Advice needed for finishing an old pine table top (completed)
Newbie here looking for advice.

My wife and I are into antiques and we're re-doing our dining room. We recently acquired a very cool and unusual 2 board late 1800's farm dining table  (72" X 36") that is pine and I would like to try and approximate the color of the top to a large red oak buffet that is already in place in the room. I realize pine is quite difficult to stain and have it turn out even looking and not splotchy, and I also realize that even if I am able to somehow closely approximate the color of oak, the grain patterns will not match and I am ok with that part of the equation if need be. There was no finish on the top to begin with, only a significant amount of ground in dirt, grime, scratches and nicks which I hope to alleviate to a large degree by sanding and filling the deeper gouges with a sawdust/glue filler, so essentially I will be finishing bare, but very old, wood.

My thought process was to sand from 80 to maybe 180 or 220 grit, pre-treat with shellac or some other conditioner,  stain with some type of lighter oak stain, (testing on the underneath of the table first after preparing a section to the same specs as the top) and then apply a protective top coat of some kind last.

Alternatively, I considered sanding as above, then applying mineral spirits followed by a General Finishes gel stain, and then finishing with a General Finishes Arm-R-Seal satin top coat

Any and all suggestions welcome.
  Re: Advice needed for finishing an old pine table top (completed) by Ispock ([color=#000000][size...)
If you want to keep historically correct, then you will probably want to use either lacquer or shellac as the top coat.

You can test the current finish by rubbing it with alcohol.  If the finish dissolves, then it is shellac.

You can "repair" small voids in the finish by rubbing using an alcohol dampened rag.  It will spread the old finish over the scratches. 

For me, the hardest part of finishing pine is getting the stain right without blotching. 

For that reason I have used polyshades for pine.  I met Norm Abrams at the National Hardware Show in Chicago about 20 years ago and he said that he only used oil based polyshades on pine.  It is not an "authentic" finish, but it is durable and easy to apply. 

I am finding it hard to locate polyshades.  Lowes seems to be phasing it out.
No animals were injured or killed in the production of this post.
  Re: Advice needed for finishing an old pine table top (completed) by Ispock ([color=#000000][size...)
Cooler, there's no finish on the table.  And since it's a dining table lacquer and shellac are really poor choices.  You need varnish to stand up to the daily assault a dining table typically gets.  

Personally, I think trying to make pine look like oak is a fool's errand and advise against it.  And staining pine is never easy w/o the complication of trying to match the color of the oak piece, so you are just about guaranteed to fail.  Why not celebrate the pine for it's own beauty? I would hand plane, scrape, and sand the top flat.  I'd leave any gauges or dents; trying to fill them with sawdust and glue will make them stick out like a sore thumb.  It's an antique table, not a new one.  Let the history show a little bit.    

If you want to add some color then I would apply a coat or two of amber shellac, or put some Transtint dye of choice in Sealcoat shellac if amber shellac isn't the color you want.  Warning - unless you have spray equipment applying shellac uniformly over a large surface is not easy, in fact, it's very difficult to get a uniform result and colored shellac will make it even more obvious of any inconsistencies.  An easier approach would be to apply a coat or two of Danish Oil in the color of choice.  

Arm-R-Seal would make an excellent choice for the topcoat, as would most any oil based varnish.  

  Re: Advice needed for finishing an old pine table top (completed) by Ispock ([color=#000000][size...)
Post some pictures of both pieces so we can see how different the colors are.  Some would say its heresey to sand out the character of an antique table and lose the "patina".

I would suggest a good cleaning and a shellac sealer coat followed up with a tinted top coat like John mentioned,  your choice but probably not lacquer or shellac.
  Re: Advice needed for finishing an old pine table top (completed) by Ispock ([color=#000000][size...)
Thank you all for the advice - I do appreciate it.

John,  Your comment about celebrating the natural beauty of the pine struck a chord with me, and I believe I will do just that. Also a great point about trying to fix the gouges and chips and making them more noticeable. When you mentioned using colored Danish oil, were you suggesting using that instead of amber or tinted shellac, and if so, how many coats before allowing it to dry and putting on the Arm-R-Seal? Also, do I do a  light fine sanding between coats or no? I assume adding additional coats of the Danish oil would darken the color if desired, yes? Any recommendations on the best Danish oil product to use?

