Bringing new life to historic beams

The beams in our medieval Bridge Chapel are being refurbished by SJM French Polishers, an Orpington company with a Royal Warrant.

French polishing is a wood finishing technique that’s possibly more commonly associated with furniture, but wood is used for more than just tables and it’s important this material is correctly looked after.

The principal roof beams in the Bridge Chapel date from 1937, when it was transformed from a ruinous shell to a usable building. They had become very dry and dull, with several dark patches that were staining caused by water ingress.

With scaffolding in place for the refurbishment, now is the perfect opportunity to clean these beams so that they can once again be an attractive feature of the Chapel.

Steve Moggridge of SJM French Polishers explains the cleaning process: “We removed the existing finishes using paint stripper, cabinet scrapers and wire wool, then we applied hot soda. While the soda water was still wet, we applied hot oxalic acid, this process removes stubborn dirt and water marks. The beams were then neutralised using mild soapy water.”

A series of sample treatments were then applied in different ratios, to enable us to see the finished outcome and select the most appropriate one for the setting.

The process we selected includes sealing the beams with a light polish before applying several coats of beeswax to finish. This will give the beams a much richer colour with a soft sheen, which should look good in the context of the building.

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