Guidance requested for Oak cabinet restoration

slave2thefurApril 25, 2009

Hi everyone

IÂm refinishing and repairing an abused solid oak cabinet with lovely quarter sawn veneer on the doors and shelves. After reading thru posts and online woodworking articles, IÂm still unsure of the type of finish to use. Ideally, I like emphasis the beauty of the QS veneer. The top has very noticeable color variations in the boards used to compose the surface, and several dents suggest that the lighter areas are slightly softer.

The cabinet is for the guest room, and will not be exposed to sunlight. A companion piece is a very old oak student desk, so I donÂt want to alter the basic oak color with a stain. High humidity is very seldom an issue here, but extreme dryness during Santa Ana conditions occurs several times a year, if that matters.


1 Â For the veneer, is there a technique to best highlight the QS wood? There was an earlier post like this, but I didnÂt really understand the steps. The veneer is intact and well attached, with some sections that are ridged. Several photos show the veneer with a mineral spirit wipe in order to show the details.

2 Â Is a wiping varnish the best finish for a piece like this? Will the wood variations on the top cause a problem? Water or oil based finish?

3 Â A piece of trim is missing from the leg / side junction. A replacement piece needs a slight convex curve to the surface in order to match. Can this be done with a stationary belt sander, after outlining the shape, and then jigsaw the final shape?

4 Â The interior was lined with old vinyl contact paper, which came off fairly easily. I plan to reline the drawers and shelves with sheets of cork, however, the front edges of the shelves need to be finished. Any suggestions on removing the dried glue? Would Goo Gone work?

5 Â The mirror ormolu is missing, and the originals etched remora-type damage. Good sources for attractive metal replacements?

Extensive, captioned photos are here

Guidance, redirects and suggestions welcome for any of the questions or anything I didnÂt know to ask Âdiana

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Here are a couple of procedures, very similar that will give an appropriate finish. I am simply linking to them rather than plaguarizing or typing it all.

Note in this one the advice to STRIP not SAND. This is very important, in my opinion, if you are going to have reliable results with coloring. Colors may not penetrate evenly if there is still residual finish in or on the wood.

Option 1

Replicating Stickley colors (on new wood)

You can use oil- or water-based finish. But use a glaze (gel stain) in the same type as your intended finish. If you plan on using oil-based polyurethane varnish or any water-borne finish, make sure the shellac is dewaxed. Wiping varnish is a simple way to apply finish and gives good results.

Goo-gone is good for removing adhesive. It might be slow, but is not likely to harm the finish. If you plan to refinish, you can go stronger, such as lacquer thinner.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2009 at 2:27PM
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Thanks for the response - this is exactly the info I need, as I hadn't worked with QS before. The 'Finishing for First-Timers' is particularly useful.

Not to worry - I've seen other admonitions regarding sanding, so I've gotten in touch with (cue music) my inner stripper. This piece was already sanded on the easy to reach sections, and was abandoned due to the extensive damage on the front. I believe that, after the door hinges were poorly replaced, they installed shutter dogs to hold the doors shut. The gouges are dreadful, but at least minimized now by sanding it smooth.

Question: for the gel stain, are you recommending it be used for the QS only? Will I get better results if the whole piece is gel stained?

=^,,^= diana

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 12:50PM
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The gel stain is working as a glaze -- a color layer between coats of finish. It's your choice, but normally a whole piece is glazed. You can leave the areas such as the panels in the doors unglazed if you wish, though, if you want a "two-tone" effect.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 3:50PM
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and now for the finale...
after 4 weeks of work, the cabinet looks terrific, with a warm golden finish. Many thanks for the recommendations, as the product labeling is bewildering!
Lessons learned
- gel stain works great, but sanding leaves washed out spots. Had very little blotchiness - no good explanation of why it happened where it did.
- testing on scrap wood is a must for color and finish checks
- paste wax product must not leave white residue (ugh)
- gel stain mixed with wood filler works very well to fill cracks
- multiple trips to the hardware store is a time sucker: get everything you think you need and return the unused products
- red oak was cut as replacement piece, and took multiple stains to match
- take lots of pix to keep from getting discouraged and to see progress

Final selections: cherry stain on QS veneer then either Honey maple and/or Antique maple gel stain (small tins). Polyurethane wipe (50% mineral spirits): 2-3 coats followed by paste wax. Total cost of finishing products, solid brass hinges, etc Amazingly, neither cat prints nor cat fur is visible in the finish! ... =^,,^= diana

Here is a link that might be useful: Cabinet restoration: the saga in photos

    Bookmark   May 15, 2009 at 10:31PM
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Glad to hear it worked so well for you.

Finishing is not hard, but it can be confusing because:
1. Things happen at a chemical level, not a physical level that you can see, feel, and measure.

2. Finish labels are done by the marketing department, not the chemical engineers. Most of the labels are somewhere between pure fiction and outright obfuscation.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2009 at 5:33PM
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I just found this thread and am so impressed. What beautiful work you did. Such a lovely cabinet, the stain is perfect. I loved following your progress. Such professional work!



    Bookmark   June 18, 2009 at 1:26PM
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