Help with deciding to stain or not to stain

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Forum topic by Splatkat posted 05-11-2021 10:02 PM 418 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 411 days

05-11-2021 10:02 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question dresser stain

Hello, I’m a novice in rehabbing furniture. I have this lovely dresser and want to know the best approach for refinishing the wood.
It’s in good shape and doesn’t seem to need to much repair.

I used denatured alcohol to remove the finish and the wood underneath is a nice color, though a little uneven in places. I can’t decide if I should apply a new stain to even out the color, or just leave as is and apply a new top coat? Polyacrylic or something else?

I did not denature the fan motif yet because I didn’t want to mess up,the decoration. I think it might just need a good cleaning. Any advice welcome!

9 replies so far

View JohnDi's profile


92 posts in 2925 days

#1 posted 05-11-2021 10:35 PM

Since it was originally finished in shellac, I would try a coat of amber shellac and see what you think. Then finish with a poly or oil poly blend. I believe that the above order of application ( poly over shellac) is not recommended as the shellac is a softer finish than the poly, but I have never had an issue. I have pieces that I finished 10 years ago and they still look great.

View Foghorn's profile


1530 posts in 878 days

#2 posted 05-11-2021 10:35 PM

It’s likely shellac if alcohol removed the old finish. I would leave it and use shellac again.

-- Darrel

View SMP's profile


5382 posts in 1397 days

#3 posted 05-11-2021 11:38 PM

You could mix up your own garnet shellac from flakes. That would give it a nice warm tone, subtly even things out a bit. And if you don’t like it just remove with DNA.

View Bob Gnann's profile

Bob Gnann

143 posts in 1164 days

#4 posted 05-12-2021 03:09 AM

Beautiful woods. Me, personally, I wouldn’t stain because once you do that you’ve changed the original colors possibly for good. Staining and finishing are two different things. You have removed the finish with denatured alcohol so that step is done. Maybe very light sanding with very fine sand paper to prep the wood. Using poly or poly/oil finishes tends to be difficult to reverse if you don’t like the final result. Try this on a small area that you can sand clean if you don’t like the finish. I’ve used poly on many new builds. On an older piece like this I like the suggestions above or maybe lacquer.
And I’d finish in satin, not gloss or semi gloss. Just my 2 cents!

-- Bob Gnann. "Don't cloud the issue with facts.". Groucho Marx

View LittleShaver's profile


782 posts in 2111 days

#5 posted 05-12-2021 09:44 AM

Shellac would be my choice. You can adjust the sheen to your own taste and let the wood shine through.

-- Sawdust Maker

View OnhillWW's profile


344 posts in 2723 days

#6 posted 05-12-2021 12:09 PM

My 2 cents, a big no to stain or poly. A big yes to a satin to near flat sheen. Go at it a few more times with alcohol then 320 or higher paper or grey nonwoven pads (3M). Consider a finish like OSMO. BTW – that’s a really nice dresser!

-- Cheap is expensive! - my Dad

View Lazyman's profile


9753 posts in 2878 days

#7 posted 05-12-2021 12:33 PM

Any pictures before you stripped it? Were the colors that uneven before stripping? Does that unevenness change or does the color lift if you wipe it again with alcohol. It kind of looks like pine or some other softwood which can sometimes be a a little splotchy, though without seeing what it looked like before you started, that may have been the intended look of this piece.

I too would just stick with shellac. Since it is not a table, it doesn’t really need more protection than that. Even with tables, I have refinished 60 year old mid-century modern tables that had shellac that actually held up quite well and currently have one that old that needs no refinishing at all. Mixing your own garnet shellac from flakes as mentioned above is a good choice if you want to darken the overall tone a bit. Another option is to add some Transtint dye to the shellac to adjust the tone a little. I discovered when refinishing a badly abused mid-century table and chairs that had a shellac finish that they must have use a tinted shellac instead of a staining the wood. Once I cleaned off the old shellac on the chairs’ arms, it went back to the original color which turned out to be white oak. I thought the arms were walnut before I stripped them.

As noted, if you do stain it, you modify the color forever so make sure you really want to go down that path before you do that.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View Splatkat's profile


2 posts in 411 days

#8 posted 05-12-2021 12:45 PM

Thanks so much for the suggestions! Here’s a pic of what it looks like before the alcohol.
I will definitely look at doing a tinted shellac. I’m a real novice, so I didn’t know that was an option.

For the fan motif, I’m worried the alcohol might take off too much color or alter it beyond my ability to repair. It isn’t engraved as it looks in the photo, but is just a trick of shading with the shellac or dyes.

Many thanks again!

View SMP's profile


5382 posts in 1397 days

#9 posted 05-12-2021 01:53 PM

Here are the ones I use, Rockler sells but is out of stock. Keep in mind that if you want to topcoat the shellac, DO NOT get these, instead get De-waxed shellac flakes from somewhere like Highland Woodworking or Tools For Working Wood, etc.

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