Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 19

Thread: refinishing a dining room set

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Monroe Twsp NJ
    Posts
    58

    refinishing a dining room set

    We have a dining room set that is 38 years old. In great shape but has a few bumps and bruises from the vacuum cleaner and normal day to day use.

    Not sure of the wood, but the original receipt said "walnut" but that could just be the color. We do not think it ever had a protective finish on it (poly, etc) and it was usually kept covered. However, there is a big difference in color between the table top and the leaf, which was usually stored in a closet.

    After looking around to replace it, we can not find anything we like so we looked into having it professionally refinished. The cost would be about $175 per chair and $800 for the table. We have 4 chairs. The set is plain, no carvings or fancy woodwork. I'm attaching a few photos if it works.

    This would have to be done in my garage, so no dangerous fumes or spraying equipment.

    If I attempt to refinish this myself, where would I start? Any good books that explain the process? Do I have to sand it down to bare wood or just remove the exixting finish? I have reupholstered the chairs a few times and will do that again also, but never attempted a project this big. Too much to even attempt?

    Thanks in advance for any suggestions and advice?

    John
    Attached Images Attached Images

  2. #2
    John,

    First, it is not too big to attempt. Grab a cup of coffee cause I'm going to chat a while...

    The next thing will be to determine just exactly what it is you need to attempt to do. I would first clean it thoroughly with a suitable cleaner such as a very mild detergent or perhaps Murphy's oil soap and water. Don't use Pledge as it contains waxes and hydrocarbons that are another story... Once you have it clean, then you can more fully assess what needs to be done.

    If in fact you need/want to remove the finish and apply something new or different, I would suggest trying to figure out what the surface finish is. Given that it is 38 years old, it is probably lacquer, but it could be shellac or varnish. To determine what the finish is, you will need to find out what solvent to use. Each finish type typically has a solvent(s) that will dissolve the finish - - except for varnish. Varnish is destroyed by certain solvents, but not dissolved. Lacquer can be dissolved with lacquer thinner. Shellac can be dissolved with denatured alcohol.

    Find an inconspicuous spot to use for testing. If you apply paint remover or lacquer thinner, and the finish crinkles up or cracks it is more than likely a varnish. Dissolving the finish implies that it can be joined with new finish material of the same type. Destroying the finish renders it useless and must be removed. If it is varnish I would recommend removing it by scraping or sanding since you don't want to have the fumes of a chemical remover. If it is either of the other types of finishes, use the appropriate solvent and elbow grease to dissolve/remove the finish. Finish up with scraping and/or sanding.

    Everyone has there own preferences, and I like all three (varnish, lacquer, shellac) for older furniture - - but please don't use poly. If you ever have to remove it tends to be a major job and is just not a good way to go IMHO with old furniture.

    Of the three, shellac is probably the most forgiving if it is your first refinish job. You may want to fill the grain first on the table top surface to give a glass-smooth result. There are numerous finish schedules, but I have had good luck with the following:

    Walnut
    Fill the grain
    Sand to 220
    Apply shellac; let dry
    Sand again (220)
    Apply shellac; let dry
    Sand again (220)
    Buff (0000 steel wool) with darkened wax (wax mixed with walnut coloring & mineral spirits- I use beeswax)

    Continuous applications of shellac meld with the previous layer, so layers won't stack up like they will with lacquer or varnish.

    Read Bob Flexner, Chris Minick's and Jeff Jewitt's books/articles. Three of the top finish experts in the business.

  3. #3

    Followup to my previous email

    Shellac will be suitable but won't be the best surface for a dinner table as it is not a water-resistant and it will require more manitenance than the other finish types but will be the easiest to apply for a beginner IMHO. Varnish and lacquer will provide more protection, with lacquer being the next easiest to apply (IMHO). Poly will provide the best, but it's your call if that is a major consideration.
    Last edited by Sam Yerardi; 09-10-2009 at 12:24 PM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2008
    Location
    Southern Minnesota
    Posts
    1,442
    Thanks for the question John, I have been contemplating the same thing recently.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Monroe Twsp NJ
    Posts
    58
    Do the chemical strippers work? While it's still warm out, I could strip in the garage with the doors open so it doesn't stink the house.

    Any recommendation for a brand name?

    John

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Little Rock, AR
    Posts
    1,993
    anything with a skull and bones on the can (which means it is mostly methylene chloride). the skull and bones is no joke, wear chemical gloves and a mask. skin contact will give you a chemical burn if there's no water around to wash it off, and therefore inhaling it is extra bad. but they do work .

    the klean strip stuff at the borg is as good as any other, the chemicals are basically the same.

    it will also eat through a plastic tarp quite easily, btw, so if you want to control the mess, use a thick linen/canvas one.
    Last edited by Neal Clayton; 09-10-2009 at 8:38 PM.

