Hand Tools Archive

A question about minimilist finishes

Bill Tindall, E.Tn.
There is no question that an expertly planed surface coated with what I call a minimalist finish- wax, thin layer of shellac, etc- is attractive.....when it is new. Krenov and his students often used this finishing approach to good effect with lighter colored woods.

We know that the lustrous appearance of the freshly planed surface will dull(oxidize and darken) and become dead looking if not finished. It will retain its luster if finished with some technique that will build the finish layers, which in turn provide protection from mechanical assault as well as light and chemicals(broadly defined).

The minimalist finish lies between these extremes. I saw a piece of furniture made by a Krenov student some years after it had been put in service. It looked dead, if not unattractive.

My question is, what is the experience with these finishes as they age? The question is relevant because these minimalist finishes are becoming poplar as more people become skilled at planing and gurus advocate them. But are they a good idea long term for furniture, or whatever? Are they a copout for woodworkers that haven't learned to apply shellac, varnish , lacquer?

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