Darkening existing finish on chair legs

mercurygirlMarch 10, 2008

Is there a good way to darken the legs of upholstered furniture without stripping? I've searched a little and seen a few "hints", but not seen any step-by-step instructions with product recommended.

Am I just wishfully thinking or can this look good and be easy too? Finish is a medium cherry and it's just the blocky legs I'd like darker to match other pieces.

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There are a couple of things you can do, depending on if you want to darken edges and grooves (and say a 10 to 20% overall darkening of the legs) or if you want it uniformly darker.

For the first, go to a local artist supply store and buy a tube of linseed-oil based Brunt Umber. Do not get the acrylic version, it will not work. Wearing a latex surgical glove (this stuff will stain your fingers and cuticles for a week) coat the leg with it, and then remove it to suit with another old rag. It has a very long 'open' time and will take a day to dry, so you have lots of time to 'work' the finish to your satisfaction. After it dries, clear coat with flat or satin lacquer via rattlecan.

For a darker, more uniform finish, get a can of dark stained Barleys (or other brand) paste varnish. Apply in several coats allowing each to dry in between. No need to topcoat.

Duane Collie

    Bookmark   March 10, 2008 at 8:57PM
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What Duane is describing is
1) glazing
2) toning

Burnt umber is a dark red. You might also consider VanDyke Brown (a dark blackish brown). You can also just buy a glaze in these standard or custom colors, or make your own.

You will need to adequately mask off or remove the upholstered sections before trying this. Many legs will screw out with either wood screws or hanger bolts. If so, remove them before working on them.

You can buy aerosol toners used for touch up in hundreds of colors. Just a warning -- they go from not quite there to opaque very quickly. Sneak up on the color with very light coats. Another way of understanding this is you can use these techniques to _adjust_ the color, not make a radical change, unless you like the "Bombay Furniture" look :-)

The other thing is, "You can always add dark, but you can't add light."

Here is a link that might be useful: Glazing

    Bookmark   March 10, 2008 at 10:01PM
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I here you on that, Bobs. Those aerosol toners (Mohawk, etc) are handy for the lightest of touch-ups, but they do carry a lot of pigment and really blind the wood grain very rapidly. I've learned that the hard way as I'm sure you have. Goes from 'toning' to 'not i need to strip this' pretty quickly, eh?


    Bookmark   March 10, 2008 at 10:30PM
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Bobsmyuncle , what brand are you referring to Burnt Umber being a dark red color ?
I have always known it to be basically a neutral brown. Not as dark as Van Dyke brown not as light as say a Med Walnut ?
Dark Red ? NEVER ?

As for Toners specifically the Mohawk toners. They make two types one is denoted by a 100 prefix ( very transparent) it will not cover up much and allows the grain to be seen.
The other denoted by a 101 prefix is going to be opaque and cover quite well.
In my opinion a toner should be used in conjunction with a stain and not used a the sole color. Toners should be used to help you achieve the overall color/tone .
Used correctly ,toners can be a finishers best friend.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2008 at 9:43PM
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I guess that's the problem with "using words to describe color."

Doing a quick web search shows it as "medium brown", "reddish brown," "dark yellow hue," etc. Sounds like there's not much agreement in how to describe it.

Here is a link that might be useful: http://woodfinishersdepot.com/product_info.php?cPath=40&products_id=440

    Bookmark   March 12, 2008 at 8:48AM
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Burnt Umber definitely has virtually no reds in it. Its a good color that I've been using for nearly two decades to touch up cherry, maples, mahogany and tiger maples. Does a great blend repair but the down side is the long dry time, can't use it for on-site touchups or pieces that need to go out the door in a couple of hours.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2008 at 10:42AM
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Thank you all for the tips.

The legs are not fancy, just kinda squared off. I'd just like to make them darker overall.

So for quick, easy results, it seems paste varnish is the best bet? What about gel stain(?) which it seems I've seen talked about elsewhere?

    Bookmark   March 12, 2008 at 1:09PM
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dcollie, what burnt umber product are you referring to that you that it takes a long time to dry ?

    Bookmark   March 12, 2008 at 2:19PM
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The same product that you get at the local artist supply house that they use for oil paintings. There are many brands of it, the key is to buy the Burnt Umber in OIL base, not Acrylic. The Acrylic flashes off too fast and you can't work it..and it leaves an artificial look to the job. The Oil base is actually kind of fun to use, because it dries so slowly you can push it around to create different antiquing and toning looks with it. For example if you paint something in milk paint mustard, coat the whole thing with a heavy rubdown of burnt umber and then start pulling it off with a rag, In short order you'll have a beautifully toned piece. Be sure to topcoat it with a clear of some kind to lock it all in.

