Guidance needed for refinish of two sentimental items.

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Forum topic by FzCruzer posted 02-13-2019 01:41 AM 673 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View FzCruzer's profile


6 posts in 391 days

02-13-2019 01:41 AM

Hello all,

I have been reading and learning from all of you as I venture into woodworking. I have two furniture pieces that I would like some guidance on, the first one is a headboard and footboard that was my Great Grandmothers.

As far as we know, the bed is from the 30’s or 40’s. It has been stored for decades in extreme temperature swings, from below freezing to over 100 degrees, overall it is in pretty good shape considering.

The footboard glue joints are loose and both the footboard and headboard have scares from use and storage. We do not want it to look new, but would like to re-finish it in a way that the scratches from storage and neglect are fixed, but the character, Knicks here and there remain.

I plan to clean the pieces, disassemble and re-glue the loose joints, and apply a finish.

From the pictures, can you tell what finish might have been used, and if I need to remove the entire old finish to apply the new one?

Any and all guidance would be appreciated. I will add the next piece of furniture to this thread after this one is done. Think it will be more of a challenge for me.

17 replies so far

View Aj2's profile


2484 posts in 2307 days

#1 posted 02-13-2019 02:24 AM

You probably should remove as much as you can of the old finish. Unfortunately your going to have to use a chemical stripper. Get the good strong stuff not that eco friendly stuff.
Use thick chemical gloves ,eye protection good ventilation and green scotch brute pad.
Get as much off as you can then wash with water and sand litely with 220 . Look for the sandy spongy things they sell now. There’s great for round stuff.
You’ll be ready for a new finish in no time at all.
Sounds simple right.
Don’t you even think about staining it give the real wood color a chance to shine.
Good luck

-- Aj

View SMP's profile


1392 posts in 414 days

#2 posted 02-13-2019 06:27 AM

Hmm, i’d be kind of torn on something sentimental like that. On one hand I would like to restore out of my nature, that would be using chemical stripper and stripping pads, sanding refinishing from scratch. But then it would be more like a new/rebuilt piece.
The sentimental side of me would probably win and slap some Feed-n-wax on it and fix the glue joints with syringes and have it more like a true antique with all its character.

View ChefHDAN's profile


1458 posts in 3358 days

#3 posted 02-13-2019 01:54 PM

I’ve done a fair bit of refinishing of older pieces and I’ve learned that Denatured Alcohol is the best place to start. Shellac was a very common finish then, test the alcohol on the finish on a lower hidden rail, I’ll bet a beer it’s shellac, and will melt off. Keep in mind the alcohol is crazy flammable so no smoking or fire juggling while doing this, also be sure to let your rags dry flat before disposal.

If you’ve got lots of loose glue joints then now is the time to go ahead and knock things apart & re-glue them. Most furniture of that era is assembled with hide glue, which you can soften with a heat gun if some are still holding on. Be careful if a joint is particularly stubborn, sometimes a “handy-man” tries to fix a loose joint with a finish nail and you’ll need to see if you can locate the head and extract with vise grips.

Once it’s all apart, use denatured alcohol to clean each piece. As the finish dissolves it’ll start to get sticky and best practice is to use alcohol wet towels to wipe away the finish, if you try to keep using the same rag too long the alcohol evaporates and you’re left with the sticky shellac mess.

After the cleaning glue and clamp it back up. If there are lots of scratches etc, you can either try to find a close stain match to cover, or, go with a darker one to let the scratches be “character” ;-)... Final finish is your choice, I tend to spray WB poly, but that is often a heavy debate topic here, but I’ve got kids and have learned over the years that it’s strong and I’ve never had to refinish a poly finish, even after a nail polish debacle from my girls on the kitchen table. For your piece, a wipe on poly would be a fairly easy and durable finish to consider.

-- I've decided 1 mistake is really 2 opportunities to learn.. learn how to fix it... and learn how to not repeat it

View ArtMann's profile


1435 posts in 1325 days

#4 posted 02-13-2019 03:34 PM

I have refinished a lot of furniture like that but it was out of necessity rather than for sentimental value. My recommendation is the same as that of ChefHDAN with the exception that I would use a solvent based finish.

View JohnDi's profile


76 posts in 1943 days

#5 posted 02-13-2019 03:48 PM

A great resource for learning about refinishing is Thomas Johnson on YouTube.
I agree that you should start by trying denatured alcohol to see if it was finished with shellac. If so, it will be fairly easy to remove.
Wait until you have it reassembled and the finish removed before deciding whether to stain the whole thing or just touch it up.
I have used Arm R Seal satin as a finish for pieces I have refinished and like the results.
Good luck and post some pics!

View LittleShaver's profile


586 posts in 1128 days

#6 posted 02-13-2019 03:56 PM

+1 on ChefHDAN. A thorough cleaning may change your mind on the need to apply a new finish. I’d also recommend that if you find the original top coat was shellac, stick with shellac for your new topcoat. A bed does not get the heavy wear that a table or chair gets and therefore should not need a bullet proof finish.

I’m a big fan of shellac in all honesty. Easy to apply, any sheen you want, and repairable. My preferred finish on all but tables and chairs or food contact items.

-- Sawdust Maker

View FzCruzer's profile


6 posts in 391 days

#7 posted 02-13-2019 04:03 PM

Thank you very much for all the information. To add to my lack of experience, I am on somewhat of a deadline to get this item in usable form. I hope to have it ready to use by the end of this coming three day weekend.

