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Another polish question...


A. C. Fairbanks
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Hello to all,

A luthier did a bit of work on my fiddle a few months ago. (The instrument is about 25 years old, and is the work of a very highly regarded maker.)

I love the fiddle.

When the luthier returned the instrument to me, I was shocked to see that it had been "cleaned and polished." I had neither requested, nor approved, that either be done. But, of course, there is no way that it can be un-done at this point.

(I suppose that if I live another 25 years the violin will one day have the wonderful patina that I found so appealing.)

In any case, parts of the back and ribs now have the dull look of polish residue that was not removed when it was applied to the instrument. I am certain that this material is on rather than in the finish because I have succeeded in removing some of it with a gentle rub with a soft cloth.

I was told by the luthier that the polish they used was "Nicko."

Might you know of a safe way that I could remove what remains of that residue? I am nervous about rubbing the remaining rather large areas in the same way.

Many thanks,

A.C.

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In our shop we use Toluene for this, but you should know that it can dissolve some varnishes. It's absolutely necessary to run tests in some unimportant invisible area. I don't recommend it, though because after the toluene, you may be left with something that you then can't straighten out yourself. This technique can remove not only original varnish if you use too much, or use it too long, even though the initial test indicated it's safe, but also clear overvarnish, the maker's own French polish, the maker's antiquing, and any retouching.

If you want to run the risk, AFTER determining that it [probably] won't hurt the varnish, fold up a pad of paper towel and put just a drop or two on the back of the pad, then rub briskly. If you see anything of a warm color (brownish) coming off, you're removing varnish or something else you don't want to remove. After removing the wax (which is what Niko is) it will take some rubbing, and maybe a less coaty violin polish like Hill to bring back the original lustre, or you might have just messed it up, and need outside help.

The reason shops can do this kind of thing is because if something goes wrong they will (#1) recognize that's happening, (#2) know when to stop, (#3) know to stop rather than try to fix what's happening right now, and (#4) know how to fix what went wrong. You probably don't have any of those four skills, and that's why you shouldn't try to do it.

Turpentine may do the job also, and is much safer, and slower. Even this is not guaranteed safe, though.

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A mild solvent that you might want to use, at your own risk, is used in the automotive paint profession. It is a " Wax & Grease Remover" sold under many different names. A quart can costs about $5. It is used to remove surface contaminates before painting. Many decades ago I was formally trained as an autobody repair technition and have used this mild solvent on many different finishes with no bad results. It is applied with a wipe on-wipe off application. The end result will certainly be a dull, but clean, finish which seems to be your desired outcome.

At your own risk, Scott

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Stradofear beat me to an answer and I believe we are talking about the same product and his precautions are the same that I would give for using "Wax & Grease Remover". I have used this product to remove freshly painted enamel when an accident happened while painting and also seen it remove fresh paint while leaving the primer in pristine condition. Older stable finishes should not be harmed but all finishes are not the same. I have used it on violins with good results, but only in dire circumstances. I want to add that I believe "Wax & Grease Remover" to be much milder of a solvent than turpentine.

Scott

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After a google search I found "Wax & Grease Remover" to be a combination of Mineral Spirits, Aliphatic Petroleum Distillates, White Spirits, Naphtha, Heptane and Toluene. It removes wax, grease, sanding residue, adhesives (Suzuki Tape), bugs, tar, silicone, tree sap (cooked on bow rosin), and road film(from hanging your fiddle out the window while cruising). From my experience it must be safer to use on finishes than straight Toluene. Caution should be used against skin contact and vapor inhalation.

Scott

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Any type of liquid or wax applied to the surface of an instrument with a crack can cause extreme complication for a restorer. It becomes even more of a problem when an old crack has not been properly repaired.

Wax based polishes have solvents in them such as nitro benzine. They clean and polish and can leave an oily residue even when wiped off the surface. I have seen wax based polishes used on newly varnished instruments that cause the varnish to crackle. Nice for antiquing but not for an evenly color varnished instrument. Proceed with extreme caution when attempting to clean or polish an instrument.

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Whoa guys!

It's Nikco polish, right? That's microcrystalline wax and mild abrasives, if I'm not mistaken. Don't use the stuff, but do see instruments it's been used on.

