What finish and what level of protection do you want?
If you are seating only adults and the worst thing that can happen is
the occasional accidental spill of red wine that is quickly mopped up,
then stain and wax if you want a more rustic appearance or stain, some
kind of sealer and wax if you want something a touch smoother.
OTOH, if it's for babies and toddlers, you might want to go for heavy
grade polyurethane. Bear in mind with this, that if it gets marred,
you have to strip it and completely redo it.
Personally, I think it's sacrilege to cover hardwoods with shiny
varnishes that make them look like plastic. You would be better off
with something cheap in pine.
A good solution is simply to use a protective cloth or cover when the
kids are around.
Another good compromise solution is Danish Oil. This is somewhere
between oil and varnish. It dries reasonably hard and protects better
than just wax but without creating the horrible plastic look.
It can also be lightly sanded and refinished without stripping
So do I. We protected our oak table with matt polyurethane, it satisfied all
demands. Not shiny, no plastic look, yet durable enough to withstand
anything we can throw at it.
Even the odd welding spatter ...
Wax for a table is stupid unless you want to spend a lot of time re-doing
it. My life's too precious.
Maker of beeswax polish :-)
Hmmm, bet you don't sell much polish with a sales pitch like that :o)
Anyway, I would recommend Danish Oil. I built a fish tank cabinet 18
months ago and treated it with Danish Oil and it still looks as good as
new despite having water splashed on it (and sometimes not mopped up)
practically everyday. The only thing I would say though is brush it on.
Don't mess about with a lint free cloth.
I sell a lot and I can't understand it. People ask me what type of polish
they should use on a pine dresser, for instance (I make two types of
polish). I say that they shold use pu. They buy the polish.
I'm the world's worst salesman, people tell me that they want some honey
because it's good for you, I say is it? And even if it is, eating honey
because it's good for you is like drinking a fine malt because it's good for
you. Food's about pleasure, not medicine. They buy the honey. My marmalade
has pips in it, I warn people so that they don't think that there are
toenails in it. They buy the marmalade. I make a handcream, they ask if it's
good, I say I don't know, I don't use it although my husband does. They buy
that by the truckload. As it were.
I suspect that people think that they're a better judge than I am. And they
are, for things they want. Why should my opinion be worth more than theirs?
That makes me wonder, though, why they ask my opinion if they're not going
to believe it :-)
If someone wants to spend lots of time and effort polishing a pine dresser
with my polish that's fine, it won't do any harm, it will look good for a
short time, it will give them some exercise. I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't
have the pine dresser in the firstplace but that's my preference and so far
I've managed to live with it.
If the oil repels water stains it's good. Beeswax polish won't! The polish
is ideal for raising a high shine on valuable furniture - but the finish
isn't durable for everyday use.
The phrase "you can't make a silk purse from a sows ear" comes to mind
but I don't think people realise (I am guilty of this as well). I prefer
my pine untreated. Just let it develop a good colour on it's own. The
pine you get now-a-days has been grown so fast there practically isn't a
grain to show off anyway.
Here here. I can't understand people that don't eat for pleasure. You
probably spend 10% of your life cooking or eating so you might as well
They buy the honey. My marmalade
I know what you mean. I get that all the time :-)
It's life Teflon to water. A great choice to anywhere that is going to
get splashed. I imagine it wouldn't last if there was any soap in the
Beeswax polish won't! The polish
I was going to try my hand a polishing something (French or beeswax). I
think maybe I will investigate that a bit more first.
Morrels Stain followed by a mix of 2 part gloss to 1 part Satin PU varnish.
Smith and Rogers PU is very good. Morrels do a medium oak or a golden oak
which are nice stains. Avoid the red version of the medium oak though it's
a bit too red.
Let the first coat of PU dry till it's 'crispy' Rub down with 400 grit
paper. Wipe clean.
Another coat of PU...Rub down with 400 grit that's a bit tired
Another coat of PU...Rub down with 400 grit that's very tired
Clear wax to finish
A good hard waring finish
Nicholas Buttle - Quality Joinery and Cabinet Making
If it's a very light shade, one may want to age it a little. But
this doesn't need to mean making it nearly black or using garish
browns and oranges. Something fairly lightly applied and wiped off
almost immediately would work quite well.
Staining is used for a number of reasons the main ones are...
...It can help match up with the furniture already in the home
...Each persons view of what looks good differs. To one person the natural
colour of the oak is the best, to another a dark stain that almost
obliterates the colour of the timber is preferred. I tend towards a medium
stain. Hence Morrells (not a shareholder) produce hundreds of different
...It can bring out the grain and in the case of Oak the 'figuring' quite
remarkably and so enhance the finished piece
There's a table on my website that has the Morrells medium stain on it. Not
a good photo but you can see how the figuring is brought out ...