Tom, I suspect at one time in its long history this table was relegated to a barn somewhere and used as a work table of some kind, so "patina" is an understatement of the highest order. Besides the heavy soiling , stains, gouges, and what appear to be knife blade marks, it definitely has character, but not necessarily the kind I want as a dining room table. Granted, I'm not looking to make it look like something new and glossy by any means, but it really wasn't acceptable the way it was. I have already begun the sanding process and the wood beneath all of the stuff going on is actually quite beautiful. Had it simply been an old dining room farm table in need of some sprucing up and cleaning, I would have probably done as you suggested, but it would not have looked good at all as is.
  Re: RE: Advice needed for finishing an old pine table top by Ispock (Thank you all for th...)
Yes, if you go the Danish Oil route do not use shellac.  I don't know what color of Danish Oil would look good; that's something you'll have decide for yourself.  A mix of two might be needed to get the color you want.  If you use Danish Oil, test on the bottom and follow the directions.  Let it dry at least 2 or 3 days before applying the varnish topcoat.  

I just reread your original post and agree that gel stain might be a good route to put some color on it.  However, I would not put mineral spirits on first.  I would put on a wash coat or two of Sealcoat shellac cut 50% with denatured alcohol.  It might take even more coats.  You want the surface to be pretty well sealed before applying the gel stain.  That will prevent blotching and also allow you to control the intensity of the color.  What you're doing is adding a little color on top of a sealed surface, not adding color to the wood itself.  Apply the gel stain and then wipe it off.  The earlier and harder you wipe it off the less color you will leave behind.  Practice on the bottom.  

When the gel stain has dried for 2 or 3 days, apply another wash coat of shellac and after it has dried for a couple of hours you can start adding the varnish topcoats.  

Whatever approach you take - practice on the bottom.  

Video    Re: Advice needed for finishing an old pine table top (completed) by Ispock ([color=#000000][size...)
Small dents can be sometimes raised by applying steam to the area.  I have not done this myself, but the process involved requires a damp rag over the offending dimple or dent and a household iron to generate the heat.  It is supposed to raise the fibers to the original position.

This will not work if the wood is worn or gouged away.
No animals were injured or killed in the production of this post.
  Re: Advice needed for finishing an old pine table top (completed) by Ispock ([color=#000000][size...)
+1 on leaving it alone - its a stand alone piece, let it be a contrast to other furniture and have its own glory.

Waterlox tung oil might be another good choice.

I've sprayed tinted shellac on large surfaces & you do have to be very careful about getting enough volume out the gun, avoid going back over it, but not too much to flood like you would with a dye. You also have to take into account humidity and heat b/c shellac can dry almost immediately in some situations.

I've used conversion varnish and like the Target product EM8000cv which also adds some color tone. Crosslinker can be added if desired for extreme durability. I do not know if it can be used over oil.
  Re: Advice needed for finishing an old pine table top (completed) by Ispock ([color=#000000][size...)
I've used both brushing lacquer and shellac.  Both dry really fast. 

It is true that they can dry too fast to self level, but a wide sanding block and fine sandpaper and a few coat will get you a nice level finish.  Both can be rubbed to a high gloss or to a rich satin. 

Here are simple instructions for brushing lacquer:

Note that only the flat surfaces need the really close attention.  A small table will not be an insurmountable amount of work.

Here are simple instructions on shellac:

An example of shellac finish rubbed to a high gloss:

No animals were injured or killed in the production of this post.
  Re: RE: Advice needed for finishing an old pine table top by Cooler (I've used both brush...)
Cooler, why do you keep recommending lacquer and shellac for a dining table?  Both have very poor durability.

EM-8000CV sprays great and looks great on the white oak I used it on, and probably would look really good on pine, too.  However, even with 5% cross linker it's not as chemically durable as EnduroVar or Arm-R-Seal.  I was shocked to see that it does poorly after just 1 hour exposure to warm water under a warm coffee mug (white ring near the top of this specimen).  

The light spot on the bottom left was from Bourbon, the one on the bottom right was from Windex.  Here's comparative results on Arm-R-Seal and EnduroVar:

Both ARS and EnduroVar were pretty much unaffected.  


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