I recently received a question from a SAPFM (Society of American Period Furniture Makers) member, Frank Duff:
“Hi Mary, I’ve been carving legs for a Phila High Chest for over a year now and
I’m now in the final smoothing stage prior to starting to glue things together.
I have not used sandpaper yet! I’ve been able to get the surfaces of the ball
and claw feet and the ancanthus leaves in a finished state with a variety of
small scrapers and several fine tooth files. I’ve done the same with the
background surfaces as well. However, on the larger surfaces both the scrapers
and the files leave some tiny tracks. How much of this is acceptable when one is
attempting to replicate an 18th century surface?”
Well, my short answer was simply “I will check with the experts”, as my area of knowledge is carving with gouges, but the preparation for finishing is often done by the furniture-makers and restorers that I work with. I am usually reluctant to sand my work much, as it can dull the details – but there are times when it is definitely necessary. I would probably lightly sand the surface mentioned with around 400 grit sandpaper.
I asked several friends who are in the furniture making and furniture re-finishing business that I have worked with. Here are their answers:
DL Hamilton, Furniture Maker, Beaufort, SC
“In larger cities like Phladelphia, the 18th century cabinet makers would have used shark skins, glass paper or reeds, pumice or other abrasives that were available in that time frame. Tool marks should be faint on face surfaces and more pronounced on back surfaces, in my humble opinion. In my work I would lightly hand sand with 320 or 400 grit sandpaper at the point where you are and then apply the finish of the period.”
David Beckford, Charleston, SC
“There always is evidence of hand work on period things – one should be able to feel them. Also, what looks like a canyon to you probably wouldn’t show to most.”
So, the conclusion that I got from the replies was that we need to relax a little. The 18th century cabinetmakers did not make the surface “perfect”, these pieces were hand-made and had a hand-made touch. So relax…
Any other comments or suggestions are welcome! I know there are a lot of people out there who know much more about this subject that I do. Please share!