Nicholas Buttle - Quality Joinery and Cabinet Making
----- Original Message -----
From: "Rick" < email@example.com>
You'll never get any agreement.
There are two ways I'd do it; nicest and most hardwearing. Even then
there are at least three regulars in this ng who will have different
ideas, and considerable experience to justify them.
I wouldn't put stains, dyes or varnish anywhere near it -- and I
barely let polyurethane in the house. There are better things to use.
Assuming this table is solid timber, then that's a nice thing to have
and it's worth doing it right.
The colour of oak varies, both the timber itself and the colour of the
finished product. The timber darkens with age, and particularly with
staining (to which oak is a little prone). Begin by cleaning the
table thoroughly so you can look at it (sugar soap), then assess what
you have. Do you like the current colour ? Are there stains or faded
patches you need to deal with ?
Then remove the old finish. Given the hard life a table finish gets,
and the robustness of oak, then I wouldn't leave a trace of any old
The best thing to refinish the top with is a cabinet scraper, like a
Stanley #80 scraper holder. These are a bit of a knack to acquire
though; both for preparing the edge and for using them. Google
rec.woodworking for details. Certainly _don't_ use a scraper on a
tabletop unless you've practice on an oak plank (or the underside)
So in general, I'd suggest sanding it. DO IT BY HAND ! Mechanical
sanders have no place on furniture unless they're damned good (which
aren't cheap) and they're the right sort. If you think your titchy
little B&Q Xmas gadget is going to be any help, you'd be better off
with something from Anne Summers instead.
There are only a few tricks to sanding - and there is no other viable
alternative to doing it this way.
- Use a cork block, not a bare hand.
- Have an adequate supply of varied grit good-quality sandpaper to
hand. The yellow rolls of Hiomant are easy to find and convenient.
- Start coarse, then work finer. A good step is a doubling in grit
number. Begin with 80 (maybe finer if the surface is good, maybe 60 if
there's a lot of goopy finish to shift). Go to 240 for an oak table
top, maybe 300 if you've got it.
- Don't switch to a finer grade before it's ready. Otherwise you;ll
leave big scratches behind that you'll never shift afterwards. If "the
finer grit is cutting faster" then still don't switch - that just
means you've worn the coarse one out. Use a new surface and stick with
that grit until it's done.
- Use the coarsest grit very lightly and quickly, if that's all
that's needed. But still don't skip grits.
- If you're sanding details, still use the cork block. You might also
use sticks of plywood with felt glued to them, wine corks,
broomhandles wrapped in neoprene tape, all sorts of things. But
_always_ use a backer that keeps its shape as you use it - fingers are
flexible and they don't sand straight.
If you have a really thick finish on there, then a broken glass
scraper is a good way to shift it. Take a pane of greenhouse glass and
break it. Find a slightly convex edge and use that as a scraper - wear
gloves to protect your hands. These scrapers are sharp and easily
made, but they wear out quickly - so break more. The edge on a glass
scraper is quite different from a hooked steel scraper - it's good at
removing finishes, it's unlikely to damage the timber surface, but it
can't be used to smooth a wooden surface.
Now with the finish off, look at it again. You should have removed the
faded finish patches and the lighter water stains. It will look a
dismal grey colour, but the finish improves that. Any stains left are
probably iron stain and that needs chemical shifting. Don't bother
sanding them, they're deep.
Oxalic acid is the only bleach that shifts these iron stains. Buy it
as Barkeeper's Friend or _some_ patio deck cleaner. Added detergents
or surfactants are OK. Chlorine, peroxide or two-pack bleaches aren't.
Now choose your colouring and finishing techniques. Wipe the surface
with water or white spirit to get an idea of what it will look like
Finished oak might be a pale buff for brand new American white oak,
but you're lucky to get this colour with English oak, and never with
old refinished pieces. The usual range is from a golden brown (best,
IMHO) to dark "antique" browns and near-black "Jacobean" colours.
Now to my eye, the only way to finish new oak is by oxidising it with
ammonia fumes. It's an easy process (Google), albeit awkward for large
pieces. If you want to reproduce the "Craftsman" finish with dyes and
pigment stains, then seek out a Fine Woodworking article by Jeff
If you want dark, then there are any number of ways to get oak much
darker, from long ammonia fuming to wet ammonia, to ferrous sulphate
or iron acetate solutions. It's characteristic of oak that its
chemistry (tannins) allows it to be easily darkened by applying
chemistry, rather than needing to apply ready-made colours.
If this is an old piece, then the chances are that under a suitable
finish it will already be an attractive colour. Try the white spirit
wipe trick. Unfinished oak always looks that dismal grey, then warms
up when finished.
If all this is too much to face, then just use a spirit based dye
stain. Avoid water based or pigment stains on oak.
