re-finishing black walnut table

izzieNovember 30, 2007

I inherited my great grandmothers dining table. It is a bit rustic but nice. It folds down on either side and can get quite small, it also has about five leafs in good shape. Someone at one time re-finished top but legs are original. Varnish was dirty and cracked. I did not want to strip so saw that using mineral spirits "melts" and smooths, if it is the old type of shelac..That worked well. Now onto the top. About the time I was going to do something with that.(had it covered with a moving blanket) my husband sat a styrofoam cooler that leaked on top of it. I didn't discover until too late. There are now black discoloration where moisture got it.(Yes my husband still lives) I am not sure how I can "fix" this, I am at a standstill for a year now trying to find out what to do. I really do not want to remove old finish but may have to. Someone suggested dabbing on bleach. Any suggestions. I am usually a disaster waiting to happen on my projects so any helpful simple solutions would be great....Can't afford hundreds if not thousands to get professionally done.

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Complex problems have simple, easy-to-understand solutions. They just happen to be solutions that don't work.

Mineral spirits will not "melt" anything that resembles a finish other than wax or tar. Denatured alcohol will re-amalgamate shellac. Shellac and Varnish are completely different finishes that cure quite differently. So now, I really have no idea what you did.

Regarding the top, You can try saving the finish but you will probably need to chemically strip the top. Then, first try a light sanding. If that does not remove the stains, you will probably need to apply wood bleach. That will remove the patina from the wood. And to get a match on the leaves, you will have to do them all. Then restore some color with a stain.

If you can't afford to have it done, run to your local library or bookstore and get Bob Flexner's "Understanding Wood Finishing" (2nd edition) and read the sections that look related to what you are trying to do.

Lastly, if you don't want to strip because you don't want the mess, that's one thing. If you watch too much Antiques Road Show and think you'll be destroying value, you are mistaken. Doing a good restoration will make it usable, make it look better, and re-gain the protection that the finish once had.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 1:46PM
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Thanks for the imput Bob. It probably was denatured alcohol I used, its been a while. I have re-finished furniture in the past, not so bad. Cherry desk my husband had for years and used as a 50 gal aquarium stand. I was going to get rid of the ugly thing until I pulled out drawer and saw it was solid cherry. I striped the ugly color of stain, had brass handles replated and repaired drawer runners. Its now beautiful. My only regret is using poly for the finish. It looks good but I don't think that was the proper finish for that type of wood. As for the table, I guess I just wanted to save the original finish if possible. I looks nice, but maybe not too practicle if I am going to use as a every day table someday. I am not careful sometimes and shelac finish probably would not hold up to some abuse.I guess I am going to strip the top and try the wood bleach. Also, it has old metal wheels on legs that would probably scratch floor that appear to be original. Any suggestions. I don't want to take off, would make table shorter. I was thinking of getting "wooden cups" they could fit into.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 2:25PM
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Change the metal casters for porcelain which would be appropriate to the piece.
Also a saturated solution of oxalic acid will remove the black marks caused by water...but be very careful when using it as it can burn you and after it dries a powder will be left and inhaling that can cause a lot of trouble.
Or the floor protectors could work....and they also are made in glass as well as heavy plastic.
Linda C

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 4:26PM
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You might want to try one of the "Finish Desolvers" like Formsby (SP) That way you would not loose the patina. For your Cherry and the walnut I would use only oil. Try and look on the web. I think the company's name is Sutherland and Wells or something like that. THey have a polyerized tung oil that I use and it is super and tough.

Good luck

1eyedJack and the Dawg

    Bookmark   December 2, 2007 at 2:25PM
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These "finish rejuvenation" products only really work on evaporative finishes -- shellac and lacquer. OP said it was varnish, which at this point may or may not be right. I have doubts that they may remove the stains. They are similar to lacquer thinner, and are an ATM stripper. They just happen to leave a little of the original finish.

The oil you use is one of the few true Tung Oils. Most finishes labeled "Tung Oil Finish" have absolutely no Tung Oil in them. They are simply thinned varnish or thinned varnish with linseed oil. Even if the varnish is tung oil-based, it is chemically changed in the product of varnish and ceases to exist as tung oil any more. It's like labeling a loaf of bread "flour loaf." One of the many misleading finish labels.

About oil finishes.

About Strippers

    Bookmark   December 2, 2007 at 5:03PM
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Just curious, Are you the Bob that wrote the article? I have had excellent results with the S and W tung oil. IT COST to high heaven, but I get the results I want from it. To do so I apply a minimum of 20 coats. Yes, 20! The first, second and third coats are thinned half and half with MS. Applied until the wood will not take anymore and then wiped off. Coats 4 and on are applied very thinnly (by that I mean drops not spoon fulls) and rubbed until they can not be rubbed anymore and then rubbed with a lint free Scott wipe and allowed to cure (in my case) at least 5 days. I do not, according to the mfg need to wait that long, but do so anyway.
One of the reasons I use this is the fact that it is in fact "In the Wood", and the other is I do not have a dust free place to work in.
It is great stuff. It also dries in the can if you are not careful. I get around that by dropping marbles into the can to keep the level of the remainder up to the lip, hence no air.

OH, the items I use it on are very small and the wood is quite thin and it does make the wood stronger. The finish is beyond compare IMHO.

1eyedJack and the Dawg

    Bookmark   December 3, 2007 at 9:33PM
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Bob the Nephew...I hope you realize that lots of people call any "non opaque" finish the eyes of many there are 2 finishes....varnish and paint....and they don't worry about the niceties like shellac and lacquer or linseed oil with's all varnish if it ain't paint!!
Linda C

    Bookmark   December 4, 2007 at 7:06PM
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Yes, usually most people think "clear finish" is polyurethane.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2007 at 7:38PM
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