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Refinishing oak table - advice for a noob

by MzWhitney
posted 07-09-2017 02:29 AM


27 replies so far

View Andybb's profile

Andybb

2171 posts in 1146 days


#1 posted 07-09-2017 03:32 AM

:-) Welcome Mz. Yes, you should search the forums as the questions you asked could be answered in so many different ways it would boggle your mind. The finishing forums would be a place to start. So so many ways, products, techniques etc. to do what you want I won’t even really respond. You might want to give us some idea of what you have at your disposal for tools and equipment. That way you won’t get directed towards a solution that would cause you to need to spend a bunch of $ to reach your goal.

Maybe a few more close ups of the top and legs. Guaranteed the answers and expertise you want are already here. You just need to come up with a game plan based on your comfort level and tools then go with it.

IMHO, whatever you do, don’t do anything to that top before practicing on scrap. If the top is easily separated from the base you might consider flipping it over and doing the underside as a test piece. You can sand, strip, stain, start over to your hearts delight on the underside. Then and only then work on the top.

Good luck. Looking forward to seeing this posted as your first project.

Again, welcome to lj’s.

-- Andy - Seattle USA

View Rich's profile

Rich

5001 posts in 1131 days


#2 posted 07-09-2017 04:08 AM

Yes, lots of photos. The top looks like the wear is uneven. How big is that split that runs horizontally in the photo? At least it looks like a split. Also, what’s up with the chair? Is that torn upholstery? It looks like I’m seeing upholstery, with horsehair peeking out around the tears.

Hard to tell without detailed photos.

View Woodknack's profile

Woodknack

12928 posts in 2922 days


#3 posted 07-09-2017 04:58 AM

If it’s solid wood and all the same wood species, scrape and sand it down to bare wood and refinish. If it’s veneer or mixed species of wood, my suggestion would be leave it alone. (Or scuff sand and put on a coat of clear waterbase polyurethane)

-- Rick M, http://thewoodknack.blogspot.com/

View Rich's profile

Rich

5001 posts in 1131 days


#4 posted 07-09-2017 05:11 AM



If it s solid wood and all the same wood species, scrape and sand it down to bare wood and refinish. If it s veneer or mixed species of wood, my suggestion would be leave it alone. (Or scuff sand and put on a coat of clear waterbase polyurethane)

- Rick M

Waterborne poly? She said she’s plastic-averse. Andy and I asked for more info, which I think makes more sense than firing off a paint-by-numbers solution that doesn’t even comport with the original post.

View jonah's profile

jonah

2091 posts in 3841 days


#5 posted 07-09-2017 11:20 AM

If we’re being technical, polyurethane is not a plastic.

View CharlesNeil's profile

CharlesNeil

2499 posts in 4413 days


#6 posted 07-09-2017 01:07 PM

i agree more photos are needed ..

View Rich's profile

Rich

5001 posts in 1131 days


#7 posted 07-09-2017 01:15 PM


If we re being technical, polyurethane is not a plastic.

- jonah

OK. I wasn’t being technical though. Look at the context it’s used in the original post and you might get a clue.

Besides, since Charles is getting involved, I’m going to just sit back and learn from the expert.

View MzWhitney's profile

MzWhitney

9 posts in 864 days


#8 posted 07-09-2017 06:36 PM

Hey, thanks for responding!

After spending some hours going down the rabbithole, I’m finding myself less keen on using something like tung or danish oil – I live in an apartment, so this work will either be done in my small kitchen where I’ll have to smell whatever I use, or in the yard, where I won’t be able to leave it out overnight.

While in theory, I don’t mind putting time into the project, lugging this beast of a tabletop in and out of the yard will be a challenge.

I think that I will stain it, because the wood is a little light for my liking. Probably not as dark as the original finish, though. I remain intrigued by rub-on oil or wax finishes, but it just seems like they take forever.

Seeing a lot of differing opinions on Minwax wipe on poly, but that might be what I lean towards. I would like something that doesn’t end up looking “plasticky” for want of a better word.

Thanks again!

