Toning In—Toning Out

mac1This artwork was taken from a three-page article that I wrote back in 1999—that was only 16 years ago. In this month’s article, I thought I would write a little about my past in the art of furniture touch-up and finishing. Some of you may not believe this, but when I began selling touch-up and finishing materials in the early 60’s, there were very few finishers at that time that knew or ever tried doing these two fine finishing techniques.
I cannot tell you how many e-mails the magazine editor at CWB received about this new type of finishing after it was first printed.

As a former salesman who had sold finishing materials for over 30 years I would tell you that out of all the hundreds of shops that I had as my customers, I would say less than ten percent of them ever tried out either one of these two fine finishing techniques. I believe at that time I was the first salesman in my territory that ever went into these shops. I either did a complete demonstration on “toning,” or I explained the entire process with some of my “start-to-finish” wooden samples that I had made up to show how these techniques were done. I cannot swear on this because I was not a reader or buyer of woodworking magazines at that time. However, I don’t believe there ever was a finishing article that written that explained with both text and photos what a finisher could really do with theses two fine finishing techniques. Finishing has come a long, long way since those early days.

Even though my company sold all the materials needed for “toning,” there were very few salesmen that could demonstrate the process, not only in my company but also in our competitors. The same was true with finishing technique of color “glazing and washes.”

At that time, almost every shop used only “clear lacquer finishes;” in some shops the dyes and pigmented stains were applied first, and then those stains were “clear coated.” This applied to both new wood finishing and also re-finishing work.

Shading Stains

The same applied to the dye shading stains as most shops at that time sprayed their stains on, and used them for only “staining” their pieces. They did not use this fine finishing technique for adding color, adjusting the colors, or for correcting lighter or darker colors during the finishing process.

Pigmented Paste Colorants

I also taught many shops that their pigmented paste colorants, like Japan, Oil, and Universal, could also be used as a “shading stain” and how and when these paste colorants worked best in the process.

At that time most shops only used the Oil and Japan Paste Colorants, my company also sold “Universal Colors” these pigmented paste colorant had a “special solvent” that could be used with the same solvents and binders that were used with the Oil and Japan Colorants. I would explain to the finishers, that if they bought only my Universal Colorants, they would not need the other two colorants.

They could just buy a quart of Japan Driers and a quart of Boiled Linseed Oil to add to the Universal Colorant as they both were used as “binders” to make the stains adhere to the substrate. They would not have to buy the other two colorants. I believe I ended up selling more Universal Colorants than all the others salesmen in my company at the time.

All the things that I told my customers, I also told my company and our salesmen. That did not mean my company did not know; there were a few that did know. But at that time, it was more about the salesmen just going out and selling than it was about knowing what you were selling. It was all about just “taking the orders.” This was very common at that time, and that’s why I ate my competitor’s lunch every day because I could talk finishing, and the others were basically just order takers.

As the years passed, this all began to change slowly. The companies began to hire more finishers as their salesmen, and there were lots of “white papers” sent to our salesmen. Those “white papers” had much better information and detailed instructions about their products. The salesmen would also begin passing on different “tricks” that they learned about our new or old products. The salesmen would also pass on the weakness’ of our competitor’s products. Then our company began to hold separate group and national sales meetings. These made a big difference to the organization, and then the company really began to grow by leaps and bounds over the years.

My First Big Company Workshop

In 1960, while I was working as an outside furniture serviceman, I found out about this finishing company that had some different finishing products. I began buying some of their products and as time went by I became friendly with their sales manager. One day he asked me if I wanted to do a touch-up demonstration, and he offered to pay me. I said yes, and then he told me that his company had hired a big ball room at the Empire Hotel in Manhattan. They were holding their first touch-up school in New York City. He wanted me to do a touch-up demonstration while he did all the talking about touching-up furniture. I was to meet him on that day at the hotel at about 5 pm to set up for the demonstration; the workshop would start at 6 pm because all the finishers were coming from their jobs. The ballroom was gigantic. There were a few hundred finishers, repairmen, and warehousemen that showed up to see the demonstration. After a lot of talk about the company and some of the new products they were introducing, it was my turn to demonstrate. As the sales manager spoke, I followed his instructions and did the actual work. It lasted about 45 minutes, and we got a big round of applause at the end of the demo. A few weeks later I was offered a job as a “missionary man” with the company. I would have to demonstrate all the furniture repair kits that the salesmen sold, and also take care of any finishing problems that came up. A few years later I was made a salesman and given my own territory.

My job lasted over 30 years. I also learned many things in those years, and in fact many of the incidents that I wrote about I have used to write this and many other articles during the last 16 years. As they say, “What goes around comes around.”