Refinish Dining Table

kath85September 14, 2010

I bought a beautiful old dining table at auction a while back and the antique dealer there said that all I would need to do is rub some minwax into the surface with steel wool. I THOUGHT he said that stripping isn't necessary, but does that sound right? I don't want to end up with a sticky, ruined finish as we use it for all kinds of projects and as our formal dining table. Also, there are some scratches to deal with. Any recommendations?

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Fori is not pleased

That sounds like a really bad idea!

What to do depends on how bad it is and how valuable it is and what you plan on using it for. To be durable and functional and cleanable, you might want to strip the top, sand it, stain it the original color, and put a good varnish on it. It won't be authentic, but it'll be usable which in some ways is better than something too delicate to use.

If it doesn't have leaves, you could probably just touch up the original finish and put a piece of glass on top to protect it.

But Minwax and steel wool? Eek! And what kind of Minwax--they make all kinds of products!

OK, I'm not really the person to ask, but I'm glad you're asking around first! I'm sure someone will help you out.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2010 at 3:53PM
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It does have three leaves plus some inlaid wood on the sides and plenty of carving on the legs - a really beautiful piece but scratched up some. He told me to use Special Walnut minwax stain and 0000 steel wool (the finest grade).

We need this to be a workhorse for sewing, eating, homework, drawing, etc - but still look nice in our formal dining room, so whatever we do needs to last.

This guy seemed to know what he was talking about, but not stripping sounded almost too good to be true.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2010 at 4:01PM
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There's a product called 'RestoreAFinish' that's often used to restore fine wood pieces to their original condition, that uses steel wool in the process. Perhaps this is what he may have been talking about. It's not made by Minwax, though, but Howard. It does have a walnut option. I've posted a link to it, as it's a great product. I used it to restore the luster to my mahogany dining table, and it worked well.

Here is a link that might be useful: Restore A Finish

    Bookmark   September 14, 2010 at 4:39PM
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Fori is not pleased

If it's just a few scratches, you can fill them in with a stain pen (or a Q-tip dabbed in a can of stain). Then use table pads unless company is coming?

I've used Restore a Finish and it didn't work on my application although I know it works on some. It does depend on what the original finish is to some degree--wax, varnish, polyurethane, shellac...some of them won't react well with other stuff, which is of course that gummy mess you want to avoid!

I'd go ahead and use the stain to touch up the sides and legs and maybe the top if it isn't bad enough to require stripping (I don't know why you'd need steel wool to apply stain). Test it somewhere inconspicuous first of course. But the top will still be vulnerable to spills.

And no matter what you put on that table, put something UNDER the sewing machine! :)

    Bookmark   September 14, 2010 at 5:24PM
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The guy's suggestion could actually work. Could work better than RAF, even.
Skip the steel wool, though, OK?
If it's dirty with waxy yellow buildup, clean with naphtha and a rag, until no more yellow comes off. Allow the solvent to evaporate, at which time you'll think it's ruined; it will look absolutely terrible. If you need to cover scratches, select a minwax color accordingly. If you just want to get rid of the dry look, you can use clear mixwax finish (they call it natural).
Apply with a cloth or brush, wait five minutes and remove every bit you can with a clean dry cloth until the surface barely leaves a streak w/your finger. Rub hard. In 24 hours you can apply a coat of a paste wax, like Johnson's or Butchers.
This is an old favorite trick I have used on varnished floors that were worn and scratched, but could not bear another sanding. The minwax adds a very thin layer of it's resin, colors in the scratches if necessary, and gets rid of the dry look. If you wish to use a more conservative approach, just clean and apply paste wax. That is 100% safe and reversible, it just will not do anything for the scratches. If there are bare spots, nothing will help them get a matching finish without adding some more clear finish, whatever that was originally, and spot refinishing is not possible to teach on an interwebz forum.
RAF is about as appropriate for "fine furniture" as a scrubby pad is appropriate for cleaning a Corot.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2010 at 7:14PM
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If you could post a picture so that we could see the wood, the condition etc. that would probably help alot.

I have used steel wool #0000 and a product called Kotten Kleaner on several different pieces that didn't start out looking great, kind of hazy and faded, turns out that it just needed cleaning up. This product is pretty amazing, there is nothing in it that will strip or alter the finish as far as color goes, but it will successfully and gently but VERY effectively remove layers of gunk, even layers you cant see.

I purchased from an estate sale a curly maple dresser that I used it on and with some elbow grease AND the 0000 steel wool it really truly transformed it. I think it would be the least non abrasive material and the least time consuming means to try and see if that's enough

    Bookmark   September 15, 2010 at 10:12AM
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I used to be able to buy 10 ought steel wool....that was like a powder puff but still steel and would do amazing things to an old finish.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2010 at 12:05PM
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After following Casey's Minwax proceedure, you should fill any scratches with the wax crayons made for furniture repair. Then get a can of Minwax Furniture Wax for dark wood, and give the whole table a coat of wax.
Unless you know what you're doing, trying to repair a scratch with stain can cause a lot more problems.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2010 at 4:17PM
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Ugh, IMO that minwax dark wax is really a bad furniture wax. I imagine the light/natural stuff is just as bad. It's too hard. I much prefer Butcher's. I have a can of the minwax stuff, it's what I grab for wood screw lubricating, and for waxing metal parts. Never been able to get furniture to look well with it.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2010 at 7:44PM
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I don't know what you thought you used, but if you call Minwax Furniture Wax hard, then the wax you used is completly different than any can of Minwax I've used. It may be a lot of things, but I never heard of anyone saying it's hard.
You get alot of advice here, but none so simple to test as this. Go to the home store, pop open a can, dip in your finger and rub a little on one of those small wood samples of finish, and wipe it with a rag.
If you leave it set open on the shelf for a few months, then the residue might be good for screws.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2010 at 2:35AM
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