I wouldn't argue with the "let a pro do it" advice, but it should be removed with the least aggressive "solvent" possible. We're already at toluene and chemical soup! Slow down.

I'd avoid the rubbing, A. C., as what you're seeing on the surface may be dried wax as well as abrasives.

Anything applied to the varnish coating should be tested before proceeding... but if I were to project a solution, a gentle Stoddard solvent (white spirit) should remove the wax portion pretty easily. Any remaining abrasive should float off with the wax. This may leave a slight haze, that can be wiped off with a cloth dampened (not wet) with distilled water.

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Thanks for slowing down this run-away train Jeffrey, I was one step away from the bench grinder. My chemical soup does contain Stoddard solvent and white spirit, I think as the main ingredients. And I must say again that it is the mildest solvent that I have used and kept on hand for nearly 40 years. Please don't take this as a snotty reply, and I do fully respect your expertise and reputation. :)

Smiles all around please, Scott

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Hey Scott;

I did notice the ingredient's listed, and I was OK until I got to Naphtha, Heptane and Toluene. Chances are, the soup is pretty inert... but in this case, I think the white spirits alone would probably do the trick. I think the other ingredients may be included in the cleaner you mentioned as de-greasers?

You know... a bench grinder would probably remove the wax pretty quickly, come to think of it. :)

I know A. C.'s fiddle from many years ago... and can imagine how it looks unadulterated. I'm sure it can be returned to it's former glory with a little care.

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If what's on the fiddle is some sort of wax, wouldn't it be all at the surface and not bonded with the original varnish? Wouldn't the usual gentle wipe down with a soft cotton cloth that a fiddle gets after each playing eventually rub this stuff off without disturbing the original varnish? Maybe it would take months, maybe a year, but wouldn't this stuff eventually be, thus, wiped away without harming the varnish? If that's so (and I honestly don't know that it is so because I don't know what Nikco polish is), perhaps the best solution is to do nothing more than to be sure to wipe the fiddle down after each playing with a clean, soft, cotton cloth and maybe give it a few extra wipes but nothing too aggressive. And also replace wiping cloths often, as often as any wax residue appears on the cloth or, say, every 3rd wipe down, whichever comes first.

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If what's on the fiddle is some sort of wax, wouldn't it be all at the surface and not bonded with the original varnish? Wouldn't the usual gentle wipe down with a soft cotton cloth that a fiddle gets after each playing eventually rub this stuff off without disturbing the original varnish? Maybe it would take months, maybe a year, but wouldn't this stuff eventually be, thus, wiped away without harming the varnish? If that's so (and I honestly don't know that it is so because I don't know what Nikco polish is), perhaps the best solution is to do nothing more than to be sure to wipe the fiddle down after each playing with a clean, soft, cotton cloth and maybe give it a few extra wipes but nothing too aggressive. And also replace wiping cloths often, as often as any wax residue appears on the cloth or every 3rd or 4th wipe down, whichever comes first.

Yup... except there's also abrasive present and (I mentioned I knew the fiddle, right) the finish has a nice crackle to it that the wax and left over abrasives will hide quite nicely in. I'd think it's best for the natural development of that texture not to have wax crammed into the voids.

Still, most of the stuff would probably wear off with time and through normal, responsible periodic cleaning... especially if the next person to clean it was made aware of the wax application.

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Wiping down the violin would eventually remove the wax but if abrasives are in the wax then the varnish would eventually be abrated also. Jeffrey is right, leave the gun, take the canoli. In other words, take off the wax and abrasives and leave the varnish by using the mildest solvent available.

Scott

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Might you know of a safe way that I could remove what remains of that residue? I am nervous about rubbing the remaining rather large areas in the same way.

Is there a little of the whilte abrasives left? I think that can be removed with plain water on a brush or cloth. I think this kind of polish works directly on the varnish with the abrasives and leves very little of its solvents on it, besides any left in corners etc. where it appear whitish when dry, due to the polish abrasives.

The polishing is done to the varnish layer, and you really cannot reverse that. If you do not like the reflective surface, a coarser abrsive would give a more matte finish. That would take off a little more of the varhish layer though. Or you may just wait for the dirt and fingerprints etc to accumulate a little so the high reflectivity goes a bit back.