I am going to clean the bed real well with soap and water to remove the dirt and really see what the finish looks like. Then will take the loose glue joints apart, carefully using a heat gun, test the use of alcohol on the back of the headboard to see how the finish reacts. Depending on how that goes, may need to move up to a stripper. Once the finish is removed, decide on a stain and finish to use that closely matches the original color.

If a glue joint seems solid, should I leave it alone or try and pull it apart and re-glue anyway?

I do not want to refinish it in a way that the bed look new, dings and such are okay but would like to remove the obvious scratches that were caused by being in storage.

View OSU55's profile


2404 posts in 2498 days

#8 posted 02-13-2019 04:49 PM

I would not use soap and water – puts water into the wood thru all the nicks and scratches. Use min spirits. Test the finish with solvents – alcohol its shellac, lacquer thinner its lacquer, acetone, mek and others for crosslinked finishes, a web search will provide details.

Ive done many pieces like yours. Good info above on breaking old glue joints. Do not use sandpaper, it cuts through the patina of the original finish, ruining it IMO. You want to dissolve the old finish. I prefer a liquid stripper vs the gel type which is a pita to remove. Once you find the solvent that will soften the finish, use steel wool or scotchbrite and rub till it comes off. There is also a product called refinisher that is a mix of volatile solvents will is used the same way. Again, no water or sandpaper.

As final prep for finish, you can use 600-800 gr very lightly if needed, but steel wool or scothbrite is best if it gets the prep done. Finish as you like. Shellac is good but is tough to wipe or brush. My preference is poly thinned 1:1 with dye added for the color, apply like danish oil. The packaged danish oil is ok, but has pigment vs dye and is soft. Both my poly method and the danish oil method are easily repaired with adding another coat.

View ChefHDAN's profile


1458 posts in 3358 days

#9 posted 02-15-2019 01:56 PM


If a glue joint seems solid, should I leave it alone or try and pull it apart and re-glue anyway?

I do not want to refinish it in a way that the bed look new, dings and such are okay but would like to remove the obvious scratches that were caused by being in storage.
- FzCruzer

OSU is right, don’t go with soap & water, if there is a lot of dirt etc. coating it, use a damp rag but don’t go in there with a wet scrub brush, especially if you’re not going to have days to let it dry.

With a piece that age that already has failed joints, I would seriously try to get all open to reglue it all now, rather than being finished and finding that one of the joints is now loose. It can be very difficult to get modern glues to release after cure.

OSU has listed the other solvents to try, but I’m still willing to bet that beer that it’s shellac. When ever I’ve hit the wall and had to go to stripper, I use a product called KrudKutter that you can get at HD. It’s a thin liquid that is easy to use in a wipe on wipe off method. I generally will find a bottle or can in the recycling bin to pour some out into and use a piece of green scotchbrite to gently scrub away a stubborn finish and then follow with a wipe to remove the waste.

OSU’s poly trick could be just the ticket for getting a finish done this weekend, the bit of dye will accent the dings and scratches as character and put your finish on all at the same time.

Good Luck

-- I've decided 1 mistake is really 2 opportunities to learn.. learn how to fix it... and learn how to not repeat it

View FzCruzer's profile


6 posts in 391 days

#10 posted 02-15-2019 03:39 PM

Thanks for all the info. Have been reading up on repairing and replacing a shellac finish, along with the guidance provided here. Hope to get started this evening and see how it goes, will update along the way.

View dhazelton's profile


2839 posts in 2805 days

#11 posted 02-15-2019 04:52 PM

Reglue the loose joints. Clean the wood with 0000 steel wool dipped in someting like Goop or Gojo handcleaner (non pumice) and wipe clean with a paper towel. Then polish with paste wax or the Feed-n-wax as mentioned above.

View FzCruzer's profile


6 posts in 391 days

#12 posted 02-15-2019 10:34 PM

So I got home from work a bit early today and started on the bed. After wiping it down with mineral spirits, taking the joints apart and re-gluing, I think I just want to apply the feed-n-wax and be done with it. Over all it cleaned up pretty nice and I don’t want to alter the finish too much. The above pictures were taken only after cleaning.

Was trying to show in the close up pictures the only area that I would like to fix. It is a pretty deep scratch, probably from being stored. Think I am going to leave it and not risk making a blotchy repair. Hoping it might not show as bad after waxing.

View OSU55's profile


2404 posts in 2498 days

#13 posted 02-16-2019 01:14 AM

You could wipe that scratch with the dye liquid part of a typical stain and reduce how noticeable it is. Similar to the “Old English” product. Ive done it on furniture just like you have there. IMO you want it to end up just slightly darker than the finish, unless you get lucky and can match it. If you have already waxed it, clean with ms and wipe it on. There are also stain pens available that do the same. Apply wax when dry.

View FzCruzer's profile


6 posts in 391 days

#14 posted 02-25-2019 12:04 AM

Want to thank you all for the information that you provided. The bed turned out just about what we wanted and Mom was very happy. Delivered I to her over the weekend, put a nice mattress set on it and she is thrilled.

Moving on to the second piece that I am working on, post pictures in next post.

View FzCruzer's profile


6 posts in 391 days

#15 posted 02-25-2019 12:11 AM

This desk was my Grandfathers, he used the desk to study throughout his childhood and beyond. We believe it to of been made in the 20’s. Kind of the same thing as the bed, we would like to restore the desk to be able to use it but not totally restore it to new condition.

As you can see many glue joints have let go and the top is warped. Going to clean it up using mineral spirits to get all the gunk off and take it abart to fix the glue joints. Not sure what to do about the warped top (if anything) and how to restore the finish to an acceptable condition. Any guidance would appreciated.


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