Refinishing Mahogany veneer china cabinet

mary_ruthAugust 23, 2012

Got this china cabinet on Craigslist for $73.

I knew it had damage, but DH and I thought it was worth that just for the doors with mullions (in good condition). But after DH saw this cabinet he thought we could try to refinish it.

The CL ad said that the veneer was all damaged, but in fact it was the finish that was coming off. There is no mold smell, and was stored in a house with A/C for a couple of years, they paid more for it in this condition, life changes made them get rid of the 'unfinished project'.

I would love suggestions on the refinishing part.

My thoughts:



Conditioning veneer for stain

Tung oil or some sort of oil finish (hand rubbed finish) and then wax (love that hand rubbed patina of wax)

I figured I would strip factory finish (mostly not good all over) Interior of the cabinet is in good vintage condition. All drawers work well, and no warping. All doors work well. The center desk (all small drawers work well) is in good working order. All hardware is in good condition. The only breakage is some veneer on the damaged part of the base (comes in two pieces) had small breakage and those pieces were in the drawer along with the brass skeleton key with a small tassel on it.

I will post another reply to add more photos.

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worst area with the veneer damage at the bottom on the kick.

This is where previous owner thought veneer was coming off, but it is the factory finish that is damaged, and they took a putty knife to it, no scratches so they were gentle with it.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 8:34PM
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Mullions are in good condition. This one had glass broken (regular glass, will replace)

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 8:36PM
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drawers are dovetail, and this is the base cabinet center top drawer opens as a desk. Leather inserts in the desk flip down.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 8:37PM
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Stripping is the way to remove the finish.

But, sanding is very dangerous---simply because the veneer is very thin. Sand through it and the underwood is totally different.

That means hand sanding with 200 grit paper just enough to remove the whiskers created by the stripper.

Stripping and hand sanding will be a huge job-----I don't do that size pieces, but I'd venture a couple hundred hours total.

Conditioning is really not necessary if the veneer is really mahogany and an oil finish will be troublesome if you want to wax the piece. Shellac would be better---but applying shellac by hand is a huge job for a piece like that.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 12:08AM
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Thank you! I am posting a photo of an Art Deco wall unit. I bought it at a Goodwill in Virginia Beach, Va. It took me about 6 months (with life's interruptions and working full time) to sand and poly this piece. DH took it all apart for me, so I concentrated on each piece until I was finished. The finish had been a factory finish (with airbrushed darker at the top and bottom fading to the center, with stripper not doing the whole job, so I pulled out the sander. I stained the whole piece with a honey color.
I am familiar with long projects.

I thank you for your comments and think that after I strip the finish, I might see too much damage and or discoloration and decide to paint it dark gray instead leaving the interior mahogany. I intended to leave the doors as they are like the interior, cleaning up with refinisher and perhaps drawer fronts if they come out nice. IF I paint. My decision will be made once I see how the good parts accept the refinisher.

Thanks for the comments and suggestions about the conditioning, oil and wax and the Shellac advice.

I refinished a large mahogany table many years ago along with the 12 bentwood chairs (did this for my MIL). I used the shellac and also did the pumice and linseed oil when finishing. So, I am familiar with old style finishing and the long hours to get it right. Over 30 yrs later and that set I did for my MIL has been passed down to a daughter who says it still is gorgeous and has great patina.

I do not have that strength any longer for that kind of work, but I can dream can't I?

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 7:15AM
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I edited the above post and the picture didn't go along... so posting that wall unit here that goes with above post.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 7:16AM
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You do have experience!!

And some ability as well!

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 11:53AM
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Thank you!

I am glad my husband helps me with the larger stuff and he loves to take out his tools and help me with projects. We remodeled our home in Virginia and sold it two years ago, now we are in our retirement house in Florida, but I can't just leave it blank... has to have character, so here we are again doing projects for our house.
my old blog (we had 4 yrs of medical issues) and now starting up again with new blog, this old Virginia house one will eventually get deleted.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 1:36PM
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Fori is not pleased

You'd better have some "after" photos when you're done. It's a great piece. I mean I don't know if it's any good or not but the style is lovely and it's functional.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 7:58PM
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I will post photos here of the project when I start! I am excited about this project!

