Rejuvenating an antique

Colleen1951July 10, 2013

I have an old (1915 or before???) Welsh Pewter cabinet that has gingerbread work on the drawer/door fronts. It appears to be a dark oak,the color is between a dark walnut to ebony stain. It doesn't appear to have any varnish or top coating on it. I am keeping the finish as is, but plan on using WATCO Rejuvenating Oil. I will test an inside shelf first, but my question is...
Is WATCO Rejuvenating Oil a good choice, should I put it on with 0000 steel wool or just a soft cloth, and should I use it over the gingerbread. I don't want it to raise it away from the main wood. The condition of the piece is pretty good, some surface scratches, wear marks on edges, and some discoloration (unevenness of color) with no water marks.

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Can you post some pictures?

You say it doesn't appear to have any finish, but are you sure?

If the piece was NOT oil-finished, you will end up with a mix of oil-soaked wood in the bare spots where the rejuvenator was and old finish in others. It's going to be an ugly mess and really hard to fix.

I would start by washing off any old grime with mild soap and water and a soft brush. Rinse with clean water and dry promptly with clean white rags.

Then I would gently scrub it with mineral spirits to get rid of old wax and oily crud.

Then I would stop and evaluate the piece ... ID the finish, make any repairs to drawers and doors ... and only then would I apply any permanent finishing upgrades or fixes.

The three finishes you are most likely to encounter�"shellac, lacquer and polyurethane�"can be identified by simple tests on an inconspicuous spot on the piece. If a cotton ball dipped in denatured alcohol (not rubbing alcohol unless you can get the 90% stuff) softens the finish, it is shellac. If lacquer thinner softens the finish, it is lacquer. If neither solvent affects the finish, it is polyurethane.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 10:14AM
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Here is a link to some pictures. I hope I am linking this correctly.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cupboard

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 9:23PM
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What you have is oak ... the "gingerbread" was probably produced by pressure to make the lower stippled parts, not by applying the lattice work separately.

It has finish. That flaking grainy look is where the old finish is peeling up.

The trick to removing varnish, shellac and old polish and wax build-up all at once is to use a 50/50 mix of laquer thinner and denatured alcohol (it's Formby's but cheaper). Apply gently it with medium coarseness steel wool, let it sit a minute or two to soften the layers and gently scrub it loose with the steel wool. It will turn into a brownish sludge.

Then wipe off the sludge with a rag and do the next area. Repeat as needed until the piece is clean.

When you think you have it all, do it one more time over the whole surface with fine steel wool, and then wipe with a rag moistened in clean stripping mix just to make sure.

That mix is flammable and stinky - do this outside away from flames. It also dries out your skin, so gloves are nice. It will not darken the wood, it just removes waxes, old polish and shellac and old-style varnishes.

Then consider your new finish.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 10:29PM
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lazygardens, thank you for your reply. It sounds like a lot of work. Would I do the gingerbread area the same way? Using the steel wool, or a toothbrush? What do you think of synthetic steel wool, or those green kitchen scrubbers? I want to keep the integrity of the piece as much as possible. What kind of finish would you recommend?

Sorry for so many questions, and again, thank you! *s*

    Bookmark   July 11, 2013 at 10:43PM
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It's a lot of work, yes. But the shortcuts can look really ugly.

I've used green scrubbers - they work well and usually don't dissolve in the finish remover.

I would use a natural fiber brush on the gingerbread areas - metal would be too harsh, and plastic might melt. Test any plastic brush

Final finish? For a piece that's in daily use, a wipe-on polyurethane would work well. Or the Watco Rejuvenating oil finish.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 11:30AM
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Maybe you can get this looking better (enough) by a simple rejuvenation without resorting to stripping the finish.

A touch up marker will do to add color to the worn edges.

Poly is highly unlikely unless someone has smeared some on in a garage well after the piece was built.

Watco Rejuvenating oil appears to be simply a highly thinned linseed oil. I'm not sure I'd recommend that over wax or a refresher coat of shellac.

I'd also avoid the "green scrubbers" (Scotch-brite). Green is a bit too coarse for what you want to do. There is a light gray that's about 0000 steel wool and one step finer than the maroon, that is a couple of steps finer than the green.

Here is a link that might be useful: Saving the Finish

This post was edited by bobsmyuncle on Fri, Jul 12, 13 at 13:12

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 11:33AM
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Sorry, I have not posted sooner, but real-time has pulled me away.

Thank you for all the input. Still contemplating what to do.
Completely redo it, or just keep as much as original as possible.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 3:08PM
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If you're still in the contemplation mode, I've liked using Kramer's Antique Improver.

You can read a variety of reviews on the web, and go to the guy's site to identify local retailers.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2013 at 4:50PM
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