Henry talks – polishing

by ercol on January 2, 2013

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In the latest of his posts, Henry, great-grandson of ercol’s founder, talks about his time in the polishing shop during his factory induction….

Every piece of furniture that comes out of the assembly shops goes over the gangway into the polishing shop. All the pieces leaving the factory will have been coated in a protective lacquer and about 80% of the pieces will have had some kind of stain applied. The lacquer is extremely important for the lifespan of the furniture, protecting the surface of the furniture.

When the furniture comes from the assembly shop it is ‘in the white’, it will then get pulled over by the polisher, he’ll read the ticket to identify the stain for your order and then spray it with that particular finish. We have 5 different stains which are used on our ash and elm pieces. They are in order of dark to light, Traditional, Fruitwood, Golden Dawn, Light and Straw.  In addition, we do a Clear finish that shows the timber without any stain.

The application of the stain appears to be so effortlessly applied and evenly spread by the polishers that when you pick up the spray gun and try it yourself you really get a massive understanding of how skilled they are. It needs a deft touch and steady hand to apply a consistent layer over the whole surface and then to be able to wipe it out quickly enough to give an even colour, removing any runs,  before excess stain settles. Other than wood stains we also use a variety of different painted colours, mainly on our Originals range.

The freshly stained piece will then be put on the conveyor belt that runs through the first heating chamber. Using infra-red heat, the drying tunnel quickly dries the furniture avoiding any contamination.

ercol use only water based stains – they are nicer for our craftsmen to work with than the more common solvent-based stains and are kinder to the environment.  However, there is one downside –  by applying a water-based stain to the timber it makes the grain rise up, making it feel rough to touch. Therefore the piece will get “scuffed” or papered; this is where someone goes over the whole piece and sands it smooth again by hand.

After being stained and scuffed for the first time the piece will then go though two coats of lacquer. The lacquer coats the wood and seals it, protecting the piece. The person applying the lacquer has to be even more responsive to the spray gun and deft as unlike the polisher, who will rub the stain around the piece to get the desired effect, the lacquer can only be applied by the gun, making it a skilled art to apply a completely even layer over the whole piece; think how difficult a love seat must be to do!

This then goes though another heating tunnel; it gets scuffed down again and then gets the second coat of lacquer. The piece again goes through another heating tunnel before it arrives in the finishing area. Yet again the piece gets sanded down, first by even finer sand paper and then by wire wool before a thin coat of wax is applied to buff it up. So in the polishing area alone a piece of furniture gets worked all over by hand six times, and that’s not counting the various stages of sanding the parts get sanded in the machine shop and the pieces in the assembly shop. It really gives you a good indication in just how much care and effort goes into every piece coming out the warehouse at the end of the line.

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