I am re-finishing a walnut table. The top coat was originally lacquer
and had been badly damaged.
It was stripped and then I wiped it with mineral spirits. It looked
great - no lacquer residue. The surface was obviously dyed with
something like golden oak and the filled with a grain filler. I did a
light sanding and sprayed a light coat of satin varnish on it. The
table appears very dull with very muted color.
I am hesitant to put on more varnish to find out if the color will
come back up. One thought is to first apply a walnut gel stain to
enhance the color and follow that with a coat of dewaxed shellac.
After that, go back to a couple of coats of varnish again.
Can I apply the gel stain over the varnish?
Is it advisable or will added coats of the varnish alone bring up the
Any other thoughts on the subject??
Mineral spirits is the wrong cleaner to use as your final step when
removing a lacquer finish. Lacquer thinner is your choice. You most
likely left lacquer (a thin coat of residue) on top of your project.
Someone died walnut? Were they trying to brown it out with that awful
If you stripped and didn't brush/scrub the finish to get out the pore
filler, you will need to start over. The filler will be wedged into
the pores of the wood, and secured in place by finish. Careful putty
knife work won't do it. Nor will good sanding unless you want to take
off about 3 mil. Restrip and scrub off the finish.
Additionally, the pore filler would almost certainly explain the poor
finish. Remaining artifacts of the finish in the pores that won't come
out with rags will leach into your finish and contaminate it.
Adding another coat of finish will not enhance your color nor will it
clarify your finish. You can adjust the sheen to a more even
appearance, but the color and clarity are set with the first coat.
More finish simply obscures the actual wood and coloring.
Learning refinishing can be painful. To correct a finish, you don't
keep piling on more "cures". All it does is make things worse. I am
still scratching my head over the fact that someone stained walnut
with golden oak. Now you are saying that you might want to put on
another coat of walnut (what was wrong with the unstained walnut that
made you stain it?) then another primer to cover all that up, then two
more coats of another finish.
None of that will work.
In these situations (which I have put myself in before) it is best to
bite down hard, and strip and start over again, doing all the steps
I think you are misunderstanding the work already done.
1) The table had a badly damaged lacquer finish. Judging
bye its age, it is not water based lacquer.
2) The table was stripped with lacquer thinner. It was then
lightly sanded with 220 paper.
3) I used mineral spirits to look for left over lacquer
residue and to look at what the color would be if it
was refinished. The table had been DYED with a golden
colored dye and then filled with walnut
colored pore filler. To my knowledge, that is the usual
manner of treating a dark walnut table.
1) Since it had been dyed and filled I just sanded lightly
again to be sure there was no old lacquer
on the surface. I did not intend to pull out the old
2) The first coat of satin varnish was duller than I
expected. I again looked at a sample using the
mineral spirits. Clear finish - but dull colors
3) In cabinet work I thought they often applied a gel stain
to enhance the colors after sealing with
shellac. My thought was to apply the gel, wipe it off,
and then start with the varnish again.
Does that explanation change your suggested remedy??
4) Sometimes individuals seal with de-waxed shellac and then
continue with finish - or use gel stain to
I'm not in the biz but I've made numerous things of walnut. Never dyed or
stained except sap wood if I wanted it dark. In my 76 years I don't recall
ever seing *anything* of walnut that had been. Are you sure the "golden
dye" isn't just sap wood? Are you sure it is walnut and not "white walnut"
I haven't done all that much work in walnut and I've never stained any of it
(nor do I think I'd be so inclined...) but it's my understanding that it's not
all that uncommon for walnut to be stained because it tends to look rather gray
and drab with simple clear finishes (particularly the water-based varieties,
which tend to be _crystal_ clear). What's always worked well for me is a few
good healthy coats of garnet shellac; that really gives walnut a deep rich color.
See Nad. See Nad go. Go Nad!
To reply, eat the taco.
Len, I want to be careful here, and not step on anyone's toes. The
written word is easily misinterpreted so don't take any of this the
First, in my time finishing and working on projects for myself and
others, I haven't ever seen anyone use a dye on walnut. A colored
finish, yes. A toner in finish, yes. A gel stain glaze, (me!) yes.
Yellow dye, no.
There may be a crossed wire here. If it is an older finish you are
probably quite right that it is just a run of the mill lacquer. If it
came off fairly easily with lacquer thinner, then you know it was. If
your color came off with he lacquer, it was a toner/colorant of some
sort added to the finish.
If it was dyed or toned "golden oak" or any of that family, it most
likely wasn't walnut. Whether by a factory or a craftsman, a
traditional finish for walnut is something clear. As newer growth
came along, as we lost so many of the beautiful California walnut
trees, black walnut became a substitute for "walnut". However, that
stuff goes from gray to black so it presents a different challenge
when looking for a uniform finish over many different boards. Still,
no one adds yellow.
I am inclined to agree with Steve's comment above that it may not be
walnut at all. I have seen boards of hickory, walnut, chestnut,
butternut, etc., that came from different stands of trees from around
the country that you couldn't tell much of a difference between them.
Older, tighter grains on old pieces of furniture can fool the best of
us. I have seen hickory so fine it looked like CA walnut. I have
seen black walnut grain so coarse it looked like a colored red oak.
That being said, during the "Colonial" or "Early American" rage that
swept the manufactured furniture world, they used colorants to give
the hardwoods used (almost all of these were nutwoods for their grain)
an off brownish green color. In my personal experience, these pieces
were everything BUT walnut.
