Need help refinishing my antique inlay end tables

valinsvOctober 22, 2008

I recently purchased two antique inlay tables on CL. One had several gouges on the table top, the other one has a bumpy finish and the inlay is dirty. I have started working on the scratched table. At this point I was able to clean up the sides where there is a lot of carving and what looks to be a some type of glazing fairly well; however I ended up stripping the shellac/lacquer off of the table top. I need advise on what to do next to refinish it. I also need advise on what to do with the second table. Should I strip the top as well?

Here are some pics of my tables:

table 1 before:

table 1 now (stripped):

table 2 before (and now):

both tables aide by side:

Table on the left is table 1. I cleaned with Murphy's Oil Soap and touched up the legs with Restore-A-finish. Should I just do the same for table 2 legs?

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Table #2 looks like a poster child for fisheye caused by Pledge (silicone) contamination. It also looks like someone got heavy handed with polyurethane. I would strip it and apply a couple of light coats of shellac to seal in the silicone, then proceed with a nice finish of your choice.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 8:20AM
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bobsmyuncle: Thank you for the advice on my tables. I understand from the decorating forum you are very knowledgable in these matters. Would you recommend the same technique for both tables--two coats of shellac and then finish? Could you recommend some specific brands? Also, any suggestions about finish given the inlay? I was thinking something fairly light so as not to darken the inlay. Lastly, what are your suggestions regarding sanding--given that the grain runs in four directions? I have done some sanding with 400 grit paper and 0000 steel wool on the first table, but there are still a few deeper cross grain scratches in it. Should I try to get them all out or will they disappear in the refinishing?

    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 10:32AM
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Agree- Someone already tried to refinish table 2 but did not strip/prep properly. There is alot of material on the surface to be stripped off. Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 10:38AM
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Shellac will not only seal in the silicone, it is a wonderful finish in its own right. If it was introduced this year, it would be considered a "wonder finish." One of its attributes is that it will really enhance the depth, luster, and chatoyance of the figured wood and inlay in your table tops. You really don't need another finish on top, but you may if you wish.

I use a lot of "SealCoat" by Zinsser. Some people prefer to make their own, fresh from flakes. That's fine, and gives you a choice of colors (seed-lac, garnet, orange, lemon, blonde, and super-blonde). Unless you go to a relatively small place, all shellac in US comes from the same place.

I am not sure of your question about sanding. Finish has no grain. But I would avoid steel wool between coats. No matter how careful, you will leave steel shards that can eventually rust. Use sandpaper or Scotch-brite pads. If you are going to "refinish" you will stripping all the finish and lightly sanding all the wood. If you are just adding some finish to the top, they will be diminished by more finish.

McCloskey's Heirloom (now sold as Cabot 8000) is a very light colored soy-based non-poly varnish. It would be a good choice if you want something over the shellac.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 7:55PM
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That helps a lot, bobsmyuncle. I stripped the other table today and it looks so much better. I can see that there was a lot of dirt and discoloration below and someone just put the shallac/lacquer on top of it without bothering to clean it. How dumb is that? With the second one, I also stripped off the section where there is the inlay on the front and am wondering if I should do with the first table as well--though it does not look so discolored. Perhaps I should wait to see how the top turns out. I really don't want to strip the entire tables though with all the carving/glazing. I will do just the shellac with no stain as you recommend. I'll get the Zinsser one tomorrow. Should I brush it on? Was also thinking I should clean it again--with the mineral spirits? I'll also look at the varnish you recommend. Will that make it more water resistant than just the shellac alone?

This is my first refinishing project and I appreciate all of your helpful tips. I will post some progress pics tomorrow.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 11:54PM
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bobsmyuncle: I have stripped the tops of both tables as well as the front panels, sanded them and cleaned with acetone. How do they look so far?

Now I am wondering what to do with all of the edges including the pie crust.

I am very leary about stripping the entire tables with all of the carving/glazing as I am a novice at refinishing. Should I strip the edges though and leave the legs alone? If so, how to I go about getting all the old finish out of all the carved areas? Other option I was thinking of was to get some touch up paint and just paint in the areas where it has chipped off. Which method do you think I would have more success with given my abilities?

I bought the Clear Coat, but am wondering if I need to let the tables dry out for some period before proceeding to the next step.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 8:27PM
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I'd say it's looking good. Let it dry overnight. The non-veneer sections seem to have a heavy toner on them and may not be all that attractive wood underneath. Your approach of trying to use touch up sounds good, depending upon your abilities.

Do a light sanding of the veneer with 180 or 220 grit sandpaper, dust off the dust and you are ready to proceed. Brushing is a fine way to apply shellac (or varnish). Use a natural bristle brush and don't over work it and don't put it on too thick.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 9:42PM
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Thanks for walking me through this.

If I sanded with 400 grit, do I need to go back at it with 220 grit? I'm really nervous about going through the veneer.

Should I put the SealCoat on out of the can or thin it with denatured alcohol to get it to go on thinner? How many coats do you recommend? Should I sand in between?

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 10:15PM
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No need to go back to 220 unless there are problems with the surface.

