This section is from the book "Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry, And Building", by James C. et al. Also available from Amazon: Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry And Building.
In conditions of dampness or where the finish will be subjected to the action of water to any extent, it will be better to use varnish, as the effect of water is to turn shellac white. Varnish, when thoroughly dry, is not affected by ordinary applications of water. For this reason, if there is any suspicion that the finish is not thoroughly dry, it will be safer to use varnish in direct contact with the wood as the final seasoning of some of the more "sappy" woods, such as cypress or hard pine, will sometimes produce enough moisture to whiten the shellac, even under subsequent coats of varnish.
In kitchens, pantries, bathrooms and in general the whole service portion of a house, it will be better to use varnish, as the application of water will be more general in these parts than in the main rooms.
The rubbing down of shellac or varnish is a protection against whitening, and for this reason, besides the gain in appearance, every coat, especially in finishing in shellac, should be rubbed down. This rubbing down may be done with fine sand-paper, or hair-cloth or curled hair, and the last coat may be treated in various ways according to the finish desired. To obtain an egg-shell gloss for the final surface the last coat should be rubbed with pulverized pumice stone and raw linseed oil. For a dull finish water may be used instead of oil with the pumice, and for a highly polished surface, a rubbing with pumice and water may be followed by polishing with "rotten stone" and water. Work that is to be polished should never have less than three varnish coats, but an egg-shell gloss may be obtained with two coats.
To obtain permanent wearing qualities in the finishing of floors is a troublesome matter. The elastic varnish which we have used for the standing finish requires a different treatment when subjected to the wear and tear of floors. Referring to the specifications, we find that the floors are to be stained as approved, and the oak, which is an open grained wood, is to receive a coat of oil filler, this brings out the grain of the wood and it is then ready to receive three or four coats of shellac each sand-papered as before and the last coat rubbed with pumice stone in oil or water to a dull finish.
For floors of maple, birch or any close grained wood the oil filler would be of no use and its place would be taken by extra coats of shellac. For hard pine floors of the kitchen, back halls and bathroom, which are subjected to a great deal of use and more or less water, satisfactory finish may be obtained by giving simply two coats of oil with turpentine dryer added to prevent the dust from sticking as it would to clear oil. A finish less expensive than the shellaced finish for hardwood floors is obtained by use of wax polish which is applied to the wood after filling or better, over one or two coats of shellac. This is a paste which enters the pores of the wood, dries in a few hours, and can then be polished with cloths or by dragging weighted brushes, which are sold for the purpose, to and fro over the floor. By keeping a brush and the wax at hand, any worn spots on the floor can be easily renewed and the whole kept looking well indefinitely.
A first-class job of finishing should never be hurried, but each coat should be thoroughly dry. Varnish should be applied at a temperature of about 70° F. and this temperature should be maintained until the varnish is thoroughly dry. Clean brushes should be used at all times, and a rising of dust in a room should be wet down and checked until the varnished work is completely dry.
Beside the standing finish and floors, miscellaneous parts must receive the painter's attention. Pulley stiles of windows must be oiled, sashes drawn, exposed brass piping shellaced, and thresholds oiled or varnished. All of these minor details will need the attention of the superintendent or they will be overlooked. Other than this, the supervision of the painting work will be mainly to see that the best of materials are used. To this end it will be necessary to insist that all paints shall be mixed at the building, and that all materials are of the specified kind and are brought to the building in the original cases or kegs.