So…you found a great piece of furniture at a yard sale but the finish is terrible or you have decided that those old kitchen cabinets are in need of a new look so its time to do a little refinishing!
Before you get too carried away think about this,
Refinishing that yard sale special or grandmas old desk can be a big mistake. You need to first establish if it is worth anything “as is”.
An elderly couple found a very nice high boy in an antique store, trouble was it had a black nasty bubbled finish. They bought it and had it delivered to a refinisher who stripped it and completely refinished it with a beautiful cherry wood stained finish.
All was well until they decided to have their homeowners Insurance updated and had an appraiser come in to give a written appraisal on their belongings as it is required by most Ins companies. The highboy was valued at $30,000, come to find out it was a very rare piece made in Philadelphia. Had it been left with it’s orig finish, the value would have been $230,000!
Lesson: If in doubt have a professional look at your piece before you start with the stripper.
OK, we have established that we do not own an expensive antique or we are simply dealing with our old cabinets. Lets start by first exploring
A good cleaning can work wonders on a piece of old furniture.
When a piece of furniture is waxed or polished there is always a fine layer of dust that is mixed in with the wax or polish and over a period of years the layer will darken and obscure the grain pattern of the wood.
Areas of furniture that are touched often form a build-up of body oils, hand cream and whatever else happens to be on a persons hands. Combined with the fingers’ salty oil, the finish underneath begins to break down. The longer it stays on the finish, the more time it has to break it down. The area begins to turn dark as the salty oil attracts dirt. At this point severe damage is being done to the finish.
The next time you feel a soft, sticky finish on a chair and can scrape it off with your fingernail, you’ll know the reasons for the damage.
To prevent damage to finish that is touched often–chair arms and backs, around the pulls on kitchen cabinets, and chests of drawers, and bed posts–you should clean these areas at least twice a year.
One of the easiest and safest ways to clean up old furniture is with Murphy Oil soap – a mild soap that won’t damage the wood finish but is very effective in getting rid of the grunge of ages.
Another effective and quick way to refurbish a piece is to use a mix of linseed oil and mineral spirits.
I use three parts of mineral spirits to one part boiled linseed oil.
Minor Repairs & Touchups:
First you need to determine the type of finish on the piece.
There are three common finishes: shellac, lacquer and varnish. The three are quite different. To find out which is which, start by applying denatured alcohol. If the finish is shellac, denatured alcohol will dissolve it. If the surface is lacquer, the alcohol will slowly soften (not dissolve) the lacquered finish.
Next, try the lacquer thinner. It will dissolve a lacquered surface quickly and slowly soften a shellacked or varnished surface.
Shellacked and lacquered surfaces don’t have to be sanded or recoated to repair scratches, alligatoring or crackling (a finish that contains a pattern of fine cracks) .
These conditions can be repaired with a technique known as amalgamation. Take an artist’s paintbrush and carefully apply the appropriate solvent (alcohol to shellac and lacquer thinner to lacquer) to the crack lines until the finish softens and fills the cracks. Let the finish harden overnight, then buff with paste wax.
Take an artist’s paintbrush and carefully apply the appropriate solvent (alcohol to shellac and lacquer thinner to lacquer) to the crack lines until the finish softens and fills the cracks. Let the finish harden overnight, then buff with paste wax.
If the scratched finish is varnish you will have to
1. apply a little old english oil to the scratch and it will disappear (temporary fix) or 2. Lightly sand using 600 grit sandpaper until the scratch is removed and then apply a light coat of paste wax.
White blotches or Rings:
This condition is the result of moisture being trapped under a film of wax or the finish itself.
First try cleaning to remove the wax buildup and see if the problem goes away.
If after cleaning the white area remains it means that it is under the coating itself and will require a little more effort.
Try these remedys in the order shown.
1. Try rubbing a little toothpaste on the area using a soft cloth, wipe off and dry. Still there? then
2. Using the appropiate thinner for the finish you have, dampen a small square of cloth and slowly pass it over the area as close to the surface as you can without touching it. The fumes from the dampened cloth will open up the surface of the finish and allow the moisture to escape.
3. Still there? Now we have to get serious, take a piece of 600 grit sandpaper and lightly sand the area, when the surface is dulled out well take your solvent dampened cloth and make several passes over the damaged area, the white “blushing” will disappear. Allow to dry well for an hour or so and then apply a light coat of paste wax to seal off the repaired area. In extreme cases you may have to work the damaged area with the solvent and a piece of 0000 steel wool but only use steel wool if the dampened cloth is not working.