Duane Collie

    Bookmark   March 12, 2008 at 9:28PM
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Mercurygirl....for quick and easy with the least chance for error and the most time to get it as you want it...do what Duane first describes. Get some linseed based colors, burnt umber is a good choice, mask off the fabric on your chair, rub on the color and rub off what you think is too much. Let it dry...add more if you think it needs it, rub off anything you think is too much with a OOOO grade steel wool...and when you have the color you want, apply some top coat/sealer/poly/varnish...whatever.
It works very well and gives you the cholce of adjusting your color as you choose.
I have a chair that I didn't like the oak stain on and addes some prussian blue as described. It killed the orange, made the chair just the tone I wanted....and that was about 25 or 26 years ago and it still looks the way it did when I finished it.
Linda C

    Bookmark   March 12, 2008 at 10:59PM
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I took the advice on this thread and my chairs came out FABULOUS. My dining room chairs were a red upholstery over pale (almost maple) legs. My new dining room table is very dark brown -- almost black. Before reading this thread, I tried to darken one leg with Minwax tinted polyurethane. I put on three coats of Walnut and the change was barely noticeable -- not to mention that I had to sand before each coat.

I bought a very large tube of Winton's Vandyke Brown 41 and a small tube of Grumbacher's Burnt Umber. As far as I can tell, they are exactly the same color. The Grumbacher paint is much more creamy and easy to use. The Winton paint was dryer and more difficult to spread with a rag. I combined a little of the Grumbacher with the Winton and everything went well.

I tried using a foam brush and that didn't work at all. Use the rag technique and don't be afraid to put a lot on.

I got some beautiful wood toning when I wiped some of the paint off but I ended up making the paint fairly opaque to match the table. My husband was stunned at the result. He did some woodworking years ago and thought that the only way to get a decent result was to strip the chairs.

The chairs were dry in 24 hours and I finished by coating the chairs with one coat of oil based polyurethane in a satin finish which dried in three hours (to the touch).

Thanks to everyone for saving me tons of time! These boards are terrific.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 10:05PM
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Thanks for all the helpful info. I wish I had found this site earlier. Initially, I stripped a writing desk due to some damage to the top of it. I had it all stained with Minwax stain, but it needed a little toning to even out some lighter wood tones that I couldn't get the stain to cover and a small 1 inch diameter place where the actual particle board was showing through on the desk's vertical drop sides. I was hoping to create some darkening in the grooves and around the drawer front as well, to match another large piece of darker browned cherry furniture, which is in the same room. The salesman at the Mohawk store recommended I use their dark walnut toner and burnt umber glaze. I told him that the dark walnut toner seemed very dark to me, but he assured me that was what I needed to create a match with the piece I'd brought in to match. He showed me the color of the burnt umber on a paint can. Turned out the burnt umber glaze was an icky orange brown color about the color of rust on metal, which wasn't what I wanted at all, so I wiped that off immediately. Thank goodness I could, but am out $8 for it. : ( I applied a light coat of the dark walnut toner, and it immediately took my beautiful browned cherry stained desk to a 70's dark walnut even with a very light coat. It totally killed my cherry stain. Immediately, I tried mineral spirits and wet rub sanding to remove it. Didn't work. I tried paint thinner to remove it. Didn't work. I finally realized that stripping the desk again was the only way I was going to remove the toner. : ( Out an additional $6 : ( It was so much work to strip it again and once stripped I could see that the dark walnut toner had penetrated and took over everything right down to the wood. I'm now wondering if using bleach or detergent will get rid of the dark brown in the unfinished desk wood? Does anyone have any ideas??? I'm hating Mohawk products at the moment. I also bought 4 cans of their Pre-Catalyzed Clear Lacquer (Semi-Gloss) ($25) to use as my finish coats and am terrified to try to use them due to the issues with Mohawk's other products. Worried that it will be waste of money too. Also, I had a rather large desk top letter organizer with drawers that was a burgundy wood stained color that I was hoping to darken with the toner and use on the desk too. The toner darkened it fine but went totally white in places--I have no idea why? It was in late afternoon and temps were getting cooler--around 50 degrees probably, so it had to be stripped too. Has anyone here tried Mohawk's Pre-Cat clear semi-gloss lacquer? I'm worried it will go white too or the sheen will be wrong or something. I certainly don't want to re-do this again from if I ever get back to the point I was at before, which was a nice stain job. I've used Deft semi-gloss lacquer before on furniture refinishing projects and had very good success, but had read online that Mohawk was a superior and harder lacquer, so I thought it would be ideal for a desk. I'm at a loss and am considering going back to Deft semi-gloss lacquer (which looks like a factory finish) or Minwax fast drying polyurethane (semi-gloss) if I ever get the stain color right again. I am also wondering how much sheen the semi-gloss has in these other products, as I am wondering if their semi-gloss is different that the Deft. Thanks for any help you or anyone can give me about this!

This post was edited by eve54ut on Tue, Oct 8, 13 at 13:22

    Bookmark   October 8, 2013 at 12:07PM
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