Refinishing dining room table

allanjAugust 23, 2009

I also posted this under furniture forum. I have just recently finished restripping and staining a dining room table top. The stain took fine and dried evenly. When I varnished the table top the vernish did not dry evenly. There are like little holes or blotches in the finsih all over the table top. I sanded the top and varnished a second coat and the same thing happened. I then restripped the entire top to bare wood. Restained the top and when I varnished the same thing happened again. I am at wits end as to why this is happening. I refinished the chairs with the same stain and varnish with no problems. Please help

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Is what you have commonly described as "fish-eye?" This is where the finish separates and makes numerous small craters all over the finish.

If this is the case, the most common cause is use of a polish that contains silicone oil, and the most common example of that is Pledge(R). I say that silicone oil is like herpes, once you have it, you never get rid of it. It is quite likely that a prior owner liked to apply Pledge to the table top so it looked good and did not use it on the chairs.

There are two ways to resolve silicone oil contamination:
1. After staining, seal the wood with a couple of light coats of shellac. I prefer to spray this on so as not to stir up the oil. Once those coats are dry (about 30 min. each), start with your finish first coat. If you are using polyurethane varnish, just be sure to use DEWAXED shellac, as the poly does not stick to waxed shellac very well.

2. You can by a fish-eye preventer. This is silicone oil that you add to the finish and it works like the hair of the dog that bit you. It counteracts the tendency of the oil on the finish to screw up the surface tension of the finish. I do not like to use this as it contaminates everything it touches.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   August 23, 2009 at 12:02PM
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This is exactly what my table top is looking like, but not to that extreme. I guess I have no other choice but to strip it again and then use the shellac. Where would I find dewaxed shellac. Does this come in a spray can or do you mix it yourself and use a sprayer. If you mix it yourself and use a sprayer then I would have no other choice but to brush it on. Would I sand the shellac between coats?

    Bookmark   August 23, 2009 at 5:45PM
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You can make your own from flakes, but it is cheaper to buy premixed. Zinsser Seal Coat is a good dewaxed shellac and is available in quarts. Be sure to check the manufacture date and buy the freshest you can. While they say it's good for up to 3 years, I would look for something less than a year old. While I have seen it in Lowe's or Home Depot, I'd recommend a good paint store, Rockler, or Woodcraft at your chance for getting a fresher batch.

You can also buy Bullseye shellac in an aerosol can from the same company. It is dewaxed.

You don't need to sand between coats as the shellac partially dissolves the lower coat and becomes one with it. Shellac can partially raise the grain and feel a bit rough. But this is not a problem, keep reading. I normally apply the two coats of Seal Coat, then the first coat of finish and sand at that point. This is called "burying the grain."

    Bookmark   August 23, 2009 at 7:11PM
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Thank for all your help bobsmyuncle. I am going to get the shellac. I was wondering what you use for your finish coat, regular varnish or polyurethane. I know in your previous post you said you could use polyurethane if your used a dewaxed shellac, but I was wondering what you prefer. I have used both. If you use polyurethane does it make a difference if you use the fast drying. Have you ever used the product deft

    Bookmark   August 23, 2009 at 9:15PM
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I wrote a response only to have my browser crash before sending.

Short answer: I use about everything. Poly is fine, but I object to it being used for about everything. It is over marketed and it makes it hard to find other options. I just bought the only can of non-poly lacquer at the corner hardware store for a project. The asst. manager and manager did not know they had it on the shelf until they went to order it for me and saw "1" on their inventory, nor did they know what it was.

Deft is a brushing lacquer. Yes, I have used it and have a couple of cans of it sitting around. But mostly, I spray lacquer because I can, and it's faster to do that way.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2009 at 8:50AM
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Can I put Deft on the shellac without any problems. I like Deft because of it's drying time but would I be better off to use varnish or poly. This is on a dining room table and I don't want to have to strip it a third time. I am also using the same finish on a buffet. I will have to use the shellac on it also because unfortunately it has had Pledge used on it also. Thanks for all your advice.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2009 at 8:59AM
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Yes, Deft goes on Seal Coat (shellac).

Lacquer is just slightly less durable than varnishes. But it is easier to repair and refresh. If 10 years down the road, your table is looking a little ratty, try just cleaning and applying a couple of new coats of Deft on it. It will bond chemically just fine. Just don't be using Pledge any more.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2009 at 12:30PM
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I ended up buying Bullseye shellac clear in a quart can. The home depot near me did not have the Zinser seal coat so I went with the Bullseye shellac. I hope that it is wax free (the person at home sepot thought they were all wax free now because of the poly problem) and can use the Deft on top of it. I did get the table top restripped and stained. So tomorrow I plan to try to put the shellac on.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2009 at 10:57PM
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I find Bullseye to be rather thick and sticky straight from the can; it's a 3-pound cut (I'm pretty sure), meaning that 3 pounds of dry shellac are dissolved in each gallon. You can dilute it as much as you like in denatured alcohol and apply it in thinner, easier coats. A one-pound cut, or 2 parts alcohol to one part Bullseye, is not uncommon.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2009 at 6:08AM
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Bullseye (liquid) shellac is NOT wax free.

The advice dispensed by people wearing orange aprons in the paint department is suspect. In this case it is wrong.

Deft should be OK on top of it.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2009 at 8:17AM
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