Full Chisel Blog

March 6, 2010

The Painter, Gilder and Varnisher’s Companion – review

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Publications,Reviews,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 10:42 am

The Painter, Gilder & Varnisher’s Companion

By Henry Carey Baird

Philadelphia 1850

Now why on earth would I review a book that was first published 160 years ago?  Well because I can and have not chance of offending the author, which in the case of my review there shouldn’t be anything offensive.  My only regret is not having read this book 40 years ago but that wasn’t possible, yet today with modern technology [one of the few I embrace] I can read three different versions of this publication as well as many others that are relevant to my field of study.

Now it may just be me but I find that a book like this is of great importance in understanding finishing in the nineteenth century.  I have a fondness for old paint, varnish and finish receipts and a desire to recreate old finish and rediscover lost finish techniques of the past.

The book begins with the apparatus that the Painter or Gilder or Varnisher would employ in their trades with an unexpected section extolling the virtues of the newly introduced ‘flat’ varnish brush.  How the discussion is couched makes me think that this new idea was controversial and met with much opposition.  But then again change was something that happened very slowly when it came to the traditions of the various trades.  Cultural and traditional influences remain constant even as the style of furniture changes.

The dialogue on pallet knives talks of them being made from ivory, bone, horn, iron and steel and recommends that some colors like yellow will be made dingy using the iron or steel and suggests a pallet knife made of ivory to prevent contamination.

The main section of the work has to do with color and has an excellent discussion on color theory and color harmony.  This also gives a time period for when certain colors were available.  Many of the ingredients are dangerous such as lead and mercury and warnings are given for the proper handling.  The section on Diseases and Ailments of these workers gives proper precautions and actually suggest that chewing tobacco can be a benefit for those handling noxious materials.

With this edition from Gary Roberts at Toolemera Press, I can hold a copy in my hands and thumb through the pages, there is something to be said for hard copy.  And Gary has faithfully reproduced the cover of the book, so it can be used in historic situations such as living history museums and reenactments and for this I would like to add my special thanks.



  1. My great-grandfather was a carpenter. In the 1940s and 1950s, my dad worked with him, and was instructed to put a pinch of chewing tobacco in his mouth. Because you held a few nails with your lips while you were busy hammering, the chewing tobacco “took the poison out.”


    Comment by Ken Pollard — March 6, 2010 @ 10:50 am

  2. Anything on varnishing tin?

    Shay Lelegren

    Comment by The Tinsmith — March 7, 2010 @ 10:01 pm

  3. Ken,

    Keep your pouch of Redman close. There are also receipts for Violin Varnish.


    Yes, also a section on glass painting [stained glass] that is good and a black varnish for straw hats.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — March 8, 2010 @ 8:12 am

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