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Thread: Mystery finish on dining room table

  1. #1
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    Brent

    Default Mystery finish on dining room table

    I know very little about finishing and refinishing, but I know that the finish on the antique dining room table I inherited is USELESS. If you breath on it, it gets cloudy/milky and looks horrible, let along condensation from a glass, or even a spill that you wipe up in 30 seconds or less. The wood (it may be a veneer, I have to figure this out) has an open grain, and is very dark...I'm thinking walnut. I know it may be sacralidge to some, but I want to take this old finish off, and put on something that makes the table usable. Any hints as to what the current finish may be based on it's almost instant reaction to water, and how to get it off (assuming I have to)? I will do some research into new finishes and may be back for more advice!

    Thanks a million in advance!

    Brent

  2. #2

    Default Re: Mystery finish on dining room table

    post a few pictures so we have some idea of what we are dealing with. an age of the piece would also help determine type of finish.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Mystery finish on dining room table

    This sort of thing is classically caused by moisture getting under the weak coating.
    In your case, very sensitive, old, worthless, weak coating.
    Could be nitrocellulose laquer or shellac or even old dead failed wax...it realy doesn't matter....just remove it and refinish with a modern tough finish like post cat lacquer.

    Be careful if its veneer...veneer can lift and be a problem when stripping.....or be easy to sand right through, causing equal distress and teeth gnashing.

    Denatured alcohol (or for that matter, scotch...amongst other things...not as fast but alot more fun) will dissolve shellac, laquer thinner will soften and remove old nitrocellulose while frying your brain cells and sending your wife screaming from the house...commercial strippers come in all flavours and remove most things (if you have the right one)...a bit of testing is in order.

    Paul O does this sort of thing for a living....he may have some wise suggestions.

    Good luck

    Julian

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Mystery finish on dining room table

    Thanks very much guys! I really appreciate it. I am going to try to attach a couple of pictures. One of the whole table (sorry about the mess....I'm just moving in) and one of a blotchy part of the finish caused by only brief contact with some water....I hope this helps. I've also confirmed it's veneer. Does this mean that a chemical means may be safer, as there's less risk of sanding/scraping through the veneer?

    The table was made my McLagan Furniture Company Ltd of Stratford, and it seems to me from some quick research that they havn't been around since the 50s.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Mystery finish on dining room table

    Given the age, manufacturer (I've refinished several of their pieces) and description of the current finish, I'd say go ahead and strip it, as the table is mass produced and not a priceless antique.
    First thing, remove the top from the legs, then wash it down with different solvents depending on the degree of waxing or "pledging" the top has sustained. Start with mineral spirits and see what happens.
    If there are any bumps, bubbles or blisters in the veneer, then repair them. Usually a hot iron on a piece of cotton rag will be sufficient as they used mostly hide glue to fix down the veneer. If you're not stripping the skirt, mask it off. Slop on some Circa 1850 and let it sit there until the finish wrinkles and blisters, then carefully scrape it off. Wipe the top with more stripper on a clean rag. When dry wash off with lacquer thinners, then sand very lightly with 180 grit on an ROS. Blow off dust and wash down with thinners. When dry you can go about finishing it to your taste.
    If you haven't done it before, stripping properly is a very time consuming set of steps, which too many people want to rush. However, if steps are missed, skimped on or not completed, there is a very good chance that the finish will ultimately fail, and it may not be immediate, the stain will go blotchy, or you will get adhesion (crawling) or surface tension problems (fish eyes).
    As Julian said, I do this as a business, so I'm certainly anal about getting it all to work, as returns are definitely not part of my business plan.
    If you need more details, just ask................Paul

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Mystery finish on dining room table

    Wow Paul, thanks so much for all this....you spent some time typing all that out! Fortunately, I am one of those "do it right or don't bother" types, so when I get back from a conference, I will read over your comment and start the process. The veneer is bubbling on one of the pull out extensions so I will try your technique to fix those. Do you reccomend the iron on cotton rag treatment before or after the finish is stripped?

    Thanks again so much for your help!

    Brent

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Mystery finish on dining room table

    Does the white cloud go away after a while? I had an antique oak table with similar "qualities" just the mention of moisture would cloud up like a winter'd day, but given time to rest, it was clear as ever before. I believe it had a Lemon oil finish, hard when dry but moisture played havoc on it. I learned to live with it untill I gave it to my son who now deals with it.
    Bill "Hickory" Simpson

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Mystery finish on dining room table

    Good question Bill. ACtually it seems to recover if you wipe up any water in a hurry, but if it's there for any length of time, then the cloudy bit it as well. I've also noticed that the whole top has become a little cloudy when compared to other parts of the table, like the undersides for example. WHen I get home, I'm going to try to take the top off as Paul O describes, move it to where I can do it without getting everyone in the house stoned, and strip it. I'll put on something durable so I can enjoy the table. Even though it's not a priceless antique, I quite like it and will enjoy it more if I'm not paranoid about moisture!

    Thanks!