The tops of certain pieces received special treatment. They were
sanded, then filled with a colored pore filler (sometimes almost black
to accent the tubules), then sanded smooth. A finish with toner/
colorant was sprayed on them after that. These were air dried
finishes, and were almost without exception (think 40's, 50's 60's
without doubt and into the 70's and 80's off and on) built up with
The multiple coats of built up finish allowed the manufacturer to come
back with to wet sand and finish with a large compound loaded buffer
to cut down the finish to glass smooth.
Again, NOT with walnut. Walnut has dark tubules, and will suck in any
finish and show the as dark. A yellow family dye like Golden Oak
turns walnut a greenish color, which has never been popular.
Without reiterating my earlier post, I will say this to punch up the
highlights I feel may be sabotaging your finish.
Lacquer thinner is just that. A thinner. A stripper works
differently. Rather than to dissolve the finish as a thinner will, a
stripper will degrade and destroy it. This allows for removal. When
you strip with a thinner, you WILL leave residue behind. You will
simply be taking off as much finish as your rag can hold, and to the
point where you will be dissolving the finish further into the wood.
When you strip, you degrade the finish to the point where it can no
longer adhere. You break down the resins (at least with the good
stuff!) where they no longer have the ability to bind to themselves.
Use a stripper, not a thinner to remove finish. You can't strip off
half the finish anyway, so there is no point in trying to save some of
it. Take it off, start fresh when refinishing.
In your case, you need to strip and start again. After stripping,
clean off all residue with lacquer thinner. Use a lot of thinner and
a lot of towels to clean it. When I am removing a finish that has a
pore filler my experience has been that half stays in, and half comes
out. So that means it all has to come out. That means scrub it off;
remaining finish trapped in the filled pores may be contaminating your
Advice: don't screw with it anymore, strip it.
I use stripper, then throw on a heavy coat of coarse sawdust as my
cutting medium and scrub the finish off with a stiff brush. It cleans
deep and fast, and the sawdust will pick up a lot of the old finish
Advice: scrub off ALL the finish.
I let the project dry, then wash it off with lacquer thinner. For me,
I only use mineral spirits to clean my brushes and guns and it has no
place for me in refinishing. It isn't hot enough for me, and I
actually only use it on occasion to thin paint.
NEXT to final cleaning: lacquer thinner.
Sand your project now, and inspect. There will be small amounts of
finish left, no matter how careful you are, and sanding should pick up
the last bits of that. Clean one more time with lacquer thinner.
If you want to pore fill, do it now. Follow the instructions
exactly. Pore-o-pac is good stuff if you don't have one picked out.
They make colored fillers, so you can get a black or brown to mimic
the old filled finishes.
When I finish something expensive, I will sometimes flip over the
piece and strip/sand/stain/color/finish a small area to test. This
determines whether or not I need to apply a conditioner before
staining, if I need to spray a dye, and how well I can color match.
If you have this opportunity, I highly suggest it.
As far as the use of shellac goes, it has its place. Guys here are
nuts about it. However, nothing sticks to a finish like itself. When
I strip a door, counter top, table, etc., they are naked as a jaybird
when I get finished. I only use shellac if I am unable to completely
pull off the old finish, or it is contaminated.
An example of a contaminated finish would be a set of double mahogany
doors I did a couple of years ago that were at a club. The
maintenance man applied liberal shots of lube to the hinges and
locks. This made the finish degrade to gum, and the oil penetrated
the wood. After stripping, I applied my finish and it had more
fisheyes than a school of herring.
So you guessed it; I stripped off my new finish and started over.
Applied the shellac and I was on my way.
If you have any finish on your table now, take it all off. Do
yourself a favor and start completely over as it will give much better
results. Don't try to put any kind of stains or dyes over your coat
of varnish. Dried varnish is simply cure resin, or a type of
plastic. It will never look right because your colorant will simply
sit on the plastic resins. Since it won't bite into the varnish, your
stain will just make a bigger mess on top of everything, and will most
likely lift when you put on your top coat.
The CLEAREST, most natural color you will get will be to do the
- fill pores if needed
- finish all surface prep
- spray dye
- spray shellac if needed
- spray top coats
Poor brush work can easily lift stains and some dyes, so that's why I
Hey... how about some pictures when finished?
Same subject, different project.
The current NYW rerun has Norm building a walnut drop leaf table.
When it comes time to finish, Norm brings in a refinishing expect
from Georgia who offers the following schedule:
Wipe on BLO cut with mineral spirits.
Allow to absorb then wipe off excess.
Allow to cure for a couple of days.
Apply a couple of seal coats of orange shellac allowing at least
24 hours between coats.
Apply 10-12 additional coats of full strength orange shellac,
again allowing at least 24 hours between coats.
Rub out with 0000 steel wool, then apply wax and buff out.
Seems simple enough and finished table sure looked pretty.
Notice that any imperfections that might happen during shellac
application were basically ignored until it was 0000 time.
A question: what kind of varnish did you spray? Was it water based? If
so, that may help account for the different appearance between it and when
you wiped it down with mineral spirits. Water base finishes are good if you
want to *minimize* the overall and differential colors in wood. OTOH, oil
based ones increase it - pop the grain - because the wood retains the wet
look, the same look given it by mineral spirits..
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