Hey! I found this wonderful blog, and I was wondering if anyone could give me any feedback about my problem.
I own a ~75year
Posted In: Amateur Harpists
If there are “greyish discolored areas”, then that can mean one of two things. It’s either dirt on top of (what’s left of) the finish, or its dirt on raw wood where the finish has worn off completely. Either way you should address this.
Try washing the body and soundboard with soap and water. Mix dish detergent and water like you would to do dishes. Then soak a sponge in that and then wring as much water as you can out of the sponge so it is just damp. Rub that over a small dirty area and see what comes off. Once you are done, let it dry well. If there are dull areas with no finish at all, then you should get someone qualified to spot finish those areas so there is finish covering them.
Be careful. Finished woods can be quite tricky to restore the original finish. You must test first to determine what the original…(Or later).. finish might be. Then you must address the problem from that.
I would personally be inclined to go to total restore where you rub in the original finish to preserve the patina and then come back from there… but your piece is an antique… and that will effect the value. A partial restore would be harder, but it is possible.
My experience is fine boatyards, rather then furniture restorers are your best source of information. Yachts carry an amazing amount of fine joinery and see extremely adverse conditions. Their refinishers are usually far better versed then the furniture restorers and can better evaluate what you have.
It almost sounds as if moisture has gotten beneath the finish, causing a “bubble” of discoloration. If this is the case, the only solution is to refinish. You can take a green fiber mat (like the one you use for dishes) and rub down to the wood if you want to spot-finish your instrument, then use a light coat of finish over the bare spot, blending it with the rest of the surface.
On a harp of that age the finish is most likely varnish with French polish(shellac applied with a rag) over it. In the areas where the hands constantly touch the finish is probably completely gone and dirt and oil has gotten into the wood. This is dangerous because if it gets down to the first glue layer it will loosen the glue and the outer veneer will bubble and come loose.
You need to take the instrument to someone who really knows what he is doing. A professional furniture restorer. He can bleach out the dirt and clean the area where the finish is gone as well as possible. Then I would spot finish those areas with shellac. I see no need to refinish the whole instrument unless there is something wrong with the finish everywhere.
Bernhard- I think you are confusing terms in English. Varnish is an oil-base resin that is brushed on and dries by oxidation. French Polish is very diluted shellac that is applied with a rag and dries by evaporation. The harp in question would have had a few coats of varnish brushed on, then rubbed down smooth. Then a light coat of French Polish(shellac) would have been rubbed on to polish the finish.
Washing a shellac surface with a damp sponge will not cause shellac to turn gray or white. There would have to be enough water to wet the surface and it would have to sit there for 10 minutes or more to do that.
I’ve worked on many of these old harps over the years and what she is describing are areas where the finish(varnish and shellac) have been worn off and dirt has gotten into the unprotected wood.
Bernhard- In English, lacquer is a finish that dries by evaporation, same as shellac. The liquid agent in lacquer is simply called lacquer thinner, which is mostly alcohol. Varnish is thinned by Turpentine or paint thinner and dried by oxidation. You can wash a varnish with turpintine or paint thinner and it will not remove or soften the finish. You cannot wash a lacquer or shellac finish with lacquer thinner or alcohol(the carrying agents in those finishes) because it will soften and remove those finishes.
To clarify- we are not suggesting that the child wore the finish off in only 10 minutes, we are suggesting that it may well have already worn off in the last 75 years and not been particularly noticed.
On a positive note white spirit (which I remember has a different US name) is safe to use to dampen a cloth to wipe down shellac, and most other common finishes but will remove some waxes.
I believe it is Mineral Spirits, here, but I don’t know exactly which one.
I think you have all horribly over-reacted. First, she must let the finish/wood dry out thoroughly, before doing anything. Adding more moisture would compound the problem. I have a friend who can compound a perfect polishing/waxing protective/cleaning solution, but it is not cheap.
Thank you guys so much for all of your input! You have helped me very much!
Im thinking perhaps the bathrobe might not have been the key cause after all. Although, it is a nasty bit of discoloration there! I do have pictures I took for the insurance company and the splotches were still