Here are some more pictures (sorry, they all get displayed in landscape mode, I’m not sure how to fix that).

A closer look at the table top. The wear is indeed, very uneven. That split is where it opens up to accommodate up to 3 extra leaves.

Here’s one of the leaves to compare the finish on a less worn piece:

The top is made up of strips about 3” wide, some with quite contrasting grains. Not sure if the dark/light contrast is a result of some stain still clinging to the wood. My mother suggested using paint thinner or mineral spirits after stripping to get rid of those last bits of stain.

A closer view of the legs:

And the chair:

The seat is covered with leather that appears to be padded with actual grass (?)

View chrisstef's profile

chrisstef

17974 posts in 3548 days


#9 posted 07-09-2017 06:48 PM

If odor is a concern i would scrape the old finish off with a card scraper, sand with 180 and 220, apply a coat of waterbased dye then either top coat with water based poly or shellac. Finish off with some paste wax.

But first id listen (intently) to whatever Charles had to say.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View MzWhitney's profile

MzWhitney

9 posts in 864 days


#10 posted 07-09-2017 06:59 PM

As a point of curiosity, if anyone can tell me what style / how old it might be.

It has this sticker on the bottom.

I was able to find out that the Victoriaville Furniture Company was known under that name from 1903 until 1920, when it was changed to the Victoriaville Furniture Company Ltd. Since there’s no “Ltd” on the sticker, I’m gathering it was from the aforementioned time frame. The only good company history I was able to find is in French:

http://www.shgv.ca/archives/Meubles/meuble01.htm

View MzWhitney's profile

MzWhitney

9 posts in 864 days


#11 posted 07-09-2017 07:00 PM


If odor is a concern i would scrape the old finish off with a card scraper, sand with 180 and 220, apply a coat of waterbased dye then either top coat with water based poly or shellac. Finish off with some paste wax.

But first id listen (intently) to whatever Charles had to say.

- chrisstef

Thanks. I’m not sure I have the stamina to take of the finish without solvent. :) But if I could do that step outside and the rest inside, I think that could be a reasonable compromise!

View jonah's profile

jonah

2091 posts in 3841 days


#12 posted 07-09-2017 08:02 PM

My go-to finish for most stuff is General Finishes Arm-R-Seal. It is easy to apply and looks fantastic. However, it is not water based and tends to take a while to dry. It certainly won’t let you get 3-4 coats done in a day the way Shellac or some water-based finishes will.

Arm-R-Seal is an oil/varnish blend similar to the wipe-on-poly you mentioned. In my opinion the finish you get out of it is far, far superior to Minwax. Check out Marc Spagnuolo’s recent comparison for a more detailed look.

http://www.thewoodwhisperer.com/videos/wiping-varnish-shootout/

View MzWhitney's profile

MzWhitney

9 posts in 864 days


#13 posted 07-09-2017 08:28 PM



i agree more photos are needed ..

- CharlesNeil

Lots more posted now. Seems you’re “the man” around here, so I’d love to hear your thoughts. ;)

View Andybb's profile

Andybb

2171 posts in 1146 days


#14 posted 07-10-2017 05:41 PM

To restart the conversation,

So, now that we’ve had a better look and a better understanding of your situation….Pizza or porcelain? Do you want this table to sit in a high traffic area where it gets used daily and keys get thrown on it and pizza and beer at night? Or is it going to be away from all that and have a porcelain vase on it and people come in and look at it and wouldn’t dare put anything on it. Two different projects. Sounds like you want to do the first and most practical? To “restore” it would be a months long painstaking process. Especially those chairs. The legs, base and chairs don’t appear to be oak are they?

Here’s my suggestion for option 1 (pizza)...
Plan on using water based finishes. You can do that indoors if you need to. Oil or water outside will get “stuff and bugs” in it.
1. Like someone said you could lightly scuff sand the base and chairs. Then you could use a combination stain and poly on them.
2. Use foam and fabric to replace the grass and leather.
3. If you don’t already have one, go to Harbor Freight and buy the $29 random orbit sander and use the 20% off coupon and a pack each of 80,120&220 grit paper to do the top.
4. Sand the top (if you have the leaves you might as well do then too) from 80-220. Then decide if you want to stain it. Again, a one step stain/poly would work and be quick.

