Cleaning and refinishing a table

Have a questions on finishing, refinishing, or restoring <br />wood furniture or cabinetry? This is the place to ask!

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beej
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Cleaning and refinishing a table

Postby beej » Fri May 29, 2020 3:08 pm

Hi, all!

I have this nice semi-round table that we disassembled and hand carried back from Peru several years ago. It has been in the basement since. We are getting around to cleaning it up for reassembly. We like it a lot and want it to look nice when done, and not damage it along the way. I'd like to keep as much of the original color/finish as possible. There are a lot of carved embellishments (first picture). I have refinished other furniture along the way, but nothing as ornate or unique as this. Usually, strip/sand/stain/polyurethane. I want to be more thoughtful and careful here.

This table is a light/softish wood (not heavy like oak or maple). It has been stained a dark, almost black, color. It is solid wood - no laminates. It seems to be relatively unfinished (maybe waxed?) except for the flat surfaces.

The tops (there are two surfaces - upper and lower) have been varnished or something. The finish has come off in places. (the picture where I am pointing and the pebbled-looking surface all around it) So, how to I get the varnish off and/or refinish it without damaging the color too much. I don't want to sand it because I want to color to match the rest of the piece. I am guessing I'll ultimately put a high quality wax or shellac/lacquer on top to finish it afterwards (but I am open to suggestions :) ) I don't want to polyurethane.

My last conundrum: There is some heavy, caked on dirt on the legs (picture 3). I can't tell if it is wax buildup or residue from a 'environmental' situation (in a kitchen or something) but it is hard, not easily rubbed off or scratched off with a fingernail. This dirt is not on all if the 4 legs, only on one side of two of the legs.

I sincerely appreciate any suggestions you can make. Thanks in advance.

Be safe, be well.
Attachments
Pic 1 Carved foot (17).jpg
Pic 1 Carved foot (17).jpg (55.77 KiB) Viewed 181 times
Pic 2 Damaged top (12).jpg
Pic 2 Damaged top (12).jpg (65.99 KiB) Viewed 181 times
Pic 3 Dirt on leg (3).jpg
Pic 3 Dirt on leg (3).jpg (69.12 KiB) Viewed 181 times

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Bob Boardman
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Re: Cleaning and refinishing a table

Postby Bob Boardman » Mon Jun 01, 2020 10:28 am

Based upon photos and your comments here are my thoughts and suggestions.

1) While it's possible that it's a wax finish, I don't think it is, so the 1st step is to determine finish. Use a Q-tip or small piece of rag and rub it against a small spot to determine finish - you may have to rub for 20 - 30 seconds.
- 1st dip Qtip in paint thinner or naphtha - naphtha is better, and rub it against a small spot. If finish comes off or gets real sticky, it's wax
- Dip Qtip in denatured alcohol (not Isopropyl alcohol) and rub it against a small spot. If finish comes off or gets real sticky, it's shellac finish
- Dip Qtip in lacquer thinner or solvent based nail polish remover and rub it against a small spot. If finish comes off or gets real sticky, it's lacquer finish.

2) Next step will be determined by type of finish
3) The finish is probably a combo of coloring (either stain or dye) added to some finish. As a heads up. color matching takes a fair bit of practice and skill
4) For the 'caked on dirt' as well as entire surface: Use a rag, coarse cloth or a plastic bristle brush, and dip into paint thinner and rub the dirty areas. It may take a couple applications. Wipe dry with Clean cotton cloth. Then repeat process using a rag, coarse cloth or a plastic bristle brush dipped in a solution of 5 drops of dishwashing soap mixed into a quart of water. Wipe down entire surface and wipe dry with Clean cotton cloth . NOTE: Don't do this until you know what type of finish it is.

Let us know results
Bob "Boardman" Borders

beej
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Re: Cleaning and refinishing a table

Postby beej » Fri Jun 05, 2020 9:57 am

Thanks, Bob, for your reply. I've gotten a few responses on other sites but yours seems to be the most helpful - you seem to understand what I (tried to) explain.

A few questions before I get started, if you would be so kind.

It seems that the order you recommended testing was intentional: First try paint thinner if for wax. If it is wax, stop. If not, next try denatured alcohol for shellac. If it is shellac, stop. Finally, nail polish remover if lacquer. Sorry, but I wanted to make sure.

Another thing you identified was that the finish was colored. I hadn't noticed until your comment, but the underside of the table surfaces are stained along the edges but the color is lighter than the top surfaces that are finished (see picture). I understand now what you mean. I can understand how color matching is difficult (like trying to mix two paint colors to match a previous color) so I will be thoughtful before I proceed.

