The French polishing
There is a wide variety of synthetic varnishes currently available in specialized shops, which are relatively easy to apply and they are normally used in carpentry and cabinetmaking. However, the ancient method called French polishing (vernis français or vernis au tampon) results in a unique finishing that embellishes the color of the wood and enhances the aesthetic value of the furniture. It is believed that this technique was developed by French craftsmen in England in the early nineteenth century. In our workshop, we varnish by using this traditional method consisting of applying the shellac dissolved in an alcohol by using a rubbing pad. We choose to use this technique because it preserves the natural wood color as well as the color of dyed veneers, particularly in the case of marquetry. Thus, we have optimized the method for dissolving solid shellac so we can produce customized varnishes, such as the one used in the black lacquer furniture, very common in the Napoleon III style. The French polishing is a simple and long process that requires a lot of practice and skill to achieve a good result. After tuning and preparing wood, pumice stone is used to fill the pores of the wood and then thin layers of varnish are applied with the rubbing pad until an optimum thickness of the varnish is achieved in order to mimic the effect of a glass covering the varnished surface. Finally, the varnish is dried for several days.
The wood waxing
For many centuries, beeswax has been used to protect wood panels adorning walls (paneling), coffered ceilings, floors and furniture. We apply wax for the finishing specific furniture parts during its restoration or reproduction because the preparations based on beeswax are particularly nutritious for wood and provide really warm brightness to the finished pieces. Depending of the kind of furniture we use colorless or tinted wax. Thus, wax confers very sweet shades to the raw wood and avoids its prior dyeing. On the tinted wood, the wax gives depth to the dye and highlights slightly the moldings.
We process and prepare the wax in our workshop. We first get the pure wax directly from beekeepers. Then, the raw wax is processed following the traditional recipes. This enables us to dye it with desired colors by using diverse mineral and stone powders, milled insects, etc. Therefore, we are able to produce a suitable wax for each particular furniture.
Gilding is a technique that has been traditionally used for embellishing mirror frames, furniture, and diverse decorative objects, by coating them with very thin gold leaves. This technique was already used in the antiquity, especially in the Egyptian civilization, reaching its peak in Europe during the Baroque. Although throughout the history different techniques of gilding have been developed, it is relatively simple nowadays to retouch damaged gilding due to the high number of synthetic paints and pastes available. However, we are still using one of the traditional technique of gilding named ‘à l’assiette Dorure’ or ‘au bol harmonie’, which is considered to yield the most beautiful result. This is a laborious technique that requires prior preparation of wood, as well as to be very accurate because the gold leaves are only a few microns thick, making them very fragile and difficult to handle. Finally, in order to achieve the fine burnishing called ‘finition a la française’ we use the classical agate stone.
Besides the wood gilding, gold leaves can be used to decorate the leather of the desk writing surface. In this case, the technique consists of applying the gold with a heated wheel. This type of gilding lends itself to the realization of complex motifs.
The painting of furniture
During the eighteenth and nineteenth century it was common in France and Italy to combine gilding with oil painting in the furniture finishing. White oil painting was usually used and less commonly used in green color. As a special case, it was very famous the finishing called French Trianon gray (gris de Trianon). We use the technique of oil painting in the furniture restoration and reproduction.
The patina is defined as the transformation of the surface of furniture or an object that occurs in the course of time, which changes their appearance and coloration (natural patina). However, it can also be achieved by the effect of certain treatments of the surface of furniture or objects in order to make it look old (artificial patina).
In our workshop, if we have to replace a part of a furniture piece with a new one during its restoration, a patina will be applied mimicking the passage of time to integrate it to the furniture. In addition, our reproductions usually have a patina to give the appearance of authentically antique furniture.