That’s my suggestion for the down and dirty weekend warrior refurbish. As I said, option 2, “restore” is an entirely different animal. And in between you have, again, so many options it will make your head spin.

I’m sure many will disagree with me and offer other suggestions but that’s what the forum is for. :-)

-- Andy - Seattle USA

View JCamp's profile

JCamp

1009 posts in 1093 days


#15 posted 07-10-2017 09:33 PM

Question… do u want it to look like new or do u want a nice clean antique look?
If u want it to look new then completely strip An sand An probably some sort of gloss finish
If u want it to still look older then lightly sand (leave the dark grain -oak has “deep” grain it’s just a feature of the wood) and take a scrapper (I use a utility knife blade) to take the finish off the legs then lightly sand. Then I’d wipe with something like a butcher block oil (my mom always used baby oil on EVERYTHING) to seal and add a shine
I’d work on one piece at a time verses everything at once. It’s a little less overwhelming that way
For padding on ur chairs I would suggest either taking it somewhere to hav it redone or watch a lot of YouTube vids
Also I found the grass padding really cool. I’ve never seen that before

-- Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might

View MzWhitney's profile

MzWhitney

9 posts in 864 days


#16 posted 07-10-2017 11:22 PM

Thanks for the replies J and Andy.

Andy, as much as I romanticize a “porcelain” life, the current state is far more “pizza and beer” :) It’s definitely a piece that will be used daily and practically.

I don’t think any of you will convince me not to use a stripper! The current finish is so inconsistently damaged and gross. I can’t imagine how long it would take me to sand it all off, even if I could borrow a power sander from someone. My arms would fall off if I tried without one.

Given that I have 3 leaves that I will probably never use (not in the apartment I have now, anyway), I’ll start with those for sure to test things out.

Definitely still intrigued by using some kind of oil on the top. I mean, if it really doesn’t work out, there are these things called tablecloths ;) This is going to be a learning project, not a perfection project.

Re-covering the seats is actually the easiest step in my mind – but that’s because I work with fabrics all the time. I made a leather-covered foam-based horse head for Cirque du Soleil once. Chair seats should be a breeze. :)

Keep it coming! Even if I ignore all your advice, I like to hear it! ;)

View JCamp's profile

JCamp

1009 posts in 1093 days


#17 posted 07-11-2017 12:41 AM

Well ur starting off with a really good project. Being that old it’s likely all wood and not veneer which can be sanded through. Walmart sells a 1/4 sheet sander for about $15 Its red I don’t know the name brand but it does good. Plus if it gives out ur not out much. So for $25 u could get lots of sand paper and a sander. I’m not a fan of chemicals to strip stuff but to each his/her own but plan on doing it outside and mayb with a mask too. By the time you get finished you’ll know what ur doing…. then on to learning the next project and it’ll b different and you’ll need to learn new stuff for it too. Lol

-- Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might

View MzWhitney's profile

MzWhitney

9 posts in 864 days


#18 posted 07-11-2017 01:13 AM

I usually do all of my personal “stripping” indoors wink wink, but when it comes to chemicals, yes that would certainly be an outdoor endeavour – probably the only step I’ll try to do fully outdoors.

Good to know you can get a sander with more power than my arms for a reasonable price – I don’t mind investing a bit in tools I’ll use again, and that would be one. I’m a pretty infrequent woodworker, but hand-sanding is a real bitch for my strength level, especially given the fact that I’m totally uncoordinated using my left hand! We do have a tool-share in Montreal, so that’s also an option. I’m just not sure I’d do a great job on those curvy legs and crevices in the chairs with sanding only. And as much as I want to use more “natural” finishing techniques, it’s kinda fun to watch gummy old finish turn into goop. :)

View JackDuren's profile

JackDuren

501 posts in 1502 days


#19 posted 07-11-2017 01:30 AM

If you had a location maybe a close woodworker could help you out…

State?

