Many of our preferences are subconscious, often buried there by Madison Avenue to get us to buy Brand X instead of Brank Y. But some of our preferences are buried deeper than that, in the guts of our brain’s wiring, tribal memories that were important enough to hardwire into our brains. Anything red gets our attention, because blood is red when exposed to air, and you need to know when you or someone you care about is bleeding. We can recognize when something isn’t vertical - or horizontal. At some point in our development that ability gave us a valuable advantage - things roll off of surfaces that aren’t “level”, a vertical pole will hold up something better than a pole at some angle other than 90 degrees. Smoke meant something was hot. These types of valuable things to know were drummed into the group’s children in order to improve the survivability of the group into another generation. As time went on some of this Need To Know stuff was built into religions [THOU SHALT NOT EAT PORK (because it could give you trichonosis (sp?))] and educational systems.
With this idea in mind, consider the following.
Before catalyzed lacquer, before poly, before shellac and maybe even before bees wax and oils, somewhere way back when, shiny wood wasn’t possible, or at least hard to achieve. OK, so if you rub a really smooth stone fairly hard on a piece of wood, it’ll get shiny. However, at some point in history, “just the wood” stopped being good enough. Somewhere back there the wood that had been handled a lot got literaly hand polished enough from the “oil” and abrasion of fingers and hands to get shiny. Maybe Shiny From Use would mean that the wooden object was valued enough to use often, be cared for, and passed down from generation to generation. But Wear Shiny was only on the areas of the wooden object that got handled a lot. At some point maybe shiny became a maintenance plus - it’s easier to get dust, dirt and grime off of a shiny object.
But over the eons humans found ways to make wood shiny without handling it a lot and caring for it over generations. Having the entire object shiny became a sign of quality, of the specialness of the object. It still took a lot of time and effort to create a shiny surface, but not generations worth of time. And it seems that the Quest For Shiny continues to this day. Finishes with “diamond hard”, “crystal clear” and “hi-luster” (don’t you just love how the marketing crowd try and change the spelling of words?) get touted as New and Improved, Superior, Crystal Clear - AND Easy To Apply for a “faultless, fool proof, beautiful, durable, scratch resistant, low maintenance, high luster, superior quality finish”. There are finish spray “systems”, airless, HVLP! I’m waiting for Powder Coated Wood Finish.
Why SHINY!? More specifially, why make the whole piece shiny? OK, so having the visible wear parts easy to keep clean and looking nice might make sense. But why make ALL the visible surfaces shiny? Why not, on surfaces that don’t require “shiny”, use a finish that “just” pops the grain to show off the beauty of the wood without changing its colors and feel much? Why try and make wood look like it’s under glass? Why not just use “wood grained” formica type stuff if that’s what you want?
The irony of these finishes, shellac being the exception, is that repairing a scratch or worn areas can mean refinishing much larger areas of the piece, or even having to sand and refinish almost the entire piece. The original furniture maker saves time applying the finish - but what about the user?
Why not just sand to 180 or 220, or better yet just a finely scraped surface (they were getting wood reallysmooth long before sandpaper was invented) and wipe on (and off) a couple of coats of oil -boiled linseed oil, “teak” oil or “danish” oil if you want to accentuate the grain? On the visible wearing surfaces add a coat of wax or two or maybe a coat or two of shellac . Places that get handled a lot will get even shinier, while surfaces that don’t get much wear will keep the finish you originally applied. If the latter doesn’t keep its original finish it can quickly and easily be restored.
If “wood” is an important thing in your woodworking, why not, on your next project, go with a finish that enhances it rather than “protects” it?
Just something to think about.