What exactly is Restore A Finish?

2ajsmamaOctober 22, 2008

I've seen so many people on Home Decorating forum rave about this, but can't find too much info on Howard's website. It says it can be used on shellac, lacquer, varnish, and will even clean poly. But you can't put poly over it. I have lacquered tables that have mostly fine scratches I just want to make look better. Maybe next year I'll strip and refinish them to get a few deeper gouges out, but since those places aren't down to bare wood right now I can live with them - it's getting too cold to be working in the garage.

So if I use RAF, will I be able to strip and poly the tables later, or will it leave a residue (like silicone) that will make that difficult?

I ended up stripping the coffee table and using gel stain, it looks good - just trying to decide whether to poly it or use tung oil. I'm done with lacquer (brush left marks, spray "spit" and fisheyed, that's why I stripped it).

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I got some of this stuff and I don't see what all the fuss is about. They play it real close to the vest, claiming "trade secret," mostly to keep the mystique, as if any junior chemistry student couldn't reverse engineer it. There is enough obfuscation and outright lies* in the consumer finish market, I don't want to patronize yet another.

From what I can tell, it has a bit of methanol in it. This is an alcohol that helps remove white water rings and can clean some surface substances(so will ordinary denatured alcohol, as a "selective solvent".) Most of the rest appears to be a light mineral oil, the same as you will find in many furniture polishes. There is also a bit of colorant that helps conceal scratches or defects, if somewhat temporarily. I don't think it has any silicone in it.

I tried it on some pieces that are sitting around and headed no where in particular. It added a quick shine (just like a polish), but within a month, there was no discernible difference.

My personal theory is that antique dealers smear this stuff on to "put lipstick on the pig" (give a quick and dirty, temporary improvement). If no one buys the piece in a few weeks, they repeat it. Once sold and off the floor, if the customer comes back and claims the piece is now dull, they'll sell them a can of this stuff.

I run a furniture repair and refinishing business. If I went out and used this stuff on a "refurbish," I would be embarrassed if I kept getting calls a month later that my work didn't look so good any more.

And believe it or not, there are many (better) finishes than polyurethane.

Just my opinion.

* Most things labeled "Tung Oil [Finish]" contain absolutely NO tung oil. They are simply thinned varnishes or oil-varnish blends.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 7:44PM
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Thanks - I knew you'd have an answer. Have you ever tried to refinish something someone had used RAF on? I may try it just to get the piece looking OK over the winter (but I'll try the Guardsman spray I have first since RAF looks just like a polish and I don't have light-colored scratches).

About the coffee table - I know "tung oil" is just a wiping varnish, and I wouldn't put poly on an antique, but since this is a relatively inexpensive table and I want to get a finish on it ASAP, it seemed something I could wipe on, in the house (with plastic on the floor) would be the solution. The spray lacquer spit and made circles, only brushon lacquer I could find was Minwax (Home Depot didn't have Deft) and it sagged and ran on side of table, also left brush marks. Varnish (unless it's thinned enough to wipe on really thin) takes too long to dry and collects dust - really would collect dust in garage or basement if I put it on there (and I won't brush on varnish in the house). What else would you suggest to use since it's now too cold to finish this in the garage? Or would you let it go without a finish and just stick it in an out-of the way corner of the LR so my kids don't destroy it before next spring, finish it (again, any suggestions?) when I refinish the tops of the end tables? Thanks

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 8:54AM
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Shellac seems like a perfect solution : dry in 15 minutes, ready to re-coat in 30. You can use it down to about 40F. While it has an alcohol odor, it is not as objectionable as many other products.

People don't often tell me what they've used on their pieces being refinished, so I don't know if I've ever had anything with RAF on it. I did some repair work for a woman who was a "Restor-a-Fan" so I'm sure some of the stuff I touched up for her had it on it.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 10:43AM
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Well, it's often below freezing in my garage now (full soffits, no insulation). Will shellac leave brush marks if I brush it on, and if it does will each coat smooth out the previous coat so I will just have to rub out the final coat? Or can I actually wipe it on? Is it too toxic smelling to use in the house or since it dries so quickly, I can put a few coats on in the garage, it may freeze overnight but the next day I can put a few more on and move it back into the house after a few hours? I saw you reply on the inlaid tables, Home Depot sells Zinsser so maybe I can find it there.

Finally, do you think it would work over lacquer if I scuffed the lacquer first? Then I could put it on the end tables, just strip and refinish next year.


    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 11:19AM
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Since each coat burns into the lower coat, there is no need to sand between coats. However, alcohol generally has a little bit of water in it and I find it raises the grain on raw wood just a bit. So I apply shellac, let it firm up the fibers and "bury them" by one sanding during the process. If you are going over existing finish, you shouldn't have this problem. Just make sure the lacquer is clean and dull. I apply it by padding, brushing or spraying, as appropriate.

Since it dries in 15-30 minutes, put it on, let it dry in the garage and bring it inside after 30 minutes. Problem solved.

