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I am refinishing an oak table for a friend. It has been stained and given a few coats of Watco oil. I let the last coat of oil dry about 7-8 days before starting the varnish. Each coat has left "dimples", areas where I have observed the smooth varnish pull away and form a dimple. There are no dimples where the grain is nice and tight, but only where the grain seems to open up. I just put on the fourth coat, hoping they would fill in, but I watched the smooth surface give way as the varnish actually pulled away and left a depression. This is only the second time I have used varnish, the first was on a cherry table and I had no such problems. Any suggestions? Any fixes? Prevention for the future? Thanks in advance.
 

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It sounds like the varnish is sinking into the oak pores. Best way to prevent that is fill the pores before finishing.

- Rick M.
We have a winner.
The finish is sinking into the pores. Either keep adding layers of finish and sanding back or fill the pores prior to finishing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Bondogaposis, Yes, I did sand down to bare wood.
Rick and RRBOU, I was wondering if that was the problem, but figured I should ask anyway. Thanks for the help.
 

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You can fill the pores with the varnish, but it's a slow process. Give it 3-4 coats, let dry several days (at least, I usually wait 7) sand it back, check for the depressions. If they are still some, repeat the process. I just finished doing this on a WO table top and it took 3 repeats, and 3 weeks.But it works really well, the surface looks like glass. Oh, I should mention: before I started the above I slurry sanded the top with danish oil (twice) to get a jump on the pore filling.
 

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The pores will eventually fill. It is a long, slow process with solvent varnishes if it is used to fill the pores. There are some clear pore fillers that are waterbased but I think would be compatible on top of dry watco and under poly or other varnish, like Crystalac. I much prefer a waterborne poly that can be sprayed for a fully filled finish - film build goes much faster, although curing/shrinking is about the same. The longer you can let the finish sit before final smoothing and polishing the better. 30 days during the summer is minimum for me, add at least a week in winter. Otherwise, imperfections from finish cure/shrinkage start showing through after a month or 2.
 
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