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Thread: Can this Disston handle finish be saved?

  1. #1
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    Can this Disston handle finish be saved?

    IMG_4131.jpgIMG_4130.jpg IMG_4129.jpg

    I believe the finish is shellac. I have read about using alcohol and fine steel wool to "restore" an old shellac finish. So I tried rubbing a little bit of alcohol into one small spot with a soft cloth but it looked like I was just wiping a thin layer of shellac off and not spreading it around at all or "reamalgamating" it. Since there are parts of the handle where the finish is basically gone should I try to touch it up with more shellac? I'd like to avoid completely stripping and refinishing.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
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    Unless it's uncomfortable in your hand, I'd use it as-is.
    Rick

  3. #3
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    Unless you have already, I would probably give it a light cleaning with murphys oil soap or even mild dishwashing soap just to remove any surface dirt/grime. Then lightly sand to remove any raised grain, and then a coat or two of shellac. If indeed the current finish is shellac, the new coats should "melt" into the existing and cover the bare spots.

    Alternatively, instead of alcohol, you could try finger nail polish remover...just blot (not rub), an area to see if it picks up some of the finish and then blot it on a location without finish.

  4. #4
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    Based on info I picked up from a video on "Old Sneelock's Workshop" I bought a can of a product call Restor-A-Finish that he used to refinish a saw handle. I've not used it yet but plan to do so on a plane handle that needs some restoration. As I understand, this product is applied with something like steel wool. It essentially lifts the existing finish and then allows it to be redistributed on the piece without actually removing it. I found this product at a local Menards store and it comes in several colors. A final coat of wax is recommended.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil Mueller View Post
    Alternatively, instead of alcohol, you could try finger nail polish remover...just blot (not rub), an area to see if it picks up some of the finish and then blot it on a location without finish.
    That was my hope with the alcohol. I used rubbing alcohol so I don't think it gets much stronger than that. It definitely picked up a little bit of the old finish, it just doesn't pick up enough for me to blot it onto another spot.

    I'm thinking that more shellac is probably needed since the old finish it worn off in a number of places, but the old finish is pretty dirty even after a good cleaning with oil soap. What would be the next step up in terms of cleaning agents? Should I try to remove a thin layer of the old finish using alcohol?

  6. #6
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    I would try a bit of lacquer thinner in a relatively inconspicuous location.

  7. #7
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    I would steel wool it and hit it with a coat of Johnson floor wax. Buff it afterward.

    You can always sand it and lacquer it, but that is not reversible.

    Actually, I would make a new curly maple handle and save the old one.

    I made a handle for a D7 that I have and it was a successful effort.
    Last edited by lowell holmes; 06-18-2017 at 11:04 AM.

  8. #8
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    Pat's suggestion is my typical method...I just soak the whole handle in lacquer thinner with a light toothbrush scrubbing to get off whatever finish is there, plus paint, etc. Even at that, the years of sweat, grease, oil, or whatever happened to stain the wood dark, just isn't going to go away completely. Part of the character of an old saw.

    In other words, no matter what cleaning agent you use (short of bleaching the wood), some of those dark patches just aren't going to go away. As you suggest, a coat of two of shellac to see what it looks like would be my thought. It's certainly low risk as it would be easy to remove.

    By the way, I have found the worst result from trying to sand it to an even finish...just can't go deep enough in some areas and it comes out looking like, well, a splotchy sanding job:

    IMG_0615.jpg

  9. #9
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    I like to soak in oil/varnish mix (Watco), which helps hydrate dried out wood, followed by shelac and wax.

  10. #10
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    Shellac is a universal sealer. You can put pretty much any finish over top of it and not have bonding issues. I like to keep as much of the 100 year old character as possible when I restore hand saws. I use 0000 steel wool and mineral spirits to remove the dirt & grime. I never ever sand old saw totes - it removes all the old character & patina. If I wanted a saw to look new I'd buy a new saw, right? Usually a wipe on poly or Formby's tung oil (which is basically a wiping varnish) is my finish of choice. Much more durable and harder than shellac.
    ---Trudging the Road of Happy Destiny---

  11. #11
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    All the saws I sell go through this process Brian outlines,, only I use Kramer's Antique Restorer. It doesn't do anything to the original finish, but does fill in the scratches. I'm not aware of Disston ever using shellac on their handles btw. It's some sort of varnish.

  12. #12
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    Matthew,

    I have done a few saw handles, but nothing like the number Pete has done.

    The approach you take will be dictated by the final result you want. If you want to get rid of the blackish color which partly results from grime and dirt over the years you will have to go after the old finish aggressively, if you want only to keep what of the old petina of the surface you can a less aggressive approach is called for. If you want to make the handle look as much like a new nicely finished handle as possible, and remember it is tough on one this old, a more aggressive approach still is needed. I usually like the middle ground approach, get all the dirt and grime gone leaving a much lighter surface color, but saving as much of the old petina as is possible. This usually results in a light amber color with the old Disston handles.