  7. #7
    If this 38 year old dining room set was factory made, which I suspect it was, it would have had a protective finish on it. I cannot imagine it not having a finish.
    The big difference in color between the table top and the leafs is due to different exposures to light and air. The apron and legs do look like walnut but not the top. However, walnut is one of the few woods that actually lightens in color over time, so it probably is.
    If you dont want dangerous fumes or spraying equipment you may be in for a long tough job.
    Go to a local refinishing shop and they may have a simple test kit to determine the existing finish. My best guess is that it is nitrocellulous lacquer. It was and still is in large part the preferred finish. Shellac went out in the 1920 and 1930's and polyurethane was never a commercial finish of furniture manufacturers. If the table is in overall good condition, a good cleaning and a light sanding is all it should need if it is going to be recoated with lacquer. But that wont happen if you dont want to spray.

    My next recommendation would be to pay a refinishing shop to just strip everything for you. Then you could 'clean up' the areas the strip shop didnt get and light sand and apply a good poly finish.

    Another option, if you are willing to put up with some fumes which are non-flamable is to use a stripper with a high base of Methylene Chloride. It can be purchased in a 5 gal bucket for around $75. It comes as a liquid or a paste. You want the paste. It sticks to vertical surfaces. The instructions come with it. Follow all of the safety guidelines especially the respirator and ventillation part. Methylene Chloride is the best stripper for clear finishes such as Lacquers and Polys. The chemical works best at about 90 degrees. The colder the chemical, the less effective it is. It is easily neutralized in water.
    The best application is to paint it on with a brush. Then use a plactic stiff bristle brush to scrub and a paint scraper to peel off the crud. Then do it again, wait a few minutes, scrub lightly and pressure wash it off. That will get into the difficult areas.

    Shellac is not a finish that anyone should ever use on furniture especially on a dining set. It is not waterproof, alcohol proof, scratch resistant or anything else you might want or need in a dining room set. If easy application is its only attribute it is because you will be re-doing it regularly.

    If you really want to know what finish to use, dont read books, call tech support of a major chemical company such as Sherwin Williams or Mohawk. These companies manufacture and sell many shellacs, varnishes and lacquers and want you to succeed. Find out what they recommend. It will not be shallac.

    For stripper, try mohawk-finishing.com or woodfinishersdepot.com
    Last edited by Tony Bilello; 09-10-2009 at 10:26 PM.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    Tomball, TX (30 miles NNW Houston)
    Posts
    2,493
    I don't see enough wrong withthe table to warrent stripping and refinishing it.

    I did a solid Alder dining room set last spring the price you were quoted sounds about right. But, again if the bumps anbruises are only on the legs why strip the whole thing?

    As for the insert if you leave it in a window with sun light it may catch up with the table top. Any marks on the table top add character.
    Scott

    Finishing is an 'Art & a Science'. Actually, it is a process. You must understand the properties and tendencies of the finish you are using. You must know the proper steps and techniques, then you must execute them properly.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Little Rock, AR
    Posts
    1,993
    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Bilello View Post

    Shellac is not a finish that anyone should ever use on furniture especially on a dining set. It is not waterproof, alcohol proof, scratch resistant or anything else you might want or need in a dining room set. If easy application is its only attribute it is because you will be re-doing it regularly.

    If you really want to know what finish to use, dont read books, call tech support of a major chemical company such as Sherwin Williams or Mohawk. These companies manufacture and sell many shellacs, varnishes and lacquers and want you to succeed. Find out what they recommend. It will not be shallac.

    For stripper, try mohawk-finishing.com or woodfinishersdepot.com
    a) i have shellac floors that get mopped every week. with water. they're 102 years old. the finish is original. when should i expect that water to start hurting the finish?

    b) try stripping shellac with wine or beer, or even whiskey. it'll take more elbow grease than sanding the finish off. spills won't remove the finish, this is internet myth, nothing more.

    c) every time i send my helper to sherwin williams to buy more paint they try to put the cheapest latex paint they have on him, and since most of that paint gets used on doors and windows (and they know that), what are they doing exactly to look out for my best interest? they're not, they have a higher profit margin in latex paints and polyurethane varnishes, so that's what they promote.

    don't read books, brilliant. wonder why kids don't know where their state is on a map these days?

    btw the blue bold text isn't anything other than annoying.

