Answering Furniture Staining and Finishing Questions #2

A handyman applying stain to some wood.
  • 4-50 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 0-500

Q: I have a dining room set from the 70s that is stained oak. I really hate the stained color and was thinking of painting the set a cream color and sanding the edges to give it an antiqued look.

I plan on starting with the hutch. I am going to wash it with TSP, then sand it because it has a shiny finish and then prime it with Kilz so the stain does not leak through.

Do I need to strip the stain off, or can I paint over it? Should I then sand after the coat of primer, especially the edges to begin the antiquing?

Or should I prime, then lightly sand and then antique it after each coat of paint I do?
You can paint over the stain and finish.

sanding a small table

A: Wash the piece with mineral spirits to remove all the grease, grit, and grime. For the shine on the finish, scuff sand it with a green scotch brite pad to knock down the sheen.

Use a primer so the paint has a good surface to bond to. Start sanding after the paint is applied.

Stripping will make the job more durable, but I have had long-term success painting over an existing finish. Surface preparation, primer, and good paint make all the difference.

Q. I recently stained an oak entertainment center with an oil-based stain and then finished with tung oil. Since then, I decided to go with a darker stain but do not know how to begin.

Do I need to remove the tung oil and then stain the piece with a darker stain? Or will the new stain penetrate the tung oil finish, after which I can re-apply the tung oil?

The previous stain will not affect the new darker stain as tested on an unfinished piece of wood, so I do not plan to remove the old stain.

A: In most cases, a stain applied over a finish will come off because it will not penetrate the finish to color the wood.

If you want the piece to be darker, you can strip the current finish, start with the bare wood, and apply the stain and finish as you like.

Trying to darken a piece over the current finish would necessitate finding a stain and finish in one product, and applying it over the existing finish if such were compatible.

In reality, you will have to strip the piece and start over.

Q: I have found a corner entertainment center that is perfect. The problem is I can only purchase it unfinished.

Since I am on a limited budget, I was thinking I could purchase the piece, use that one-step mini wax, and apply it with a cloth. Is there anything I should know before taking on a project like this?

Would I need to sand the wood some more? What about the color coming out evenly?

A: For a piece of unfinished furniture, I would wipe it with a clean cloth wet with mineral spirits. This will show any stains, fingerprints, scuff marks, or shiny places from handling.

For fingerprints, which show up as lighter colored than the rest of the wood, I would wipe them with a clean cloth dipped in lacquer thinner to remove the oil.

I would lightly sand the entire piece with 120 - 150-grit paper with the grain to ensure the surface is abraded uniformly prior to staining.

The one step product will reduce the overall time to completion. Follow the instructions on the can.

Usually, it will be beneficial to sand with 180 - 240 paper between coats to reduce nibs and imperfections.

Q: I sanded an oak tabletop, stained it, and put two coats of poly on it. I sanded in between coats, and used a tack rag to remove dust.

There are areas on the table, mainly near the edges, that appear dimpled. What causes this? What did I do wrong?

knife and garlic on a wood surface
A: It is not uncommon to leave the finish thin near the edges. Nevertheless, it sounds as if there is silicone contamination causing "fish eyes."

Some sandpaper has a lubricant built into it and nothing will stick to it. This may cause dimples. Use a sanding sponge or steel wool.

You can strip and start from scratch, or seal the contamination with thin coats of shellac or poly. You may need to apply several coats.

If your poly is a slow drying type, use shellac first then apply finish coats of poly.

Q: A hot dish was placed on the dining room table and now there are two "heat blushes." The finish has turned a milky color.

Is there a simple way of fixing this without having to refinish the entire table?

A: White water rings are caused by water or heat, which clouds the finish on wood furniture. If the marks are white or light in color, they are probably in the finish, and not in the wood itself.

If the rings or spots are dark in color, the water has probably penetrated the finish and damaged the wood, and you may need to refinish.

To treat white water marks in the finish, begin by rubbing the affected area with a flannel or cotton cloth moistened with denatured alcohol or spirits of camphor.

If this does not remove the white mark, try using toothpaste or a mild hand cleaner.

Put a small amount of the toothpaste or hand cleaner on the spot and rub with a clean cloth or extra fine steel wool size 0000. Always rub with the grain.

Another treatment that sometimes removes white water marks is to rub the spot with extra fine steel wool and mayonnaise.

To treat white water rings on a wax finish, wipe the affected area with turpentine or cleaning wax and allow the area to dry.

If removing the white water rings dulls the surface, apply a new coat of wax with a clean, dry cloth.

Q: I got hold of an old folding step stool that used to belong to my grandparents. It is handmade of walnut, and it had a coat of paint on it, which I recently had stripped.

My next step is to sand it well, and then I want to put a finish coat on it. I don't think it needs stain and I'd like to leave it as natural as possible.

I'm thinking of using shellac as the finish for it. Are there other finishes that would be better or easier?

A: Tung oil or polyurethane would be good for the step stool. Shellac is not physically durable. Tung oil will harden, not stay soft and oily as the typical oil finish you mention.

