I want to go fishing with George Frank. No matter what we caught it would become a great story—perhaps, one in which we were swallowed whole by a fly then eaten by a fish only to escape thanks to the potassium permanganate George had in his pocket.
Who is George Frank?
He is the author of Adventures in Wood Finishing published by Taunton Press (1981). The Hungarian native was born in 1903 and apprenticed as a cabinet maker. Taking classes in the evenings he earned a diploma as a “master of stains and wood coloring” from the Technical Institute of Budapest. In May of 1924, leaving a disrupted Hungary, George moved to Paris. It was here that George would rise to the top of the finishing world by landing his dream job at large finishing company. By 1928 this same company awarded George a significant sum to open a cabinet shop devoted to modern styles and finishes. However, the perfect storm was brewing: George was spending all his money on a speculative piece and the New York stock market was crashing. As a result, George became the sole owner of his own finishing company. By the early 1960’s George had moved to New York and founded a new company. He might have been a master finisher, but he had another talent as well; telling a good story.
It is difficult to tell if the stories shared in the book are fact with a little embellishment or fiction with a little bit of fact. What is clear? They’re entertaining! Passing out at the top of the Eiffel Tower; Evading a fire inspector; Getting trapped in a bank with robbers. A mere sample of the stories.
The book isn’t all entertainment; there is much to learn about finishing too. And most of that information predates the modern manufacturing of finishes. It isn’t written like a “how-to” but it covers all the essentials plus some interesting formulas for creating your own finishes and stains. A good example is using walnut skins to create a dye he calls “brou de noix” by brewing them in rainwater with lye (aka, sodium hydroxide or caustic soda) and simmering for several days.
George was an innovator in techniques and perhaps one of the first to use colored pore fillers, sandblasting, and fire to alter the surface texture or color of wood. We’ve all heard of fuming with ammonia to change the color of oak, but have you ever done it to an entire room? And it seems clear that George took pride in his discovery and application of emulsified wax.
This is a rags-to-riches story where the golden thread happens to be wood finishing. You’ll gain a lot of knowledge about finishing and learn about some forgotten methods. If you like to be entertained by a good story, you’ll enjoy George’s way of weaving a tale.
Reading between the lines you catch George’s pride in his work and get the sense that it was the work that held the rest of his life together. The craft became a tether, a way to orient his way in the world. The craft was an adventure, not just a nine-to-five job, but something to master by merging science and art.
That is why I want to go fishing with George Frank.
You can read Sandor Nagyszalanczy’s reflection on George here.