Help - did I rub through the stain? Veneer/Parquet

miapjpMay 27, 2009

Help me please! I bought this cabinet (maybe a liquor cabinet?) and the guy said it was mahagony veneer, and to just polish it up with some steel wool. There's a milky haze on lots of it, and it feels kind of sticky. I cleaned it off, then used Formsby's Buildup Remover and got lots of dirt off, but not the haze. So I used some 000 steel wool and rubbed with the grain for that specific square. There was a white powdery residue gumming up the steel wool, I thought it was old wax. But - *without* much rubbing - it started to get splotchy, looking as if I'd rubbed right through the stain (or whatever's on there). From what I'd read, it should rub out the finish to a nice shine, not literally rub out the stain! Plus, the lighter spots aren't shaped like you'd expect when rubbing in a straight line, you'd think it'd be just an oval. The first pic shows the entire cabinet top and the haze, the second shows the components of the door (sorry, I've never done this before and don't know the correct terminology). The third shows the top and you can see the two squares I worked on. The last two are close-ups of the trouble spots.

What did I do wrong? And how can I fix it? Luckily I only paid $25 (although it's $25 more than I can spare - I couldn't resist!)

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Stain is artificial colorant. As far as I can tell from these pics, there is no stain on this cabinet, as this is the natural color of mahogany. What you're dealing with is the finish which is a clear coating meant to make the wood more-or-less shiny and protect it from moisture and unattractive surface contaminants. The finish on your piece is probably shellac or nitrocellulose lacquer.

And yes, it looks like you wore right through the finish. There's no reason to think you've thrown away $25, but you have set yourself up for a partial refinishing project.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2009 at 7:06AM
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That coating may have some colorant in it. The lighter spots are bthe natural color of the wood.

Parquet designs are particularly difficult to refinish---as you are finding. Reason being you have to sand with the grain of the wood when sanding to make sure there are no crossgrain scratches.

The white gummy stuff was the finish.

What you need to do to repair the 'damage' is to Sand each square the same way you did those two. The reason is so when you do the next step, the result will be fairly uniform. Otherwise the next step will cause the reverse of the problem you now have and you will have two different squares.

Once all the squares are sanded with the steel wool, use a sanding block(a piece of wood about 6" long and 3" wide) with 400 grit sandpaper and lightly sand the entire top. I stress LIGHTLY---do not put any pressure on the block. All you are doing here is removing the build up finish you left along the lines---you do not want to sand the wood.

Then buy a small can of stain(one half pint) at a home improvement/hardware store) There should be one called Red Mahagony. Wear a rubber glove(although the stain will wear off your hand/fingers is two-three days) and use a piece of cloth---old Tshirt/etc. Fold the cloth into a small square, dip one corner into the stain and begin rubbing the cloth/stain on the top---makes no difference how/what direction---just rub fairly quickly.

You will quickly see how to control the color by rubbing slower/faster or adding more stain and chaging the speed of rub.

Let the result dry for a day.

Now the decision. Do you intend on setting anything on the top? Vase/knickknack, etc.? If so, you need to know shellac/lacquer finishes( as applied by DIYers) are susceptable to water rings/clouding if things are allowed to remain long term. If you want to put a doily and artificial flowers, that is less of a problem. But, if you want a heavy statue or fresh flower vase, the finish you choose should not be shellac/varnish.

Easiest finish is rattle can lacquer. Simply spray it on in three light coats---allowing 6 hours per coat before recoating. Your investment so far would be one can stain(about $5 and the can of lacquer, about $4)

Varnish would be my recommendation. You will need to brush it on--unless you can find a spray can. Just follow the directions. You can make a wiping varnish by adding some thinner(about 40% thinner)---it is applied just like you applied the stain, but you need to put on 6 coats to get the protection of three brushed/sprayed coats.

Shellac takes a bit of a learning curve to use, plus the shelf life of shellac is short---using shellac will cost over $15 if you can find a small useable can.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2009 at 9:26AM
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Wow, thanks! I guess I'm confused about stain vs. shellac/lacquer. I always thought stain colored the wood and shellac/lacquer didn't - it just sealed it, or protected it. But it sounds like, in this case, it colored it. So how can you tell whether to put on *just* finish or stain *and* finish? If you did both, would the finish further darken (or color) the stain? Or will finish only color the wood if it's natural?

I do have a can of shellac that I found at an estate sale (for my one other "project" that I've not started yet!).

Thanks so much for helping this newbie! I've googled lots but have never found anything that answered my extremely basic questions. They explained stain and shellac, but never talked about the results from combination of, of lack of combination of, various products.

Again, thanks!

    Bookmark   May 28, 2009 at 12:32PM
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There are a lot of different stains and a lot of different finishes.

Shellac, for instance comes in about 8 or 9 colors---from clear(blond or white) to very dark(button lac).

Almost all oil based finishes create an amber 'tone' when applied---most folks call it a 'warm glow'.

Almost all water based finishes add no shading/color and can often look washed out or bland if used in the wrong situation.

Then there are tinted lacquers. And glazes. And more.

If your unit was shellaced, it was probably done with amber shellac---the most common. Added to the original ambering of the finish, is the fact that time ages it darker.

If the color is true on my computer screen, that finish is more red than what amber shellac would create. Which is why I suggested red mahogany stain----wiped on to control the color and coated with amber shellac----it should come close to the original.

However, if the shellac you have is more than two years old(if it is manufactured, there should be a date on the bottom of the can that tells either the date of manufacture or the last date to use by)---it is probably not worth using.

For instance, I but shellac flakes(dried shellac) and mix whatever amount I need. Flakes last indefinately, but that is a bit more expensive than buying a can. I feel it is less wasteful.

So, stain does color wood---but so does many finishes. The finish used is chosen to complement the stain/wood color.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2009 at 4:11PM
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