You can use the SealCoat from the can. While it's not necessary to sand between coats because it partically dissolves lower coats and creates "one film," I do find it can raise the grain just a bit, so I sand after the first or second coat. Use sandpaper, though, not steel wool.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2008 at 8:51AM
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Here are the tables after 4 thin coats of the SealCoat with very light sanding in between:

table 1:

table 2:


I'll let these dry out and do the varnish tomorrow (unless it needs more curing time). DH suggested that I should just use a satin oil based poly we already have on hand and which was used on our floors last year. Would that be OK or is the Heirloom varnish the way to go? How many coats for the varnish?

Also, any suggestion what type of touch up paint to use for the edges? I was thinking of getting an oil based paint set at Aaron Brothers with some brown, black, and white in it so I can mix around to try to match the existing "toner".

    Bookmark   October 24, 2008 at 7:47PM
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very nice. Look how the figure bloomed. I bet as you walk around the table, it dances. :-)

Poly is not the worst thing in the world; it's just overused and over applied. Most people glop it on too thick. For reference, I'd use 2-3 tablespoons of finish, thinned 4:1 with mineral spirits, per coat for both tables. Stirred, not shaken.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2008 at 9:34PM
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Looks great! Did you brush the Selacoat on, or pad it on? I'm still nervous about padding technique, esp. on legs, where they meet sides.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2008 at 8:58AM
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Here are the finished tables after a couple of thin coats of poly. Thanks to bobymyuncle. I could've never had such success without all of his advice.

I had more success with the padding technique--probably due to the grain running in four different directions. I would think the brush strokes would look OK if they followed in the direction of the grain, but with these tables it was not possible. In any case, the poly seemed to fill everything in.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2008 at 5:17PM
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Looks great. Nice job.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2008 at 5:34PM
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Not necessarily. Watching too much Antiques Road Show. Not every piece of old furniture has value beyond intrinsic value and not making a needed repair can hasten demise.

Here is a link that might be useful: Antiques Roadshow and Refinishing

    Bookmark   November 5, 2008 at 1:34PM
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Would anyone really suggest that the after version of these tables is somehow less valuable than the before version? I would call this a "well executed refinishing" (as opposed to what happened before)

    Bookmark   November 6, 2008 at 8:19AM
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I am no expert in antiques, but intuitively I wholeheartedly agree with bobsmyuncle. These tables were "ruined" before I ever bought them with poor care, dirt, and a bad refinishing job where from the looks of it, someone just slaped a few layers of extra poly on top of the dirt and the pledge contamination and so disguised the beauty of the inlay work. What I did was to remove all the layers of abuse and start over. Granted they may never have the value of tables that were properly maintained from the start, but meanwhile they are now something that I can enjoy in my home and I am sure there are many like me who like having lovely things in their home and would be willing to pay for them.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2008 at 4:49PM
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You did a fantastic job on your first big project, the worry factor is often the biggest obstacle, and proper research helps to overcome this did great asking the right questions and perhaps you are well on your way to becoming a seasoned weekend refinisher. There is a great sense of satisfaction in being able to "resurrect" old furniture pieces, many can been had cheaply because they're so ughhh! So here are a few extra hints to helps with the next project...
1). Use the powerful, nasty strippers, with methylene chloride, they just get the job done so much better than citrus strippers...gloves n goggles n good ventilation are important, you will love the fast results, use a green scotchbrite pad, rough steel wool, a stiff brush, etc.
2).strip the whole piece, never mind taping off areas unless the finish is pristine...chances are you will been able to do a much nicer job if you take the whole piece down to bare, especially once you learn how to seal, glaze n tone....shellac n stain powders/glazes are your friends...
3).automotive dewaxers are great, like ditzler/ppg # dx330....a big helps in cleaning up after stripping n neutralizing....helps to avoid contaminants like fisheye"silicone" and lets your get a look at the grain and possible spots, problem areas before your stain or seal the piece.
4).while your can always re-strip, sand or undo your work, try to think ahead and, test stain/finish underneath a tabletop first, dont stain or finish in the sun or winds at 90 degrees, read up , but only from truly problem sources, like mike dresdner, etc..
4).have fun and dont be afraid, we all had to learn to walk and talk. There is great satisfaction in learning how to finish/refinish....drying times, dust free and stain/finish compatibility are the biggies, so dont worry, ask a lot of ??? And dont believe everything your hear....
5).cheers, holla at me if ya only have three decades of finishing wood under my belt, but I'll try to help if I can....aloha

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 5:56AM
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The tables look much better, but they are very unlikely to be antique.

The quality of the carving is very poor.

Similar tables are made in Italy even now.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 10:40AM
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I am pleased with the result of Murphy Oil Soap and I think you should continue to use this product to keep your table2 looking fresh and new. This product is ideal for cleaning wood surfaces.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 2:15AM
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"I am pleased with the result of Murphy Oil Soap and I think you should continue to use this product to keep your table2 looking fresh and new. This product is ideal for cleaning wood surfaces."

The problem with Murphy's oil soap occurs if there are any defects in the surface finish.

Water and soap get behind the finish and can start to lift it off.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 9:54AM
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