If you buy pre-mixed shellac ("SealCoat") check on the bottom of the can for "Mfd. Date." Within a year is best, though Zinsser says SealCoat is good for up to three years. If you mix your own, mix only as much as you are going to use immediately. It starts to go bad gradually. In six months, it's worth checking and pitch it after 12 months.

With a few exceptions (conversion finishes), shellac sticks to anything and anything sticks to it.

Here are a couple of articles.
About shellac

List of articles on shellac and how to apply.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 11:51AM
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OK, 1 coat (brush or pad/wipe on) then sand - 320 grit? on the stained wood (no finish) Then apply 2-4 more coats 15 min or more apart, 30 min after last coat we can carry it in from garage w/o leaving prints?

I'll try just wiping on the end tables over existing lacquer - 220 or 320 to scuff? I used 320 to scuff it before I was going to spray, never sprayed the end tables, it's whitish looking with a few darker (original) low spots. Is that OK or do I need to scuff it so it's uniformly white in order to get the shellac to stick? I also left the drawer front of the coffee table alone to use a guide to color/sheen, so I can experiment on that before doing the end tables. Thanks.


    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 12:18PM
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ajsmama: I bought a quart of SealCoat this morning at Lowes. HD only had the gallon size, and OSH didn't have any at all. I was also wondering the best application method for a novice--brush on or rag on? I did buy a new brush. Let me know how yours turns out.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 1:41PM
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I wanted to also add that some of the people on the DF that use Restore-a-Finish use another product after the Restore-A-Finish: either Howard's Beeswax and/or Howard's Burnishing Cream. Sarschlos is one who used them on her buffet with good results. Perhaps you need to apply the finish product to get a more lasting result? I bought both though have not tried them yet. I'm assuming this would be instead of a poly type varnish since they state not to put below poly. I have another set of end tables I also bought on CL where it seems they did not apply a sealer to them--as they show water rings very easily. I was thinking of using one (or both) of these products on them--once I get my first set of end tables done.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 1:47PM
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Well, looks like there's more to padding than getting a good thickly folded cloth saturated like I thought it was. Not sure I want to go hunting for raw wool and muslin, or practicing on scrap boards. Though I guess I could practice on the end tables since I plan on stripping those next year anyway. Brushing on then using the pad to refine may be easier than just padding, but again looks like a technique to practice. I may just do the wiping varnish ("tung oil") since I've used that before. Check out the links on applying shellac above. Funny, I was going to wait to see how *your* tables came out!

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 3:14PM
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The author of those articles is a bit of a purist. Virgin wool (comes from ugly sheep?) etc. I use padding lacquer, that is really shellac with some of the lacquer thinner solvents in it, with just a clean rag. The secret is
1) Have a clean surface or it streaks.
2) Use a damp, not dripping cloth. I squeeze a little on and if it looks like too much pat in on my hand.

Likewise, with a brush, don't put on too much at once.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 7:20PM
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So a cotton T shirt (DH is running out b/c I've been using them for baseboard and trim this past year LOL) folded multiple times is OK? No "pad" or "reservoir" necessary? Would a Sherwin Williams or Ben Moore store have padding lacquer? Anything I should check on the can to make sure it's really shellac and not lacquer (or if it is thinned lacquer can I still pad it on or will it be a mess?)? Sorry, I'm in the boonies, the smallest HD in the state is about 17 miles away, Lowes is more like 25. We do have some family-run Tru Value, Ace stores closer, also some small paint stores that carry BM (I got Old Masters gel stain from one), some wallpaper. One SW store about 20 miles away. I order a lot of things online too (like the Tried & True I started out with for upstairs trim). What brand/store do you suggest?

Also, since I stripped the entire table, I have to finish the legs and I'm afraid the "airplane" move won't work well on such narrow surfaces, esp. where 2 faces of leg meet sides of table. Will padding even work if I just wipe starting at top of leg down?

This is where wiping varnish ("tung oil") would be easy, since I've done chairs with it before no problem. Even the Minwax Wipeon poly I used on my window jamb/sills wasn't that hard to get even in the corners.

Thanks - I'm just really afraid of messing this up and having to strip the table yet again.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2008 at 8:01AM
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I doubt that S-W or B-M stores would carry padding lacquer. It's also doubtful that the people behind the counter know what it is, how to use it, and might even try to sell you brushing lacquer. Just stay with the shellac.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2008 at 8:48AM
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OK, shellac (best if I can find the flakes) thinned to what cut? 1# for padding? And will T shirt work? Gauze (I have roll in medicine cabinet) for inside? Technique to use on the legs and narrow areas?

Check out the thread on French Polishing on decor website. I know it's a lot harder than it sounds, but people are getting excited about trying it - might be good to have someone who's familiar with it (done it?) point out the pitfalls.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2008 at 10:52AM
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I was inspired by the inlaid table pictures. Of course the surface area she did was mush smaller than my table tops, and I'm still worried about doing the inside corners of legs. But I got a quart of Sealcoat at Ace, dated 5/16/08. What's the best way to approach this? Brush or wipe on? Thanks

    Bookmark   October 25, 2008 at 6:20PM
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