painters' Guild by the late Thirteenth Century.  The rest of the chapter documents the use of varnish lacquer on a number of different wooden products including caskets and small tables during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.

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Jewitt, Jeff.
Great Wood Finishes: A Step by Step Guide to Beautiful Results
Newtown, CT: Taunton Press, 2000
ISBN: 1561582883

A modern "how to" book aimed at the novice to intermediate wood finisher.  No historical value, but some good tips on applying a wide variety of finishes.

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Merrifield, Mrs. Mary P., ed.
Medieval and Renaissance Treatises on the Arts of Painting: Original Texts with English Translations
New York: Dover Publications, 1967.
ISBN: 0486404404

Dover's reprint of an 1849 work.  This is a compilation of a number of Tenth through Seventeenth Century manuscripts on paint and varnish recipes.  Each manuscript is presented with a transcription of the original on one page and an English translation on the facing page.  Very useful for documenting the use of particular ingredients at certain times.

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Salzman, L.F.
Building in England Down to 1540: A Documentary History.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992
ISBN: 0198171587

Salzman documents the use of paints, stains, and varnishes by the building trades in medieval England.

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Theophilus.2 stars
On Divers Arts: The Foremost Medieval Treatise on Painting, Glassmaking, and Metalwork
New York: Dover, 1979.
ISBN: 0486237842

Theophilus mentions painting on panels, but his methods are distinctly cruder that Cennini's. Useful for getting an idea how technique evolved over the centuries.  Dates from the 12th Century so good for documenting pre-Renaissance materials and techniques.

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Thompson, Daniel V.
The Practice of Tempera Painting: Materials and Methods
New York: Dover, 1936
ISBN: 0486203433

A "how to" book aimed at the aspiring artist.  This is a good introduction for anyone who's interested in furniture painted with period techniques.  There is some good advice on preparing and applying gesso and painting on gessoed surfaces.

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Thompson, Daniel V.3 stars
The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting.
New York: Dover, 1956.
239 p. ISBN: 0486203271

Thompson covers much the same ground as Cennini, although he goes into much more detail and his explanations are much clearer.  There is very detailed coverage of the different varieties of medieval pigments and binders and the techniques used for making them.  Unfortunately, the author fails to note that many of these materials are extremely poisonous (various lead and mercury compounds, for example).  Like Cennini, Thompson's focus is on artistic methods rather than furniture finishing.

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Potential Sources from Library Catalogs.

These are works from various library catalogs (primarily the Library of Congress) that look like they may be useful.

Lacke und Lösemittel : Eigenschaften, Herstellung, Anwendung / von U. Biethan ...[et al.].
Weinheim ; New York : Verlag Chemie, 1979.
xii, 180 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.
ISBN: 3527258345
TP938 .L32 Copy 1

Balbi, Giorgio.
I nuovi oli naturali e sintetici per vernici.
Milano, Editorial italiana [194-]
246 p. diagrs. (1 col.) 18 cm.
TP937.7 .B28

Barry, T. Hedley.
Varnish making.
London, L. Hill limited [pref. 1934]
xi, 132 p. 1 illus., diagrs. 22 cm.
TP938 .B3

Bearn, Joseph Gauld.
The chemistry of paints, pigments & varnishes.
London, E. Benn, 1923.
x, 277 p. illus., plates. 26 cm.
TP936 .B3

Coffignier, Ch. (Charles)
Colours and varnishes.
London, Scott, Greenwood & son 1925.
vii, 258 p., 1 l. illus. 23 cm.
TP935 .C5

Feller, Robert L.
On picture varnishes and their solvents. Rev. and enl. ed.
Cleveland, Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1971.
xxi, 251 p. illus. 23 cm.
ISBN: 0829501819
ND1530 .F4 1971

Fox, J. J. (John Jacob).
The analysis of pigments, paints and varnishes.
London, E. Benn limited, 1927.
x, [11]-179 p. illus. 25 cm.
TP935 .F65

Gatz, Konrad. 
Ein Jahrtausend Maler und Lackierer: Kulturgeschichte eines Handwerks.
Stuttgart : Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, c1994.
253 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 31 cm.
ISBN: 3421030200
TT304 .G38 1994

Hammerl,Josef und Reiner. 
Geigenlacke : Wissenswertes über Harze und Grundstoffe für Geigenlacke sowie Ratschläge zur Lackierung.
Frankfurt/M, West Germany : E. Bochinsky, c1988.
ISBN: 3923639767
ML845 .G34 1988

Houghton, George Washington Wright.
Dictionary of varnish deviltries.
New-York, L. Valentine co., 1890.
15 p. 19 x 15 cm.
TP938 .H83

Hurst, George H.
Painters' colours, oils, and varnishes: a practical manual. 3rd Ed.
London, C. Griffin & company, limited, 1901.
xiii, 504 p. illus. 20 cm.
TP935 .H97 Microfilm 64544 TP

Martens, Charles R.
Technology of paints, varnishes, and lacquers.
Huntington, N.Y., R. E. Kreiger Pub. Co., 1974 [c1968]
viii, 744 p. illus. 24 cm. 
ISBN: 0882751549
TP935 .M28 1974

Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company.
Glass, paints, varnishes and brushes; their history, manufacture and use.
Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh plate glass company, 1923.
7 p.l.,208 p.,1 l.,178,xxii p. illus.(part col.) 28 1/2 cm.
TP868 .P5

Sabin, Alvah Horton.
The industrial and artistic technology of paint and varnish. 3d ed., rev.
New York, J. Wiley & sons, inc.; London, Chapman & Hall, limited, 1927.
2 p. l., iii-xi, 459 p. front., illus., plates. 24 cm.
TP935 .S12 1927

Stalker, John. 
A treatise of japanning and varnishing, 1688, by John Stalker and George Parker. With an introduction by H.D. Molesworth. 
Chicago, Quadrangle Books, c1960.  
xvi, 84 p. 24 plates 26 cm. 
With facsim of original t.p.  A reprint of the Oxford ed. published by the authors in 1688 under title: A treatise of japaning and varnishing.
TP938.S78 1960

Truelove, Rupert H. 
Oils, pigments, paints, varnishes, etc.; a concise treatise on the manufacture, properties, and uses of liquid protective and decorative coatings and their ingredients, for students and all those concerned with the making or application of these materials.
London, New York [etc.] Sir I. Pitman & sons, ltd.,c1922.
x, 114 p. illus., diagrs. 17 cm.

Tringry, Pierre François.
The painter and varnisher's guide.
London, Printer for G. Kearsley, by J. Taylor, 1804.
xlii p., 1 l., 540 p. 5 pl. (3 fold.) fold. tab. 22 cm.
TT305 .T6

Von Fischer, William, ed.
Paint and varnish technology.
New York, Reinhold Pub. Corp.,c1948. 
509 p.

Contents © 1999-2003 Gary R. Halstead