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I have found these recent topics about cleaning and polishing very interesting. From the owner/customer veiwpoint we have heard different desires and expectations. I have a whole new perspective on this aspect of repair now. In the past I thought of cleaning as going above and beyond.......but now I see that it may not always be appreciated. Polishing is a different matter and may be unappreciated in more instances. But then every shop and customer has different opinions of what is expected and the norm. I will definately rethink about what I considered the expected and norm where cleaning and polishing are concerned.

Scott

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A.C., I didn't see the fiddle "before", so I can't comment on how much change there was, but I don't think it looks that bad now. If I owned it, I would just go back to using it.

I've never used the Nikco polish, so am not familiar with it, but if it contains significant amounts of abrasives, the previous surface texture may be abraded away (not just covered up). If that's the case, removal of the polish won't recover this, so removal may involve risk with little or no benefit.

Regarding other comments, some pretty strong solvents have been mentioned, and I'll side with Jeffrey in advising against their use. Stoddard solvent or mineral spirits will remove many things which are wax based. As a general principle, one starts with the weakest solvent which might do the job, and only goes stronger if that fails. From a conservator perspective, all of them have the potential to remove not only contaminants on the surface, but selective constituents of the original varnish as well, even if you don't see color show up on a cleaning cloth. An every-day example might be using a strong solvent to clean vinyl. It might look fine afterward, but crack and become brittle down the road because plasticizers have been removed by the solvent.

While I'm at it, I'm also not a big fan of Hill polish. I don't know what's in it, but it behaves as if it contains a slow drying oil. You put on a thin film of liquid, and while it remains liquid, you've turned your fiddle into an air cleaning device. Later, this semi-hardened amalgamation can be extremely difficult to remove. Maybe the formulation has changed since I had to deal with removing this mess, or maybe it's OK to use once or twice, with care to remove everything possible from the surface after application. If I were to use a drying oil to "revive" a varnish, I'd rather know exactly what I'm using, and take appropriate precautions to avoid any buildup or residue on the surface.

Getting back to the main question: Having seen the instrument, all things considered, I'd recommend leaving it as is. The conservation perspective presented on Maestronet is probably a bit ahead of what is found in our business in general, so with that in your background, I can understand your concern. If it matters, I don't think the resale value of the instrument has been hurt.

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The conservation perspective presented on Maestronet is probably a bit ahead of what is found in our business in general

The lesson from A.C.'s experience for the rest of us instrument owners is that we can't take for granted that even a competent shop won't do a wipe down with some kind of polish, oil, or cleaner of any fiddle that comes through the door as part of the shop's regular routine, whether asked for or not by the fiddle owner. We can't take for granted that every shop has the same aversion to sprucing up the finish that exists, in general, on Maestronet.

So, it would be a good idea for a fiddle owner who has preferences about that issue to have a thorough discussion with the shop when dropping a fiddle off, regardless of reason for taking the fiddle in, so that no surprises occur. Maybe a fiddle does need a bit of cleaning to remove surface rosin or dirt. But let that be established ahead of time, and let the instrument owner have a clear understanding of what the results of any such clean-up will be.

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Hello to all,

A luthier did a bit of work on my fiddle a few months ago. (The instrument is about 25 years old, and is the work of a very highly regarded maker.)

I love the fiddle.

When the luthier returned the instrument to me, I was shocked to see that it had been "cleaned and polished." I had neither requested, nor approved, that either be done. But, of course, there is no way that it can be un-done at this point.

(I suppose that if I live another 25 years the violin will one day have the wonderful patina that I found so appealing.)

In any case, parts of the back and ribs now have the dull look of polish residue that was not removed when it was applied to the instrument. I am certain that this material is on rather than in the finish because I have succeeded in removing some of it with a gentle rub with a soft cloth.

I was told by the luthier that the polish they used was "Nicko."

Might you know of a safe way that I could remove what remains of that residue? I am nervous about rubbing the remaining rather large areas in the same way.

Many thanks,

A.C.

+++++++++++++

Do your best to keep it looks nice but not to worry things like residue of polish.

Nothing could be compared with the damages done by accidents, yours or other people's carelessness.

All the damages of my violins are from bowing accidents.

They do deep dents. :) when the violin hits the bow, the varnish of the violin suffers. When the bow hits the violin,

same thing happens. You cannot win. The more you play the more nicks and dents you get. Much is a fact of life.

