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Another new book, More Gus

 
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Stonecat
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 14, 2012 8:48 pm    Post subject: Another new book, More Gus Reply with quote

You might think there are more than enough books out there about Gus, but think again....

The Manufacture of Arts & Crafts Furniture by Gustav Stickley, by W. Michael McCracken

http://www.turnofthecenturyeditions.com/McCracken.html

Looks like a must have in specific regard to all the information on finishes. On the other hand, I hope the 50 samples and the comparisons to other companies aren't just lots of pages that say 'wax over tinted shellac over aniline dye, or sometimes fumed' and variations thereof. A little pricey but over 300 pages. Hopefully it's worth it. Some of the other info they mention is already available in other sources.
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Klay
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 17, 2012 12:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I saw it at GPI and it looked very interesting.
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Stonecat
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 05, 2012 5:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

bump

This is a good book. A bit geeky, yes, but it’s written by a Professor and as a result there is an undercurrent of technical detail and obsessive explanation. I’ve started my second read through.

The biggest bombshell piece of enlightening information in this book is the chronicling of the use of nitrocellulose lacquer by specifically Gus but also by other makers (at least those investigated by the author). I always thought that ‘lacquer’ was a new invention of the 20’s and became the dominant choice for furniture finish by the 30’s. The dominance part might be correct but in fact the nitrocellulose version was invented in the late 1800’s. The version from later in the 1900’s was a modified variant with extra resins etc. and different solvents were eventually used. The early nitrocellulose version was sometimes mixed with a little shellac and shellac was routinely used as the first or base coat. The solvent for nitrocellulose (amyl acetate) obviously worked with shellac as well, but the author doesn’t explicitly draw this out, unless I missed it. This of course explains why we can so easily dissolve and strip an early finish with denatured alcohol or methyl hydrate but that these solvents won’t work on later versions of lacquer. Again the author doesn’t really make the connection in print. This also helps explain our perpetual perception that early finishes were almost always just shellac. The truth is actually quite different.

Beyond this paradigm shift, the book explains a ton of detail about operations, based highly on business and inventory records, and makes conclusions about how much furniture Gus produced and how much the collective A&C makers probably produced which was single digit percentage of the overall furniture market. Fuming is explained in detail, the huge number of Gus finish colors and versions available up to 1904ish and the rapid decline in number afterwards to the dominant use of “No.2 Fumed”, to the end of fuming by 1912, is covered well. Explanations of all the dye and stain variants, chemicals, pigments, and solvents used (in addition to fuming) are a bit scattershot throughout the book and it would be advised to bookmark the glossary at the back for regular cross-referencing. Fuming on its own was clearly not a one step process to achieving the color or colors Gus wanted, and of course many other companies didn’t fume at all but went with in-house brews or commercial products of varying complexity and quality, as all noted throughout the text. Conventional thinking that aniline dye was the dye colorant of choice and that using it today is the one and only way to go, is blown away by the detail provided in this book.

All of the above said, this is a 300 plus page tome with a lot more to say and keeping track of it all is a challenge. The key conclusion in my mind is that there is certainly more to know about period finishing and that the so called authentic methods we employ in current times for restoration and refinishing are not necessarily one hundred percent authentic. Nonetheless, the methods we use are reasonably authentic, they maintain the element of reversibility, and we can easily avoid the use of things invented well after the period. So should we all be chomping at the bit to start using nitrocellulose lacquer? I think the answer is no. Firstly, you can’t really find it on the market and secondly if you tried to make it yourself, you might turn your house into a fireball, hence one of the reasons it was eventually phased out in favour of newer safer finishes. Should we be looking for some of the other exotic finishing chemicals as used then and described in the book? Again, probably not and in fact the book begins with warnings about the consequences of having some of the stuff even close to you.

I think I’ll leave it at that. If you need to know more, buy the book. Apparently this one might not get a second production run.
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mike mccracken
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2012 7:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Stonecat,
I appreciate your kind comments about my book and I hope you enjoy your second reading. Yes, it is a bit dense, but I was trying not to omit things that the detail oriented reader would be interested in as well as the more casual reader. As you said, that's the professor in me coming out. In some cases I went a bit deeper than most would want, but there is so much mis-infomation about what Gus did, I wanted to make sure that anything I said was substantiated and not seen as yet another guess about what was going on.

Regarding amyl acetate as a solvent for shellac, I may not have been clear enough. First, amyl acetate was more expensive than alcohol, so if a finisher had a choice, why use a more expensive solvent since alcohol is as good a solvent as you can use for shellac. I recognize that amyl acetate is a slower evaporating solvent than most alcohols, so it may have been used to slow down the evaporation of the alcohol from the shellac, but I have seen no evidence that it was used that way. Also, amyl acetate is not as good a solvent for shellac as alcohol, and thus would be a second choice.
Regarding stripping or dissolving the finishes from the 1900's, you are correct since alcohol is a partial solvent or at least a co-solvent of lacquer from that period, and also the lacquers degrade over the 100 or so years since they were applied and are more easily removed than today's lacquer coatings.
I appreciate your comment to add references back to sections in the glossary and I will endeavor to correct that if we get to a second edition.
I appreciate your thoughtful comments about the book.
Mike McCracken
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Stonecat
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2012 10:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mike,

Welcome and thanks for chiming in. Coincidentally I was scanning through some old Style1900s last weekend and from an older article I see you had the nitrocellulose thing figured out years ago. I have to say that I had never heard of it until I read your book and I bet the same is true of forum members having never heard of it until now (unless they picked up on it from the old article). In regard to "so much mis-infomation about what Gus did", the new found knowledge is a relief in a sense. For years, I never understood what the heck bananas had to do with original finishes Laughing

By the way, for forum members, I believe Mike signed a stack of these books and presumably the signed ones are still available if you want to jump on picking one up - check when you order.
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LaMont Warner
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 29, 2012 4:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A fabulous book! I have read and re-read many sections. Stonecat, your review was very good. I am not the serious scholar that Dr. McCracken is, but as a collector/restorer found this to be the best book on finishes, bar none (my previous favorite finish/restoration bible was Bruce Johnson's, "The Pegged Joint"). I enjoyed the machinery chapter, learning what year the dovetail machine was acquired helped me date a piece (sort of). I must admit to getting a UV light and going over all the pieces in my collection and learning a lot, as well as having a few questions left unanswered. A must have book for the Gustav Stickley aficionado! I would love to see Dr. McCracken on the forum more to give his expert opinion on some pieces!
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 26, 2013 1:29 am    Post subject: Fuming Reply with quote

I guess I found out back in the mid-1980s that fuming alone was not enough to get a good period finish onto a piece. It works with the tannin to darken the white oak, but it does not provide the pleasing reddish color we are used to seeing. Then, too, you had to make sure of using Oak planks without sap wood or you eneded up with striped color variation.

The act and result of fuming is pretty cool, though, if one is careful. Be careful if you do it. The commercial-grade ammonia that I used is powerful stuff.

K.
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