Wetting with mineral spirits will give you a feel for the look, but it will not be the same because the mineral spirits will soak into the wood in a manner different from the film that forms on the wood with a finish.

Clean up the hardware that you can and spray it with a coat of clear finish from Krylon. Replace the screws.

Q: I have a dining room table that I desperately want to refinish. The table legs are painted white and the tabletop looks like butcher block with a somewhat shiny finish.

I would like to stain the table with either mahogany or walnut. I don't know how to proceed.

dining table
A: After you strip off the finish, you will be able to see what you will be staining. If the legs are dark and the top maple (butcher block commonly is), it will be difficult to have them match.

If this is the case, you might consider another color scheme.

Q: I just installed new pine treads on my basement stairs and now want to apply a stain. First question: Does pine, being a softer wood, require some special prep before staining?

Second question: After staining should I apply a coat of polyurethane?

A: Pine tends to stain irregularly. Many use a conditioner for pine to help even out the stain. The darker the stain the more likely the result will be noticeable and uneven. Pine is like that.

Pine will darken on its own from exposure to light. At least three coats of a finish such as polyurethane would be the minimum for protecting the treads from wear and tear.

Q: I have a teak dining room table that looks like it has been through hell. When I first bought it, my wife applied some sort of polish to it, which I later discovered was not the thing to do.

There are many water stains and rings on it as well as general wearing. I would like to refinish it and know that it needs teak oil.

What is the best way to remove the old residue and get the nice teak look back?

damaged teak wood

A: A 50/50 mix of lacquer thinner and denatured alcohol (shellac thinner) should remove all traces of residue/finish/polish, etc. You'll need a wood bleach (oxalic acid) to remove dark watermarks.

Household bleach will not work as well, if at all.

Q: I have a maple dresser, but it has a few marks from it from years of abuse, scratches, and even straight-lined burns from a straightening iron, which was left on the table too long.

Is there a cute way of covering up these marks?

A: If the scratches and burn marks are on the same flat surface, and if the burn marks are into the wood, not just the finish, then strip that surface.

Try to sand out the burn marks, being careful not to create divots when sanding the burn marks.

If you can't sand them out, then you could do a touch up on the area that is burned after you have stained and applied a couple coats of finish. Use artist's paint, oil-based in tubes to get your color.

Go with the lightest color first and add any other color after a coat of finish and then topcoat a couple times. Be careful when sanding between coats around your touch-up.

Do not glob on the paint during your touch-up. You are basically reproducing the "look" of the surrounding wood on the burned area.

If you cannot cover the burn with a maple color, then "white" out the area and then top coat and then apply the maple base coat, then proceed.

Q: What's happened is that most of the table is smooth like glass, but in some places the wood looks like it's "soaking" in the polyurethane or preventing the polyurethane to adhere to the surface and leaving patches of dull finish.

Did the paint thinner penetrate the wood and prevent the polyurethane from drying properly or what?

brushes in a bucket of paint thinner
A: I doubt the paint thinner affected the finish; it evaporates quickly. It sounds like you have done everything right. For whatever reason, portions of the wood are soaking up the finish.

More coats of poly will fix it. You may want to just coat the dull areas until you get them sealed well and then sand and recoat the entire top.

Q: My table has a semi-deep scratch on it. Does anyone know how I can remove it?

A: You have several methods, although none of them will 100 percent remove a medium scratch, but they'll make it less obvious.

1) Get automotive paste wax (not the squirt bottle, but the butter-consistency stuff), preferably something with carnauba.

Wax and buff the whole tabletop (test first, but I've never had a problem). The wax may well buff the scratch more invisible.

2) Depending on what the table is finished with, get the proper finish if you know what it is, scuff sand around the scratch with 220 or 320-grit sandpaper, and recoat that area, but this is tricky.

Q: I need some advice on how to clear coat an iron bed frame that I stripped down to bare metal. I have put on three coats of enamel primer, letting it dry well each time coating.

I applied three coats of enamel paint. The bed frame looks really good. I want to clear coat to help protect the paint, but I want to do it right without messing up what I have already done.

How can I do this?

A: With three coats of primer and three coats of enamel, it's been coated pretty good.

I don't think you are going to find anything that will improve the looks and at the same time protect it any better.

Polys: Oil-based will yellow, and water-based will probably streak it.

Lacquer: Will react and probably "crinkle" the enamel.

Q: I have some old brass dresser handles that have several layers of paint on them. I would like to remove the paint, restore them to their original luster, and preserve that luster.

What should I do?

A: There are a number of commercial strippers on the market that will do the job. One I use on a regular basis is "Kwik," by Savogran.

Place the hardware in an empty metal bucket and cover with a stripper. Allow soaking for half an hour or more. Remove and clean with 000 steel wool.

Many of the home improvement stores sell an aerosol lacquer that is made for metal — it will say so on the can. This is what you need to coat the hardware with after it has been cleaned and dried.

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