It isn't as if Mr. Williams suddenly made the process of applying finish entertaining (it is after all, the literal precursor to watching paint dry), he simply provided some insight into traditional finishes that made them entirely approachable and had some results that were anything but boring.
My old standby Minwax polyurethane has proven, for me to be durable, adaptable, and easy to apply. Why then, do you ask, would I look for anything else? The problem with polyurethane lies in the fact that it is polyurethane. Polyurethane isn't period correct for restorations, repairs or re-creations and can be very troublesome to apply to an existing finish. Poly can quickly dull or even eradicate the texture of certain woods (as can many plastic type film finishes with overzealous application), it doesn't perform well (in the long run) in sunlight, and in the end (for better or worse) it looks like a poly finish. For these reasons I have been toying with the idea of trying something different, however, until recently I didn't know where to start.
One of the easiest traditional finishes turns out to be beeswax. For low traffic areas and decorative pieces beeswax is a beautiful and appropriate finish. I watched Mr. Williams heat up some beeswax from a large (Dixie Cup shaped) hunk with an edge-banding iron and drip it directly onto a beautiful piece of marquetry he had smoothed up with a couple handplanes. After the wax dried he scraped off the excess with a sharpened wedge of hard wood (polishing stick) and the result was a semi glossy, richly textured, easy to touch finish that popped with the details of the wood below. I was sold immediately.
Mr. Williams then dove into the description and methodology behind his famously rediscovered (Andre Roubo described) polissoir. If you haven't already seen one of these it seems too simple to work, but it does. The Polissoir is basically a bunch of tightly bound straw, a broom handle. Mr. Williams had one that was used without wax to burnish and one that had been dipped in hot wax for applying wax. The burnisher I think would have been better completed with a bone or hardwood burnisher (the polissoir sounds like nails on a chalkboard without wax), but the wax application was amazing. The stiffness and mild abrasive nature of the straw helps to work the beeswax into the pores of the wood (a traditional grain filler) and to build up a fine sheen of wax on the surface of the wood. A final polishing with washed linen (check your local thrift store) and the beeswax was absolutely beautiful. In fact, a lot of this process reminded me of polishing my boots when I was in the military as the goal is to fill the grain of the leather and build up enough waxy boot polish on the surface to create a mirror shine (I was thankful when we switched to the tan suede boots). If you'd like to read a well written article on the Polissoir, I'd recommend picking up a copy of this quarters Fine Tool Journal. Here is a video from Mr. Christopher Schwarz' YouTube Channel.
|A Polissoir, Who Knew?|
|Using The Polissoir On Molding|
|Some Shellac In Various Forms|
|Mr. Williams Brushing Shellac|
As I complete more projects with each of these finishes and other traditional finishes I come across, I'll post the procedures and results (it is good to learn from failure!).