I've been rebuilding a old solid red oak table that was in terrible
condition. All the hide glue joints had failed so that rather than have a
top I had ten bowed, warped and twisted boards. Even the laminated legs had
to be glued back together. I also had to make some new parts to replace
those missing or broken in the extension-leave sub-structure. Anyhow, I'm at
the point where it's time to sand, this after using scrapers to remove what
remained of the finish. It has become painfully obvious that if I sand it
enough to remove all the finish from the pores that the table will shrink!
I'm not sure what the original finish was as it was in terrible condition.
However, from what I can tell, the table's defects were filled with
Plaster-of-Paris and then the whole table stained and a fairly thick finish
applied--varnish?? Clearly a stain will be needed to even out the color as
there were water and sun damaged areas and filler was needed to repair
The books I have on finishing deal with new work. I'm not sure what I can
use for the stain and finish given the fact that old finish will remain in
the pores. Suggestions?
I posted a picture of the table in it's original state on ABPW under the
subject "oak table restoration refinishing" so you can get an idea of just
how bad things were. When it's done I'll post a before and after set of
On Thu, 3 Jun 2004 21:42:18 -0400, "John Grossbohlin"
This is an interesting problem.
My first thought would be to apply a barrier coat of shellac.
I don't know if you have access to a spray gun, but the following will
work with a brush, although your touch must be delicate.
I would use a dye stain, such as TransTint and put it into a thinned
shellac mixture. The stain should be of a color that is a bit less
than the lightest shade of brown, or yellowish-brown in the wood that
makes up the table.
When you have established your base level of color, you can begin to
I would try a second coat of the thinned mixture, using the same
concentration as the first coat. If that does not even things out
(and I don't mean that it looks totally uniform, but that you have a
more or less uniform background color, as close to the lightest shade
of the existing wood as possible, to base the rest of your finish on)
then make up a mix that goes towards the middle color of the piece -
and apply it in a well thinned mixture. This coat whould not attempt
to be uniform, but should follow along the grain, almost in streaks.
If you own a graining comb, this would be the time to use it. If not,
an almost dry brush should be tipped over the piece, in the direction
of the grain.
At a certain point, the piece will begin to look less splotchy. The
areas that had whiting on them (the plaster of paris) will probably
have to be grained in with an artist's brush, in order to blend them
into the wood grain.
At this point I would seal things with a coating of clear shellac,
keeping the mix thin.
If there are areas that still don't blend in well, as in the case
where the graining over the whiting is not definite enough, now is the
time to tune these up.
On oak, I usually use a pallete of three shades, from light to dark -
and all in the range of the browns that show in the figure of the wood
surrounding the patched area.
Seal this with another coat of thinned shellac.
Once this has dried and been rubbed off, you will have a decision to
make. If the table still looks streaky, I would apply coats of
shellac that are tinted to the middle tones of the piece, until you
are happy with the look. Remember that you will be applying a top
coat of clear, and that most of these have an ambering quality to
The whole game is to unify the look of the piece without making it too
dark, and this can be difficult to achieve - and takes much patience.
Good luck, and let us know how you make out.
Thomas J. Watson - Cabinetmaker, ret.
tjwatson1atcomcastdotnet (real email)
Thanks for the thoughtful reply. You suggested an approach I hadn't
considered... I had been thinking more along the lines of a gel stain and
poly to hide the mess and then decided there were probably more craftsman
like alternatives! ;-)
I do have access to spray equipment but would not be opposed to doing it
with brushes. It is clearly a labor intensive process that would take longer
to do than the mechanical restoration. The mechanical part of the job went
quite well and pretty quick once I figured out what the missing/broken
structure was supposed to look like and do.
I've saved your reply for further consideration.
did much the same ,I wa chipping golf balls next to the old shop. some went
into the kudzu, [actually most]. For those who dont know no better kudzu is
a southerin vine that takes over full grown trees with ease. Any how while
searchin for balls and avoidin all kinds of nasty reptiles I found this
little oak table which must have laid around outside for many years .
Brought it into the shop and let it dry for a couple of years and just now
refinished it ,you know it dont look bad ....mjh
I think the question "Suggestions?" kind of answers that. ;-)
Everyone who saw the table figured it was good for nothing but firewood but
I saw a nice kitchen table sitting there that suits my wife's "county"
tastes. The project presented a lot of interesting woodworking technical
problems (recall my photo on ABPW titled "there is a repair in there
somewhere" with so many clamps you couldn't see the table leg, and the photo
of the table in it's original condition).
Sympathy... not on your life, this has been a very satisfying experience!
Did not see the picture, with my ISP most posts last less than a day. So my
suggestion put the picture on your web site for all to see.
Second regarding books Charles Heyward and John Rodd are excellent
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