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Revive old dull finish - Engineer - 03-29-2019

A friend has a cabinet that she wants to refinish. However, we may not need to strip and refinish if the old finish can be brought back to life. Where do we start? How do we know what the finish is? Does it matter what type of wood is under the finish? Should we try very fine sandpaper, e.g. 2000 grit or finer to polish the finish?

Any help or advice appreciated.


RE: Revive old dull finish - jteneyck - 03-30-2019

(03-29-2019, 09:17 PM)Engineer Wrote: A friend has a cabinet that she wants to refinish. However, we may not need to strip and refinish if the old finish can be brought back to life. Where do we start? How do we know what the finish is? Does it matter what type of wood is under the finish? Should we try very fine sandpaper, e.g. 2000 grit or finer to polish the finish?

Any help or advice appreciated.

Take a Q-tip with some alcohol on it rub it on the finish someplace that can't be seen.  If the finish comes off onto the Q-tip it's shellac.  If nothing happens try it again with lacquer thinner.  If it comes of now it's uncatalyzed lacquer.  If nothing happens then the finish is varnish or some kind of catalyzed lacquer.  

Let's go from there.  Pictures would be good, too.

John


RE: Revive old dull finish - Roly - 03-31-2019

I would start off with cleaning it. Mineral spirits then Dove dish washing soap, see what it looks like from there, it may be just years of wax and grime. Roly


RE: Revive old dull finish - Engineer - 03-31-2019

I appreciate the feedback.  The following is from my friend, Lisa:

"The cabinet use to be a radio cabinet.  The radio was removed long ago and a shelf was put in.  The cabinet itself is probably 100+ years old.  On the outside, it is dry looking and dull (probably due to years of sun damage), however, if you open up the cabinet doors, it is beautiful and rich.  I've included pictures.  In one of the pictures, you can see where the cabinet doors cover the bottom piece on the left side.  The right side is dull and dry looking where it has been exposed to light.  I did the test with the rubbing alcohol, as suggested, and have included the picture of the q-tip.  So, it seems the finish is shellac, although I don't know if any is left on the outside.  Could you advise me on where I should go from here to revive this cabinet?

Thank you so much for your help!

Lisa"


RE: Revive old dull finish - jteneyck - 03-31-2019

Yes, it looks like it must be shellac, which would be consistent with a piece 100+ years old.  The wood looks like walnut to me, mostly veneered panels with the darker wood being solid.  I'm not sure if it has faded all that much, although walnut does fade over time with exposure to light.  The inside looks nice but might not be walnut, at least it looks different to me than the wood on the outside.  Maybe that is indeed how much it's faded.  Maybe someone else has some input on that.  

If it has faded and you are trying to get it to look like the inside then there are only two ways I know of to do that with walnut.  One way involves stripping off the existing finish, carefully sanding to fresh wood, and then refinishing it, using dyes to adjust the color to match the inside, and then applying a new shellac finish.  Not an easy task on a veneered piece, although veneer was usually much thicker back then.  The other way is to clean it really well, as Roly outlined, and then use toners (usually shellac based) to adjust the color followed by clear shellac topcoats.  Another possible approach that I've never tried is to use Howard Restor-A-Finish in one or a mix of colors to rejuvenate the existing finish, once cleaned.  That would be the easiest approach, but probably not match the inside although that may be less important than just a good looking finish on the outside.  

The solid wood will likely need additional work to cover the worn through patches, if that's important to you.  A darker, shellac based toner would work well to do that.  

Let's see what others have to say and we'll go from there.  

John


RE: Revive old dull finish - Cooler - 04-01-2019

You can  try using a fine polishing compound and buffing up the surface.


RE: Revive old dull finish - chapeleastland - 04-17-2019

Don't think about sanding, or using any type of rubbing compound or polish. That's a quick way to destroy the piece.

The goal is to restore a finish, not make it artificially glossy.

Clean it with Dawn dish detergent suds, not the water, just suds. Don't want it wet or you can buckle the veneer. Just the suds and a very soft rag.

After that let it dry overnight.

Here's the next step. Get some shellac flakes, not canned shellac - shellac flakes. You want three types  -Amber, Garnet, and Ruby. These will closely match the existing piece in both color and time period. I can't say for certain from the photographs, but Amber or Ruby will come close enough.

After you get the flakes, you'll want to make a 1 pound cut of shellac. Get a 1 pint jar. Add by weight 1 ounce of flakes to 8 ounces denatured alcohol. Put lid on and shake. Shake it every 15-30 minutes or so for several hours until it's completely dissolved. Don't rush this step. It's important that it's completely dissolved.

Now take a look at the wood surface. If necessary you might use 00 steel wool to refine the surface, but forget taking sandpaper to it at this point. It's unnecessary. Take a clean rag and wipe down everywhere you intend to shellac.

Bring the piece inside. You want a non-humid environment.

Using a foam brush, start applying the shellac. Work from top to bottom. When you reach the bottom, you'll see that the top is dry. Apply again from top to bottom. It will dry almost as soon as you apply it. Do this about 4 times. Then leave it alone for an hour.

Take a brown grocery store bag and tear it into hand-sized pieces. Rub over all the places you've shellaced. The paper will take down the nubs, but not break down the surface. Then add another couple of coats. Brown paper bag again.

Now you can put a top coat on but for god's sake don't make it glossy. An oil varnish cut by 2/3rds with mineral spirits will work. Brush it on, leave for 5 minutes, then clean rag it off. Let it dry.  If you want, add a slight coat of paste wax with the brown paper bag.

It should now have a simple, but lustrious glow and match the antique color as well as it's going to.


RE: Revive old dull finish - jteneyck - 04-17-2019

What brand of foam brush stands up to shellac?  

John


RE: Revive old dull finish - chapeleastland - 04-17-2019

(04-17-2019, 10:10 PM)jteneyck Wrote: What brand of foam brush stands up to shellac?  

John

The kind I buy. Cheap ones at that. Probably 15-20 cents a piece. Use 'em and throw 'em away.


RE: Revive old dull finish - jteneyck - 04-18-2019

(04-17-2019, 10:21 PM)chapeleastland Wrote: The kind I buy. Cheap ones at that. Probably 15-20 cents a piece. Use 'em and throw 'em away.

I've never had any foam brush last more than a minute (and that's being generous) before swelling in the alcohol and getting too limp to use.  

John