How does one go about this..

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Forum topic by superstretch posted 05-24-2012 03:00 PM 1505 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1531 posts in 3255 days

05-24-2012 03:00 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

I’m sure we’ve all run across old furniture (dressers, for instance) that is most likely veneered where scratches, dings, and wear have left lighter spots. What exactly do furniture makers use to finish these pieces.. and how would one go about restoring it?

-- Dan, Rochester, NY

10 replies so far

View Brandon's profile


4152 posts in 3513 days

#1 posted 05-24-2012 03:08 PM

I am by no means an expert at restoring antique furniture, but if it were me, I’d probably take a scraper to the veneer to try to get a clean surface. I think that’d work better than trying to sand it.

Or you can buy one of those Minwax Stain pens. ;-)

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View chrisstef's profile


17984 posts in 3568 days

#2 posted 05-24-2012 03:08 PM

Ive got some stuff called white ring remover … i have no idea if it would touch anything of that vintage though. Its probably best for when your uncle slaps down his hot cup of coffe onyour table without a coaster kinda deal. You may have to gently scrape it.

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

View AJLastra's profile


87 posts in 2790 days

#3 posted 05-24-2012 03:10 PM

ok. Lets start with first things first. Try to determine what the original finish is. Take a small amount of denatured alcohol and on a not too noticeable spot, dabs some on. after abouit fifteen minutes, if the spot is sticky, then the finish is likely shellac. If it feels dry and not sticky, do the same thing with lacquer thinner. If the spot is now sticky, then the finish is lacquer. If neither of these produces a sticky spot, then take a sharp razor blade and drag it lightly across the surface of the wood. If what you see is white flakes, then the finish is varnish. I wont even consider polyurethane depending on how old the piece is. Once you determine what the original finish is, you need to decide how you’re going to take that finish off. Without actually being able to lay my hands on the piece, its hard to see from the photos whether the wood is solid or veneer. I’ll be right back with more info.

View AJLastra's profile


87 posts in 2790 days

#4 posted 05-24-2012 03:26 PM

Ok. If what you’re dealing with is veneer, then hard sanding is out of the question. I would use stripper in small sections of the top instead of applying it all over the piece to see how it reacts to the substrate. From what I see in the photos, refinishing rather than trying to spot repair this top is the way to go. Once you get that old finish off and the veneer, hopefully, stays in stable shape, then its a matter of coloring matching and sealing the surface before you topcoat it again. Seal with dewaxed shellac. If you’ve spot tested as mentioned before with denatured alcohol, etc, then use that solvent initially to clean the surface or remove as mush of the top layer of the finish as you can. Let if dry then use stripper as mentioned.

View Earlextech's profile


1162 posts in 3252 days

#5 posted 05-24-2012 03:34 PM

Odds are it’s lacquer.
AJLastra is correct in a procedure to figure out what it is. So do that.
I would strip the piece using Soy Gel. Sand to 320, stain it, dewaxed shellac (one coat), sand to 400 then top coat.
Easy, right, all in one sentence. I’ve done dozens of these, dumpster finds, over the years. I remember my first one when I was about 7 and my parents took me to the local dump to get rid of stuff but we came out of there with a headboard bookshelf that after mom cleaned and painted it I used for about 10 years. My favorite one was a tiger oak 5 drawer chest that I found standing next to a dumpster. After refinishing my family has used it for over 20 years.

-- Sam Hamory - The project is never finished until its "Finished"!

View Doss's profile


779 posts in 2826 days

#6 posted 05-24-2012 03:43 PM

I have used scrapers successfully on most restore projects I have undertaken.

If it’s veneer, don’t sand it or you’ll probably burn through it.

-- "Well, at least we can still use it as firewood... maybe." - Doss

View AJLastra's profile


87 posts in 2790 days

#7 posted 05-24-2012 03:53 PM

Earlex “Easy, right, all in one sentence.” I concur.

View superstretch's profile


1531 posts in 3255 days

#8 posted 05-24-2012 06:58 PM

Thanks for the info, everyone. It was an auction find ($5 for a dresser set and a bed frame, all matching). I gave them to my sister as part of their wedding present (they needed some cheap dressers) but I wanted to be able to fix them up if they wanted to keep them for longer than a year or so.

Thanks again!

-- Dan, Rochester, NY

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 3338 days

#9 posted 05-24-2012 07:06 PM

I would get a new piece of mahogony plywood and a few stips for the edges and make a new top. No muss, no fuss.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View Tennessee's profile


2901 posts in 3076 days

#10 posted 05-24-2012 07:07 PM

After twelve years of doing that work, I’d almost guarantee that is veneer. AJ has the right idea. Strip it off a little at a time, doing only the top. With the right paste stripper, you can apply to an area about the size of a coaster, and every three-four minutes scrap it to a new spot. It will work longer than you think. You may find yourself having to strip the whole thing, especially if you get a little on the sides. Recoloring is a bit of a crap shoot if you don’t strip the sides. There is a chance you might find some of the veneer in an odd spot, as a lot of the factories used leftover stock for things like drawer bottoms and such. If not, you have about 1/32 of an inch to play with on that veneer so leave all the rough and medium sandpaper on the other side of the room. NO power sanders. After stripping it, lightly run over it with 320, then 400, possibly 000 steel wool, stain with a clear oil stain like Minwax, and finish lightly with either shellac or possibly a clear lacquer.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

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