I want to get my supplies and the method in order before beginning. There are so many new products out there, for stripping, refinishing, and paints that I have had to do a lot of research on how to do this.

I have read a few projects on this board and wanted the advice from here first to save me work and cost.

Thanks for your comment!

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 6:48AM
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As you may realize, the wood is not all mahogany, just the facade section. The sides where the dark colored finish has flaked off is probably maple-veneered plywood. So the stain(s) you use and their application in proper order and placement to have the whole thing of different materials end up the same shade is going to be your biggest challenge.
You'll want to start with a deep reddish stain, then seal, then tone with a dark brown stain (like Java) to get depth and relieve the red tones. Then apply a finish of your choice. You'll need less stain on the real mahogany, and more on the white lumber. After the toner it will all come together, so don't panic when the first stain looks "not what I expected".

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 7:48AM
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Yes, I understand about the construction being different woods for construction, that is why I want to strip that finish off first and see what I have to deal with. The challenge will be to unite the finishes. And to repeat the 'factory' finish look, I know this is a challenge. If I get to a phase that I see 'more' work is required than I can deal with at that point I will have at least a sanded (hand light sanding) will provide me with a great substrate for painting instead.

I appreciate your comments and suggestions! I am keeping an open mind to the piece. It is not a valuable antique but its value will be in the color (value of presence and importance in the room) , texture of detail, mullions and lastly what I fill the visible parts with. That this piece will have more than just an ordinary task is what makes me give it more consideration.

Also, my motivation for preserving its value as a Mahogany entity is that I have (will be within view) an antique mahogany pedestal dining table, then as walking past dining area you see an Empire mahogany colored Empire chest. This is my decorating direction. None of my 'mahogany' pieces are true mahogany in every piece, and the 'glaze' finish over the wood is like the modern 'sprayed' pieces of furniture store grade. I know that a true mahogany piece that shows the beauty of the wood is not within my budget. So, my thoughts of sanding, staining and hand rubbed wax is a high expectation and am adjusting my sights. This is why I generated discussion, to make me be more realistic of my expectations and to plan my strategy on proceeding with the project. It is like an infatuation... becomes more reality as time goes on... with a deflated view of the piece... I mean it can't bring me happiness and fulfill all my dreams... AH but it did for a short time during the 'crush' stage! LOL

If the china cabinet goes gray... then that takes me down a whole new road where gray will play more of a role.

Pictured is a Library table I still have that will also be in the living room (same room as this china cabinet, which will serve as a small book storage along with white seashells and some silver pieces. This photo was taken in my Virginia house we sold 2 yrs ago, and moved the things I treasured most to Florida with us. (Space Coast)

Amazing, once you pick a direction, if affects the whole family of other items you own and choose how to display and consider the value of each (one cannot invest and treat a semi-precious antique as a museum piece, but can elevate its stature with other design supportive elements in the room and house)

Why am I investing so much time in thinking about each piece I bring into my home? This is the LAST house we are going to live in. We bought our retirement house a little early and are slowly savoring each step it takes to make it 'home'. I am slowly and carefully thinking about the composition of each piece and how they will all fit together. (on a low budget, good style is really challenging!) Thanks for reading even if you do not comment, I appreciate it.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 8:33AM
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I just reviewed this thread:
in kitchen forum which I found on this board as a reference for the gel stain finish on celticmoon's kitchen.

I have been inspired to do something of this nature after preparing my pieces to be stable to accept top coats and have them stick properly and have a smooth appearance when dry.

I think this gel stain would probably be my easiest choice since I can also apply to other pieces I have with mahogany-like coloring. I am glad I came on this board for a solution and a re-thinking of my project. This should save me so much time, expense and work!

Thanks to all of you out there who post your projects so that it saves so much for those of us who follow!

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 10:02AM
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This is my ca. 1884 kitchen door which I stripped and finished in a mahogany color with Merlot (liquid) stain, garnet shellac, and Java gel stain as toner. The door is poplar and white pine!


    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 10:06PM
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GORGEOUS door! OH my what a beautiful job on that finish! Thanks for sharing, I just love it and all that detail and incredible style! The door knob is amazing!

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 11:27PM
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Makes my mahogany door feel like it should be covered in paint.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2012 at 8:23PM
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