    B

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Mystery finish on dining room table

    Brent, if you intend to use it and want it to remain in good shape, invest in a silence cloth (to protect from heat) and a table cloth over top.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Mystery finish on dining room table

    Brent!

    As the finish is most likely an old nitrocellulose lacquer, I'd probably do the veneer repair after stripping as the heat will melt the lacquer and give you a sticky mess. You don't need much heat, just warm it enough to remelt the glue. remember to keep the heat local to the repair and keep it moving.
    What wood(s) is the top made of?
    Post some pics as you go.
    regards.............paul

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Mystery finish on dining room table

    Paul O, that's kind of what I expected, but wanted to make sure...thanks again! Rona seems to sell the Circa 1850 so I'll pick some up and some mineral spirits and give er a whirl.

    Rick Thom, it's a tough call. I know one of the easiest ways to protect it and keep it looking good is to cover it, but I sorta feel there's no point in keeping it looking good if you never see it. I am willing to put up with a new finish that perhaps doesn't show off the wood as well (assuming that a super tough, durable finish detracts from the look, but that may not be a valid assumption!?) if it allows me to use it as is, and enjoy it. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but what do people use on a wooden, daily use dining room table top?

    Thanks again all...

    Brent

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Mystery finish on dining room table

    Quote Originally Posted by timberframe View Post
    I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but what do people use on a wooden, daily use dining room table top?

    Thanks again all...

    Brent
    A dining room table used like a kitchen table will take a lot of abuse in most homes, especially if you have kids around. If you want to protect the table, a table cloth is first choice. Place mats (we use cloth ones) are an alternative but don't provide the same degree of protection. When not in use, it's left uncovered.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Mystery finish on dining room table

    Paul, do you have a favorite respirator for this? Considering we're into winter now, doing this project outside is not an option, so I'll have to take it to the shop and spare the family the fumes!

    thanks again

  14. #14
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    Ummmm....Frank? :-)

    Default Re: Mystery finish on dining room table

    Brent, keep in mind that you will have to re-stain the table as well....although it is walnut coloured, it is actually oak (my guess would be red-oak)...although it *could* be ash...hard to say. (Paul, what was their primary wood...do you know?)
    I dream of a better world, one where chickens can cross roads without having their motives questioned.

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Mystery finish on dining room table

    Ryan, thanks for the heads up! That might have been a bit of a surprise. I believe the underside of the pull out extension wings are finished the same way, so I'll be able to use them as test spots to "dial-in" the colors.

    Thanks again,

    B

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Mystery finish on dining room table

    Quote Originally Posted by timberframe View Post
    Paul, do you have a favorite respirator for this?
    Brent!

    I don't want to sound like a smarta$$, but my favourite respirator is the one that fits best, so I use either 3M or North brand half face masks. You need to try one before you buy if possible, just hold it up to your face and breath in through your nose: the mask should pull into your face right away and form a seal. Facial hair is a no no! My close friends always know when I'm busy as my beard is really close cropped
    More important than the mask is the type of cartridge. Get carbon/charcoal that is rated for "organic vapours" or "all gasses" and keep them sealed in a ziploc when not in use as the carbon just keeps on absorbing and will shorten it's useful life.
    What is available locally for you?

    Ryan!

    I don't honestly know and I didn't keep any notes of the type of wood, just the colour mixes. I have a feeling I saw more white oak (not QS), although I think I refinished a cherry table that one client wanted to match her walnut sideboard.

    Regards..................Paul
    Last edited by Paul O in Paris; 01-05-2010 at 11:07 PM.

  17. #17

    Default Re: Mystery finish on dining room table

    my suggestion on a mask is 3M 7502(med) 7501(small) or 7503(large). This is 3m's premuim mask so it is more comfortable than the 6000's series. look for the blue mask rather than the grey one. the organic vapour cartridge is 6001 or get a 6006 (OV plus acid gas). I suggest the 6006 as it protects against more stuff(they are about $2 more per pair). You will need to go to a safety supply or industrial supplier for this, hardware stores will not have it. The set up I am suggesting does not come in a kit you need all the parts separately. North and other suppliers will have similar set ups but you will find the 3M set up to be the most reasonable price and widely availalble.
    You will also need 501 retainers and 5N11 prefilters. package should cost around $65. If you need more details on this feel free to give me a call.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Mystery finish on dining room table

    Paul, keeping the carbon cartridge in a plastic bag makes all kinds of sense, but I may well not have thought of it....thanks!

    I have use a couple of different respirators for dust that fit equally as well for me, but one was crap and broke easily, where the other seems to be holding up, so by favorite, i was thinking of quality. Anything I have from 3M seems to be of quality, so I bet if I find one that fits nicely, i'll just go for it.

    Thanks again, and as you suggested, I will take pics and post through the process.

    Brent

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Mystery finish on dining room table

    My fav is the MCU-2/P, available from time to time on e-bay. Doubles as eye protection, with great field of view. Just make sure you get the clear version and not the tinted one for USAF pilots.

    Nap.

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