    That said, if the old handle is finished with shellac, an alcohol is the right solvent. However, rubbing alcohol is not the right way to go. Rubbing alcohol is 30% water, typically, which decreases the effectiveness of the solvent greatly. You need to use denatured alcohol, which has very little water content. If the finish is indeed shellac, it with be cut much better by the denatured alcohol. Further, you don't want water on the handle, as the wood will soak some of it up and swell a bit and also you can get some small fibers pulling loose on the surface of the wood.

    I could go into the chemistry of the denatured vs rubbing alcohol, but little would be gained from a practical stand point, but the biggest single problem with the rubbing alcohol is the water content.

    If the finish is old lacquer, then lacquer thinner will cut it well.

    Either way I sometimes also go with steel wool that is soaking wet with the solvent of choice. I want to get rid of the old grime and dirt, and to do that I have had the best luck by getting rid of the old finish by wiping the old stuff off after the solvent steel wool treatment, I have also used scrubbing with an old natural fiber brush with solvent which sometimes also seems to get the old stuff off without too much disruption. The brush approach also seems to clean out the bottoms of the carvings, if present, better than the fine steel wool and solvent do.

    Some brands of old saws seem to have some sort of varnish on the handle, and on those I have used a varnish remover, using the same approach as above, although in some cases I put the remover on and then soaked it some.

    Your handle looks pretty much good, I have done some that looked very rough when I started on them, and had clearly been badly dinged and abraded over the years due to rough use, on those I have had to sand the rough spots lightly to get those spot half way smooth again.

    What ever approach you use to prepare the handle, you can then use what ever finish you like to refinish the handle. I use either primarily spray lacquer if in a hurry because it is relatively easy and quick. However, if time is not a factor, I like to use polyurethane. I have a saw that I redid back in 1971 or so, using polyurethane, have used that saw a ton, and the finish is still excellent. Which ever way you go, a good paste wax job after the finish has dried extremely well also helps. After some discussion on a similar topic on this site, I have switched the type of wax I now use, and use Johnson's Paste Wax.

    I would certainly also trust what Pete has written, he is pro, and had done probably more saw handles than most of the rest of us put together, so he knows what he is talking about, not to say the rest don't also have a lot of experience because many do and you can trust what they say, but Pete has done a lot. I just have no experience with the products he lists.

    What ever you do, solvent wise, get and use some solvent resistant gloves. Virtually all of the solvents are somewhat toxic, and to one extent or another can be absorbed through the skin.

    Hope the restoration goes well.

    Stew
    Last edited by Stew Denton; 06-18-2017 at 8:13 PM.

  13. #13
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    It's not that hard. Take some 0000 steel wool and make the one end wet with mineral spirits. Then, take the steel wool and using your forefinger wipe back and forth and that grime and crud will come right off. Try to be even in your approach so you don't have one spot where the finish is almost all worn off and another that isn't. If there are paint flecks, take an exacto knife and carefully pick at them of scrape them off, then scrub with the steel wool and mineral spirits.

    If I had that saw handle, it would be clean and ready to coat in 5 minutes. It's not in that bad a shape. For the nuts, they are often crusted in gunk where they meet the handle. Soak them in some mineral spirits, and use a tooth brush to remove the grunge. If it's really caked on, get a bronze bristle brush which you can get at harbor freight or lowes where they sell the welding stuff. They come in a 3 pack. I like to clean nuts just enough to get the grime off. Don't go overboard and buff them, that's just silly. It took 100 years to put that patina on, don't remove it unless you want your saw to look like a botoxed face with a crazy chicken neck...the two don't go together!

  14. #14
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    I am am fairly new here, but I will throw in my two cents. I think your handle is in pretty nice shape, and I agree with the posters that recommend a thorough cleaning in an attempt to preserve as much original mojo as possible. I have scraped and sanded the old finish off a few, with good results, but in the end- I was disappointed with the pristine look, although it feels great and functions well. Recently, I used the Kramer's antique restorer and 0000 steel wool method, followed by a light coat of thin (probably less than 1 pound cut) of amber shellac. I was happier with the latter method. Less work, more character, equal functionality.20170219_125816.jpg20170610_192619.jpg20170611_144637.jpg The backsaw handle is an example of a total removal of the old finish via scraping, chem stripper, and sanding. I think I used a bit of dye and BLO to finish. Feels great, but I feel that it lost too much character. The other photos are a before and after using the Kramer's with 0000 steel wool, a light coat of shellac and paste wax. The draw knife handles got that same treatment. I hope this helps.

  15. #15
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    Thanks Pete. Will definitely give this a go on the next handle restoration.

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