Bringing mahoghany back to life

Old 11-12-00, 09:06 PM
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I purchased an antique mahoghany bedroom suite. The appearance of it is dull, with a thick black coloration (not a paint). What is the finish on it? How can I bring it back to life? Do I need to completely strip it? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Old 11-14-00, 04:30 PM
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Older pieces usually have either lacquer or shellac finish - more on that in a minute.

The dark coloration is standard for older pieces also. In order to lighten it, you will probably (not absolutely for certain) have to strip it.

Clean it first - paint thinner and 0000 steel wool, wiping completely dry afterward. This serves a twofold purpose: 1- it will remove all the old dirt, oil, grease, wax, etc, from the finish. This may lighten it up enough for you to just apply a finish over the existing one. In any event, if you decide to strip, cleaning is the first step. Strippers don't cut through grease, oil or wax. Getting them out of the way let's the stripper work.

You can test for the finish by dampening a cloth in denatured alcohol and rubbing an area. If the rag starts to drag/stick, the finish is shellac. The same method can be used for testing for lacquer - just substitute lacquer thinner for the alcohol.

If either of these two is the finish, you can actually strip the piece using the same chemical, either denatured alcohol or lacquer thinner, whichever is appropriate.

I'm refinishing an old "Jenny Lind" bed right now for a customer - solid black when I got it - solid cherry underneath. Needless to say, the customer is delighted with what I found.

George T.

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