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?