Now pick a finish - lots of them, so choose according to how
hard-wearing it needs to be. Choice of finish may also affect the
Got kids ? Hard wearing table ? Then use an acid-catalysed
formaldehyde like Rustin's "Bar Top" (a heat resistant version of
their floor finish). This is an excellent surface, the most
hard-wearing you can apply without a commercial spray booth, and easy
to work with.
It's water clear, so you need to get the colour sorted beforehand. It
won't apply over other finishes, so don't use oil below it (spirit
dyes are about the limit). It _stinks_ when applying, so work outside
and/or use a full face mask (this disappears within hours). The
final surface is hard and glossy. If you want a satin finish you can
matt it lightly by waiting a couple of days then rubbing it with 6/0
pumice on a piece of denim.
Want the best finish ? Shellac over oil. This looks a little better,
but it's not so resistant to heat or alcohol. Great on a side table,
great if you're careful, but it's not so homework proof.
Apply oil first. Use Liberon's "Finishing Oil" This is tung
oil-based, ready thinned, ready dried. Very easy to work with. Flood
the surface generously then spread it around with a paper towel. Then
work it into the surface and make sure that within 20 minutes you've
rubbed the whole surface and all the oil is either soaked in or wiped
up. The only way to really foul up an oil finish is to leave standing
oil puddles there too long, after which they go sticky. (Use white
spirit to clean up). Second and third coats will be much thinner as
the timber shouldn't be so thirsty by now. Leave at least a few hours
between coats, or overnight.
Then shellac it. "Button" shellac is the starting point, maybe garnet
if you want the colour or blonde if you want less/lighter colour.
Screwfix sell usable cheap shellac - never buy old stock, as it
doesn't keep well.
For the first coat, dilute it 50:50 with meths.
Apply shellac with either a brush or a pad. We're not french polishing
here. Brushes are 3/4" artist's watercolour brushes, flat or filbert
shape, and they _must_ have synthetic bristles (Golden Taklon). Mine
are a couple of quid from the local cheap stationer.
Do the last coat, or maybe all of it, with a rubber. This is an
egg-shaped pad of cotton waste (decorator's scrim works too) wrapped
tightly in a twist of top-quality uncoloured cotton or linen fabric.
This fabric should be lint-free and preferably old and well-washed.
Old smart shirts or boxer shorts are the best I've found, smooth white
linen tea towels aren't bad either, if you can't buy the right grade
of new linen (which _must_ be washed before use).
Well-dampen the rubber with meths, then dribble a little shellac onto
the outside. Work it in circles or cursive W shapes. not straight
lines. be sure to cover the edges and corners evenly.
If you screw up shellac, just keep working. It re-works and smooths
out beautifully. You've never got it wrong, you've just not finished
At this time of year, leave shellac overnight between coats. If you're
using meths, ventilate well because the pyridine stinks. In the summer
you can get about three coats a day onto it.
Over the week-old dried shellac, apply wax (Liberon's Black Bison in
neutral) with a clean shoe polish brush or natural bristle scrubbing
For maintenance, wax polish (the same hard wax) it a couple of times a
year. Don't use Mr Sheen etc. on it, as the silicones are a nuisance.
Spills and damage can be repaired quite easily by cleaning the wax off
with white spirit and paper towels, then re-shellacing (do the lot in
an evening). Shellac over oil is not only a gorgeous finish, but it's
eminently repairable over future decades. Oak is also tough enough to
As an intermediate finish, try Patina from Screwfix. This is a _gel_
polyurethane. If you apply oil, then two coats of this, you get a good
looking finish with the hard wearing of polyurethane. Apply three
coats though and you get the hideous "Airfix kit" look of brushed
Don't varnish tables. Polys are ugly, spirit varnishes aren't hard
Don't use Danish oil. The mix of varnish and oil is reasonably hard
wearing, but you don't get the clarity of oil or the sheen of varnish.
You're better applying the two components one after the other (and
using shellac instead of varnish).
Don' use oil over wax. Looks gorgeous, but it's really sensitive to
even cold water spills.
All the products mentioned are available from Liberon, via Axminster,
or a couple from Screwfix.
For a good intro book on real wood finishing, try Bob Flexner's. Jeff
Jewitt's are good too.
And when you're done there, there's a 1920s one stacked up in my
kitchen waiting to be done too. 8-)
I didn't realise the author of this excellent post until I looked at the
name. It wasn't a surprise.
Thanks, Andy, saved to pass on. I could have said a lot of what you did but
not everything, the memory doesn't allow it any more so your post is a great
resource. Spouse couldn't have put it all down but would just have got on
and done any of those things. Writing and doing are different skills.
It would surprise me if you'd let anyone else do it for you :-)
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