View Andybb's profile

Andybb

2171 posts in 1146 days


#20 posted 07-11-2017 02:24 AM

Hand sanding is a bitch for everybody. Yes. By all means if you’re going to try and get the chairs and legs down to bare wood then use stripper. You might try a green or gray scotch brite pad on them after the stripper.
The citrus stripper works well and is easy on the nose. The sander is mainly for the top whether you strip it or not. Sand the top to 220. Any finer and the general consensus is that it hinders the wood er the stripper.absorbing whatever the finish is.
Great that you can do the seats. Save those leaves if not for family gatherings then for future projects.

Sounds like you’ve got some direction now. Can’t wait to see the finished product.

-- Andy - Seattle USA

View MzWhitney's profile

MzWhitney

9 posts in 864 days


#21 posted 07-11-2017 02:26 AM

Jack, I’m in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, as I’ve made reference to several times. Not to be a shit, just saying :) Also a challenge/consideration when hunting down common American products.

View MzWhitney's profile

MzWhitney

9 posts in 864 days


#22 posted 07-11-2017 02:35 AM

Thanks Andy! I’ll be sure to take lots of process photos and post a project at the end of it all! I’ve read that the citrus stripper doesn’t work so good. Given that I plan to do that step outdoors (easy to manage that piece by piece), I give zero shits about smells.

The top will certainly be the last and most precious step, though I’m comforted by the fact that I have a very nice piece of fabric to cover it with. Kinda wanna try to “oilcloth” it with linseed oil too, but that’s another subject for another forum!

If all else fails….(I’m only about 50% hippie, honestly. Yes, those are weeds as a centrepiece.)

View Rich's profile

Rich

5001 posts in 1131 days


#23 posted 07-11-2017 05:36 AM

For what it’s worth, I’m with you on the stripper. I had an early 19th century china cabinet that had the sort of finish left on it that resembles your photo. It had less wear since it wasn’t a surface that was used like a tabletop, but nevertheless, it wasn’t the hard sort of finish that you could sand. I can only imagine trying to sand it and replacing clogged sheets every two minutes.

The suggestion above to use grey non-woven pads is probably a good one, but you’ll figure it out when you get going.

The chair seats will be easy. I still channel The Furniture Guys’ chant of horsehaaiiirrr, even when I use foam. But I’m a geek, so what else would you expect?

P.S. Instead of pizza, I’d rather have a nice Montreal smoked meat on rye with a thick schmear of spicy mustard. But that’s just me.

View Woodknack's profile

Woodknack

12928 posts in 2922 days


#24 posted 07-11-2017 08:27 AM


...but hand-sanding is a real bitch …

- MzWhitney

Nothing wrong with chemical stripper. A scraper will still remove the bulk of finish faster than anything else. Oil is okay too but it provides next to zero protection and dining tables take more abuse than most other tables. I suggested waterbase poly because it’s easy to apply and low odor but you could also use oil base varnish or lacquer. Oil alone will be disappointing in the long run unless you are very careful.

-- Rick M, http://thewoodknack.blogspot.com/

View jonah's profile

jonah

2091 posts in 3841 days


#25 posted 07-11-2017 10:39 AM

Oil is fine on lighter used items, but people beat the crap out of table tops. That’s why you see tough finishes applied to them most often.

View OSU55's profile

OSU55

2447 posts in 2532 days


#26 posted 07-12-2017 04:23 PM

Oil based poly for a table top. How its applied determines how it ends up ( doesnt have to have a thick film and look like plastic). Hers some info on oil, poly, etc. I would absolutely use chemical stripper. While scraping works well on flat surfaces, curves are more difficult and time consuming. Scraping or sandinding after the stripper will be needed, if you want a new look. If you want an antique look, dont scrape or sand. Best to use steel wool or scotchbrite to preserve the patina.

View OSU55's profile

OSU55

2447 posts in 2532 days


#27 posted 07-13-2017 02:07 PM

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