To refresh old varnished surface, not strip it??

Old 04-25-01, 02:53 PM
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I have two pieces, a dresser and a hutch. They're around 75 yrs old. Finish on each is good or better, but show wear. The mahogany dresser is DARK and the surface crazed or alligatored. The hutch is red oak.

How can I renew these finishes without stripping and refinishing. Neither are seriously dirty appearing.

I once knew of a paste-product called `Elbow Grease'. May even be able to find it (we just moved).m It was supposed to be good for this sort of problem. Your view??
Old 04-25-01, 04:03 PM
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Elbow grease will probably be needed, but it's the kind you make yourself...

First, you need to determine the type of finish. If it's a factory made piece, it's probably lacquer. You can test for this by dampening a rag with lacquer thinner and rubbing an inconspicous spot in small circles. If teh rag starts to drag or stick, the finish is either lacquer or shellac. The repair is the same for both.

For the 'alligatored' areas, a good brush dampened with lacquer thinner (dip the brush in then run it across the edge of the container to remove most of the liquid) applied with long even strokes (don't press very hard) will usually 'remelt' the alligatoring and allow it to smooth itself out.

If this works as I expect it to, wait until the surface dries completely (several hours) then sand out any minor iregularities (400 grit wet/dry paper lubricated with water)and apply a fresh topcoat of lacquer. For this, I'd suggest an aerosol. It's much easier for the DoItYourSelfer than trying to brush a finish on - especially lacquer.

The final coat can be polished out with a mild automotive abrasive compound such as Turtle Wax Polishing Compound and Scratch Remover. (This is where the 'elbow grease' comes in.)

Although you mention the pieces aren't dirty - a good cleaning with VM&P Naphtha wouldn't hurt. It cuts grease, dirt, oil and wax and won't harm any fully cured finish. It also has no residue and works better than mineral spirits.

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