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In any case, parts of the back and ribs now have the dull look of polish residue that was not removed when it was applied to the instrument. I am certain that this material is on rather than in the finish because I have succeeded in removing some of it with a gentle rub with a soft cloth.

Ok, the way the stuff is used may play a role. The way I use this kind of stuff myself, is to rub with a cloth wetted with the Nicko, or similar, until it dries out and then the real polishing starts. It ends up using the bare hands and fingers, and there is a sound somewhat similar to what you get by washing clean windows with a leather. Nothing is left on the varnish then, one works on the varnish itself. I do not use Nicko for that now, but I started off with that early in my amateur career. I was quite early at getting fine finishes. I know that that "glossy look" is not preferred by most makers here.

I think the standard method is to let the stuff dry on the varnish before starting to work on it. I do not think that "rubbings" leave anything on car varnishes either. I think it is meant to be polished over by a wax afterwards. A rubbing paste (wich is what Nicko really is, a kind of Turtle "Colour back") does not leave vaxes, if it is used properly.

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Hello again to all,

I want to report very good news on the polish residue problem I described...

First, to David:

Yes, I agree with your suggestion that I could just have left the finish as is. But, I felt that it would look even better if I could get off the filmy residue I had described. (It is funny to remember that just before I recently shipped the fiddle to you, I mentioned to my wife that you would probably think the finish was in fine shape!)

Next, to Jeffrey:

I decided to take what I thought to be the best of your suggestions together with those of some of the other kind folks on this board.

With that goal in mind, I made a trip to Home Depot, and purchased two fifty gallon drums of Stoddard Solvent, some chain, and a pressure washing rig... :)

Well, actually, I used less than one drop of Stoddard on a tissue, and then gently rubbed the newly cleaned surface with a soft cotton cloth.

Now, I am looking directly at the fiddle, rather than looking at it through the film, and it looks far better.

As always, I am deeply appreciative of the help.

All the best,

A.C.

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Yup... except there's also abrasive present and (I mentioned I knew the fiddle, right) the finish has a nice crackle to it that the wax and left over abrasives will hide quite nicely in. I'd think it's best for the natural development of that texture not to have wax crammed into the voids.

Still, most of the stuff would probably wear off with time and through normal, responsible periodic cleaning... especially if the next person to clean it was made aware of the wax application.

So not to take this in too far of different direction, but what would you use to clean off a wax buildup like that, Jeffrey? There are several shops here in NJ that use Nikco or some variant of "cream polish", and I've had people ask. I've always told them just to clean their instruments with a soft cloth and not touch it. Is there something else we should be doing instead?

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So not to take this in too far of different direction, but what would you use to clean off a wax buildup like that, Jeffrey? There are several shops here in NJ that use Nikco or some variant of "cream polish", and I've had people ask. I've always told them just to clean their instruments with a soft cloth and not touch it. Is there something else we should be doing instead?

For the player, I recommend the same (soft cloth before putting the violin away).

As far as polish removal, I start with the least aggressive solvent possible and step things up only when required. For example, Stoddard/white spirit/mineral spirits takes care of most waxes and leaves most varnishes in peace, but some of the cream polishes may contain other things (oils, etc.). Some of the polishes actually contain ingredients that soften some varnishes, so going slowly is a must.

BTW: I don't want to give the wrong impression... I'm not against crystalline wax being used as a protectant in certain cases. I have a can of Renaissance wax here in the shop, and have experimented with some other crystalline waxes available. It's easily applied, takes very little to "do the job", seems effective and is relatively easy to remove. Like many things, I think the trick is in determining when it's an appropriate remedy for a problem, and informing the owner of what you recommend doing... and just because it may be a good idea for application to a rib, an area of the top, or a shoulder, does not mean it's a good idea to treat the entire instrument.

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First, to David:

Yes, I agree with your suggestion that I could just have left the finish as is. But, I felt that it would look even better if I could get off the filmy residue I had described. (It is funny to remember that just before I recently shipped the fiddle to you, I mentioned to my wife that you would probably think the finish was in fine shape!)

Hands up against the wall!

Surrender your solvent, or we'll have to bring in the solvent sniffing dogs! :)

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