Approach to Finishing
Many different techniques and different products are used to “finish” antiques and fine wood furniture. Most historically authentic finishes are high maintenance, but not very durable. Our desire is to to create furniture with a finish that will withstand the rigors of an active household and time, yet would have beautifully lustrous surfaces that scoff at liquids and abrasions, and beg to be touched. We do not use wax finishes because they can spot and stain easily from water, alcohol or contact with hot objects. We do not use shellac on table surfaces because it has very poor wearability and is easily damaged by both water and alcohol. We do not use lacquer because it can chip and crack, and sometime get crazed or crackled over time. We do not use oil as a finish because it will gradually dry out, requiring repeated applications and is also not particularly durable or fully protective. Unlike most mass produced furniture, we do not use straight commercial polyurethane or polyester plastic-type finishes. Although they can be very tough and resistant to scratching and stains, they can present a rather plastic or synthetic look and can be very difficult to touch up as well.
At Classic Elegance, we use only the best of modern finishing materials that are composed of a combination of oils, urethanes and waxes, specifically designed to be wiped on. The oils penetrate deeply within the wood to highlight its warm natural look, and the waxes and urethane insure a protective but deep hardness of the surfaces. This type of wiping varnish is used mostly in small woodworking shops. While durable and attractive, it requires very skilled application, numerous slow-drying coats and an abundance of surface preparation. We do not use spray systems, instead we wipe on a series of light coats, wet sanding and buffing between each coat. Building up a truly protective surface with this type of varnish requires a lot more steps and finesse to achieve the desired result. A high quality finish takes several days to create, but will have a super smooth feel, natural appearance and provide years of beautiful and durable surface protection. It is simply a classic, warmly glowing, quality finish that we feel brings out the best in each unique piece. Likewise, all gilding is done by hand, using only 23.5 carat gold leaf for beautiful and period-appropriate detailing.
What is the difference between Top, Full, Corrected and Split Leather?
Once a cow’s skin is removed in one layer, the outer layer of skin is ‘split’ from the lower layers of skin. It is virtually shaved off. Figure 1 illustrates how a cowhide, which initially is very thick, is sliced into two layers - the Top Cut or Grain Split, and the Bottom Cut or Flesh Split. The important advantages of the Top Cut include more natural oils and larger pores, which facilitate a more breathable material. Full Grain has been casually equated with Top Grain in the sales environment, but they are not exactly the same (as we will explain).
Top Grain Leather. Top Grain is a term that covers several layers of the hide but has also become a confusing general term to describe quality. The word 'top' indicates the 'top' portion of a hide, not really the quality of the leather. In other words, it indicates from where the leather was cut rather than the grade. Top Grain Leather can include the lower portion of the Full Grain split and share some of its characteristics to include the absence of corrections (See Figure 2). It can also require some correction because it is not entirely Full Grain. Also, in cases where the upper layer of the Bottom Cut is of sufficient quality (and although finished to add grain and remove defects as a Corrected Grain Leather) it too can be referred to as Top Grain. Ultimately, the physical properties of finished leather predominantly depend on the natural quality of the hide layer and the nature of its tanning.