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which finish over wood, carved antler and bone?

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stuckinthemud

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Evening!
I've almost finished carving a medieval-style crossbow stock as authentically as I could using apple wood and gelatin glue for the horn, bone and carved antler inlays/overlays with engraved decoration filled with a charcoal/varnish mastic. I always overthink things but hat would you advise me to finish it with? I think bone can be stained (not in a good way) or made translucent by oil, at least, it took me weeks to remove the natural oils and grease from the bone and I don't want to put it back.... I was thinking of keeping things simple with a clear varnish, but I love boiled linseed oil and wax. I guess shellac could be an option but have never used it. Any comments gratefully accepted.

Andrew
 

CHJ

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Do you have a scrap sampler to hand with all included materials?

Although polymerising oils usually enhance wood figuring, as you say they may add a colour cast to the inlays.

I would be tempted to use an acrylic lacquer, preferably satin finish, hard waring and pretty clear as a finish, but I would want to test on a sample.
 

profchris

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All those are used in musical instruments, and traditional finishes stick well to them.

However, different finishes will change the appearance and thus the colour balance between the materials. You did save scraps of each to test finish on, didn't you? :)

My choice would probably be two or three coats of wiped on clear shellac, to fix the colour balance if I liked it. Tru Oil on top might be good - it's a gun stock finish, and the shellac will stop the oil part from soaking in to the bone.

But polyurethane wiping varnish from the start might work too (around 50/50 varnish and White Spirit).

I'd keep the finish very thin to keep the crispness of inlays and carving.
 

ED65

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I suppose a critical question here is does your piece need to be protected from the elements or is it more of a wall-hanger? Maybe wax alone will do all you need.

Do you know if there are any clues to what these may have been finished with historically? I don't think we can glean anything useful from extant crossbows, because of how old they are many will have been worked on over time by hands skilled and not. Those in the major collections can have had the attention of restorers but we don't know what, if anything, they did to the surfaces other than cleaning.
 

stuckinthemud

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Thanks all. Yes, it might be used outdoors, although it is primarily a wall hangar, it will be fitted with a working bow. Varnish, shellac and wax were all available to 15th century craftsmen so I guess all would be authentic and I suspect different workers used different finishes, maybe combined with pine tar. I have had contact with the Royal Armouries, might be worth an email now you come to mention it.
 

ED65

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I think the 1400s is a little early for shellac to be likely, I'd be interested if they concur. To be clear I mean on a crossbow, not that it wasn't available.

I think your suspicion is certain to be correct, that different things were in use in different production centres or by individual craftsmen. Various varnishes were in wide use by this point, so less likely to be specialised knowledge, but some were strongly yellow/sienna coloured as now. We might imagine they wanted their bone to stay as white as possible (given the trouble it takes to get it that way!) but maybe in some places they preferred a more mellow, yellowish colour? And local tastes and standards are anyway likely to have varied place to place, just as with armour finishes.
 

stuckinthemud

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It seems crossbows of the late Gothic were finished in the same way as contemporary fire-arms, with budget stocks left in the white while higher value stocks were probably linseed oiled . Similarly, high status weapons received an appropriately expensive treatment
 
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