Sam Allen does not write many books on woodworking, which is a pity because he is one of the more reliable authors on the market. His "Classic Finishing Techniques" (Sterling, $19.95 hardcover) is an outstanding treatise on methods used a century or more ago to finish furniture.
A major portion of this slender volume is given, not surprisingly, to the French polish, preparing the shellac, the pounce bag and the pad.The process of French polishing gets an entire chapter, and another is devoted to special situations - getting into corners and things like that. Another chapter is offered on correcting defects in this kind of finish.
I doubt there has been a book written on the general art of wood finishing that didn't devote a lot of space to the French polish, but Allen spends most of his time on the original ways of creating the finish, and his text is more cogent than most.
More unusual are the sections on old methods of varnishing, oiling, waxing and coloring wood.
These dwell just about exclusively on old methods turned up by Allen's research. Here you don't go out and buy a can of varnish; you make your own from old recipes. Same with wax.
All the kinds of oils the old cabinetmakers used - walnut, poppy-seed, safflower, sunflower and more exotic types - are discussed in the section on oil.
There is a concluding section on milk paint, which seems to have gained considerable popularity lately.
"Classic Finishing Techniques" is a first-rate production, with clear color photographs and an appeal design. It's a must for anyone interested in finishing or refinishing antiques and reproductions in an authentic manner.
For those who are interested in restoring and repairing furniture, there are two new books, "Restoring & Maintaining Wood Furniture & Cabinets" by Brad Hughes (Betterway, $19.95 softcover) and "The Manual of Furniture Restoration" By V.J. Taylor (Sterling, $19.95 softcover).
"Restoring & Maintaining" is aimed more at the owner of fine furniture, especially antiques, than at the hobbyist or professional restorer. There is a great deal of useful advice on furniture main- tenance and a nice discussion of the many styles of antique furniture for those who haven't already gotten that information elsewhere.
In terms or refinishing and repair, however, the book is rather erratic. It assumes virtually no professional construction equipment, yet contains a long section on spraying lacquer, something that requires expensive equipment, a special place to work and a great deal of practice.
Procedures for repairing the most common furniture problems are given, but most are overly optimistic and offhand.
"Furniture Restoration" is a British reprint, much more comprehensive and directed at the professional with proper equipment. It is profusely illustrated with excellent drawings and covers upholstery repair as well as wood repair. It's a much more suitable book for any sort of serious repair work.