Mirror frame restoration; a problem and a novel use for our Brown beeswax polish.

This old mirror has been in family for as long as I can remember, but for several years it had languished in a state of half finished renovation.

Attempting to remove the paint with paint stripper and wire wool.

Attempting to remove the paint with paint stripper and wire wool.

My Dad picked it up for next-to -nothing at an auction in the 60’s. It was originally a 'swing mirror', and would have been set in a stand. It is probably from the Arts and Crafts period (1880-1910). By the time Dad got it, it had been removed from its stand, and painted white! I remember it hanging on the wall during my childhood. Actually, it looked pretty good in white, if you like that sort of thing...

Anyway, at some point over the last few years Dad had decided to strip the paint off to reveal the Walnut underneath. A fine idea, but there was a problem. Most of the paint came off, but in the top corners, where the decoration was heavily textured, it remained; stubbornly stuck in the recesses. Dad put it aside and forgot about it for a few years, so eventually I decided to see what I could do to save it.

Painting brown Beeswax polish onto the recessed areas and white paint.

Painting brown Beeswax polish onto the recessed areas and white paint.

 First I decided to have another go with the paint stripper. Surely it would work if I let it soak in, and rubbed it in with wire wool, I reasoned, after all, this was paint, and paint stripper removes paint, right?.. Well not in this case. It was a complete waste of time. It had no effect whatsoever. Back to the drawing board...

I considered my options. Using a wire brush to really work the paint stripper in would do too much damage; the wood was too soft. The only thing I could imagine would work would be to literally dig it out with something like a dentists pick. This would take far too long though, and would also probably result in a lot of scratching to the decoration. Then a possible solution occurred to me.  Our Traditional Beeswax Brown polish is basically a polish and a subtle stain. When used on lighter coloured woods, such as Pine, its darkens the wood slightly, and this effect can be built up over subsequent applications. The paint, despite being stubbornly stuck in the cavities, had a chalky kind of texture and made me wonder; if I applied enough dark polish and let it soak in, perhaps it would stain the paint enough to hide it. Also, this would mean that the recessed areas would become darker overall, which I thought would create a nice effect by contrasting with the rest of the frame.

 So, over several days I started dabbing brown beeswax polish into the recesses with a brush. I took care to allow little blobs of the polish to sit on the whitest parts, and leave them until the next day, so as to allow as much of the stain as possible to soak in. Normally you would apply polish and buff it off soon after, but for this purpose I left it undisturbed. I persevered with this for several days, and sure enough; it worked! Slowly all the white parts disappeared.

 Now the recessed area was much darker, so I was able to get a nice effect by using mostly neutral beeswax polish on the rest of the frame, which created some contrast and enhanced the design. I did apply just a little brown polish to the rest of the frame, as it helps to enhance the grain, but mostly the surround was polished with neutral. Once I had a nice shine, all that remained was to replace the mirror into its frame. A very satisfactory outcome! It was an interesting experiment, and, I think, an effective solution to a tricky problem.

Steve Whatling2 Comments