Regarding your suggestion about the "caked on dirt', you suggest to use paint thinner but to not do this until I know what type of finish it is. I understand this to mean that I would use paint thinner for wax, use alcohol for shellac or use lacquer thinner of lacquer? Or, perhaps, would I use paint thinner in any case?

Thanks again for your help.
Attachments
Stain Colors (2).jpg
Stain Colors (2).jpg (101.79 KiB) Viewed 150 times

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Bob Boardman
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Re: Cleaning and refinishing a table

Postby Bob Boardman » Sat Jun 06, 2020 8:28 am

You got it!! Right on all counts.

A couple tips on color matching.
1) Always go lighter in color, and slowly add darker colors. I've worked on pieces where I've had 6 different applications of color before I got to the right one. Start light, had a touch more of a darker color or different shade of same color
2) When color matching make sample boards. This way if things go sideways, you're scraping unused wood. When you think you have the right coloring system try it on the underside of the table or some other area that's unfinished.
Bob "Boardman" Borders

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Re: Cleaning and refinishing a table

Postby beej » Mon Jun 22, 2020 5:06 pm

Hi, Mr. Boardman. I haven't forgotten you. I'll be starting the project this week and will report back for your expertise :) Thanks in advance. Be well.

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Re: Cleaning and refinishing a table

Postby beej » Fri Jun 26, 2020 1:15 pm

Hello, Mr. Boardman et al.

While it may be hard to see in this (compressed) photo, along the back edge of the table top, there is some runover of the finisher used on this furniture. The top 1/2" of this back edge is glossy from the finisher.

I treated them as you suggested and see that the finish comes off with denatured alcohol and with Lacquer thinner. Based on your suggestion, I take it to understand that the finish is probably shellac so I will use alcohol to clean the pieces.

I included a photo of the upper front of the table also for reference. Because of the deep relief, I will need to use a brush. When you suggest a plastic brush, I am thinking a soft tooth brush (used gently). If there is a better recommendation, I am open to advice.

Thanks again (and again). Be safe, stay healthy.

Bryan
Attachments
Table Top Pic1 (8).jpg
Table Top Pic1 (8).jpg (74.05 KiB) Viewed 70 times
Table pic2 (1).jpg
Table pic2 (1).jpg (92.46 KiB) Viewed 70 times

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Re: Cleaning and refinishing a table

Postby Bob Boardman » Fri Jun 26, 2020 4:09 pm

Sounds like it’s shellac. Ammonia also removes shellac - not sudsy ammonia regular ammonia. Use in well ventilated area. It’s quicker than alcohol because of slower evap rate. Use with a spray bottle.
A toothbrush will work.
Bob "Boardman" Borders

beej
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Re: Cleaning and refinishing a table

Postby beej » Sat Jun 27, 2020 2:46 pm

Thanks for the tip. I'll probably start with alcohol because I have it. But a question - isn't ammonia aqueous? I thought using aqueous solutions on wood isn't optimum because it raises the grain or some such thing. I'd appreciate your thoughts.

Thanks again.

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Bob Boardman
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Re: Cleaning and refinishing a table

Postby Bob Boardman » Sat Jun 27, 2020 7:08 pm

It does have ability to raise grain but light sanding with a 400 grit takes care of this
Bob "Boardman" Borders

beej
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Re: Cleaning and refinishing a table

Postby beej » Sat Jun 27, 2020 7:46 pm

I went to two supermarkets today (for other stuff) but neither had ammonia anyway as inventories are not fully restocked. I'll be at Home Depot tomorrow so I can look there, but I might we working with alcohol anyway. Thanks, Mr. Boardman, for the info.

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Re: Cleaning and refinishing a table

Postby AsonnyA » Sun Jun 28, 2020 8:35 am

For ammonia, you might try the drug store. Household alcohol is aqueous, as well. Any solution whose solvent is water is aqueous. Pretty much any "common" liquid, no matter the solvent, will raise the grain of wood.

Looks like a neat project.
Sonny

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Re: Cleaning and refinishing a table

Postby beej » Sun Jun 28, 2020 10:36 am

Thanks for the tip, Sonny. I can imagine alcohol being very quick to evaporate, especially when the temperature is in the 80's+. Someone in my home will be going to a CVS or something soon. I'll get them to look :)

Thanks all.

Bryan


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