  10. John - sounds like a fun project - big but fun. My wife and I finished a dining room set and matching hutch this year. It wasn't hard, just labor intensive, but really fun. If you can do it with someone else you enjoy being around, it just makes it all that more fun. BTW, when it comes to finishing wood, it's hard to screw it up so badly that it can't be fixed. You can always sand back and start over (unless it's veneered!).

    Before we got married, we found an old table and chairs that was painted over at some point. We stripped and refinished. It took forever but was fun. We sanded it down with a finish sander (I wish I knew about ROS and belt sanders... :-) and restained and finished with a minwax poly. I'm not a fan of the minwax stuff.... but it still turned out well.

    If you determine that you want to refinish starting from bare wood, I would suggest either trying to find the right solvent and stripping off most and then get a set of card scrapers and finishing up with that. If it's a poly (or varnish) just start with the scrapers.

    You could always do a light sanding on the current finish, leaving some of the 'character' of the set, and re-apply the top coats. Much less work and it could still look fantastic.

    BTW, I know many people don't like poly, but lately I've been using a wiping gel poly from general finishes. It's probably the easiest thing to apply. Wipe on, wipe off. Wait 24 hours. Repeat 3-5 times. No sanding between coats. It's a very thin, hard layer that sits on top of the wood.

    Good luck - and post some pics of your progress. :-)

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    Tomball, TX (30 miles NNW Houston)
    Posts
    2,493
    Sanding is not a good or effetive method to remove old finish. A chemica stripper is much better.

    Sanding removes the surface finish and forces the finish into the pores packing the pores with old finish. This will cuase issues when staining of finishing the wood.

    If you sand very deep you lose the patina, Stippers don't remove the patina.
    Scott

    Finishing is an 'Art & a Science'. Actually, it is a process. You must understand the properties and tendencies of the finish you are using. You must know the proper steps and techniques, then you must execute them properly.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Neal Clayton View Post
    a) i have shellac floors that get mopped every week. with water. they're 102 years old. the finish is original. when should i expect that water to start hurting the finish?
    This is totally amazing. I wonder if the flooring industry ever heard of shellac

    b) try stripping shellac with wine or beer, or even whiskey. it'll take more elbow grease than sanding the finish off. spills won't remove the finish, this is internet myth, nothing more.
    Heck of an internet myth when everyone pretty much knows that alcohol will strip shellac

    c) every time i send my helper to sherwin williams to buy more paint they try to put the cheapest latex paint they have on him, and since most of that paint gets used on doors and windows (and they know that), what are they doing exactly to look out for my best interest? they're not, they have a higher profit margin in latex paints and polyurethane varnishes, so that's what they promote.

    don't read books, brilliant. wonder why kids don't know where their state is on a map these days?
    Maybe reading isn't the key it's reading comprehension and basic understanding. A salesman at the local Sherwin Williams is not the same as a tech support. So, let me rephrase and be more literal, go to the internet and look up paint products and then read the Product Data Sheets.

    btw the blue bold text isn't anything other than annoying.
    BTW, blue is my favorite color.
    Just as a side note, my location and shop are posted on my profile and website so anything I say can be verified. It's real easy to be an expert and hide in the shadows of anonymity. Why dont you publicly post the location of your 102 year old floor with the original shellac finish?

  13. #13
    To say that shellac should not be used on any piece of furniture would come as a major surprise to anyone familiar with antique furniture. Shellac has been used for thousands of years. Yes, it was not used on all pieces and isn't a good choice for table tops as I pointed out above but to make a blanket statement that it shouldn't be used on furniture is IMHO ridiculous. And to say don't read books is equally ridiculous.

    Please remember that we are trying help each other here.
    Last edited by Sam Yerardi; 09-12-2009 at 1:30 PM.

  14. #14
    John,

    As a footnote, on the stripping, you can use a citrus stripper instead of the methyl approach. A little safer.

    Sorry about the podium speech on the previous post. Everyone has given good advice.

    Hope this helps.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Monroe Twsp NJ
    Posts
    58
    Thank you all for the replies. I think I will attempt it using a stripper of some sort. Will visit HD or Lowes next week and see what they carry.

    The chair legs are where the most work will be needed, bearing the brunt of being hit with the vacuum, etc. But they are in good shape. The table top has does not have any nicks, stains or scratches so I guess a good cleaning to remove and wax buildup might be all that needs.

    The set has been cleaned many, many times over the years with Murphy soap and maybe some Old English stuff, never any harsh cleaners. So it's probably due for a real deep cleaning. I CAN DO IT

    I'll print out all your suggestions, try to determine what, if any, finish is on it now and start stripping.

    Thanks

    John

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •