Opinions on Restore-A-Finish?

jlc102482August 13, 2012

Does anyone here use Restore-A-Finish on their antiques, or (more importantly) have any reasons why I ought not to? I have used it on some old, crusty Adirondack frames and it really brought them back to life to work REALLY well, but I know only certain chemicals/cleaners should be used on antiques, lest the finish become damaged. I'd hate to ruin a "good" piece with it!

Thanks in advance for your opinions.

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If you have a good old piece with an original but dull finish....don't use Restore-a-Finish.
I have a mid 60's Chippendale Repro chest...finish is clouded and dirty looking. I plan to use it on that.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2012 at 10:52AM
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NOT an expert on "good" pieces or refinishing, but throwing in my 2 cents. I used to do painted furniture and would find pieces (particularly chairs) for very little $$ at yard sales. If I figured no seerious value, did a quick and dirty clean up before painting. Cheap-o, spray oven cleaner on something with shellac or varnish... the stuff literally rolled off the surface with NO elbow grease. Definitely an OUTDOOR project and extremely SLIPPERY on wood deck!?! But hosed off to pretty much bare wood... and any wobbly joints tightened up from mositure.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2012 at 10:58PM
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Linda, what do you use on good pieces with original but dull finishes? I have a couple pieces that fit that description, and I'd love to fix them up so you can at least see the burls in the wood again!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 10:11AM
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Clean them with mineral spirits.....paint thinner. Wipes away all old wax, smoke tars and other disgusting stuff.
There are on the market things like furniture cleaners and wax....which are mostly mineral spirits and perhaps a soft wax dissolved in it.
But a soft cloth with mineral spirits is easier and cheaper.
I have a Victorian walnut heavily carved commode that badly needs to be cleaned....but am not looking forward to the time I will need to spend sitting on the floor with a Q-tip and a dish of mineral spirits.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 11:49AM
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I start with mineral spirits, because it softens up hand grime and skin oils. Then stop and evaluate.

It is an "amalgamator" ... it redissolves certain finishes so you can wipe them off, leaving only a layer of re-constituted old finish without stripping out stain or veneers. It does let you spread the old finish into scratches and cracks, leaving it looking better than before.

Works on those pieces that mineral spirits doesn't clean - the old ones with multiple layers of alligatoring, hardened old-style polishes, and the deep red-brown varnish that was used to make cheap wood look like rosewood or cherry.

However, a 50-50 mix of alcohol and laquer thinner will do the same thing for a lot less money. Apply liberally to a small area, let it soften a few moments, then gently rub off the crud with the steel wool. Repeat until clean. Outside, with gloves because the fumes are vile.

Here's a before and after on a dresser I'm (still) cleaning up. The finish was blackened and alligatored and utterly unresponsive to mineral spirits.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 1:15PM
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Mineral spirits cleans goo....Shellac thinner and lacquer thinner ( I mix it 2/3 shellac thinner and 1/3 lacquer thinner) works to either clean off the old finish....or to re-amalgamate it....if you flow it on a flat surface with a brush....it sort of melt the finish and you can get rid of the checking and still leave all of the finish....if you want to leave the finish.

Lazy, where were you when someone who called himself "Stocky" was railing about that to me?.....He said the only way to get rid of allegatoring was to strip, sand and refinish a piece.
But don't use an amalgamator and scrub off the old finish if a piece is just dirty....and after scrubbing the old off, you need to apply another coat of something protective....after it dries very well.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 5:39PM
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I don't know where I was for that discussion, but stripping AND sanding is the last resort no matter how bad the finish looks when you start.

You start with the least invasive, mildest solution and work your way through into the extreme stuff. It may take more time than grabbing the Ryobi orbital, but you end up with a far better finish.

There is no way I'm taking sandpaper to this dresser! It's getting the least abrasive treatment I can give it and still clean off the 150 or so years of built-up linseed oil and beeswax polish.

I may even learn how to do French Polish for it. :)

Alligatored paint usually requires a stripper, but I have refinished quite a few painted pieces without sanding to bare wood. It depends on what the piece looks like under the paint.

Here is a link that might be useful: My latest restoration :)

    Bookmark   August 14, 2012 at 10:25PM
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This is a walnut organ fallboard I repolished last month. I was in a great hurry so I used 400 grit sandpaper to remove the alligatoring (I usually have used 1000 grit-- very s l o w )

After applying a few wiped-on coats of garnet shellac. The remains of the original finish is still there:

You have to be really patient; you want to get all the crusty alligatoring removed without burning all the way through the original polish or god forbid the stain color.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 7:52AM
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The magic mix of shellac thinner and lacquer thinner would have gotten you there with less elbow grease.....and less danger of burning into the stain.
Beautiful piece of wood! I love walnut! A lot of years ago I bought a walnut drop leaf table....each piece of the top is one single board. That was one BIG tree! It had been refinished when I bought it....and there is too much stain on it for my taste...I like a more transparent finish....
But many years later....and that finish is still there...masking some of the beautiful grain of that enormous tree. You may have inspired me!

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 11:14AM
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Wow, Lazygardens, that is such a beautiful difference!

I have one more question for everyone - is it okay to use mineral spirits on an ebonized finish? I just purchased an easel that I *think* is ebonized (I can see faint tracings of gilt left) but it might just be really dirty. I'm not sure, and I'm afraid to ruin the ebonized finish with something that might dissolve it.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 4:33PM
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Ebonized means black stain....have at it!

    Bookmark   August 22, 2012 at 5:23PM
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