Veneer refinishing

Old 07-19-01, 11:19 AM
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I just bought two 1940's era dressers both with bow fronts, inlay and intricate horizontally cut grooves on the top drawers. The inlay are a lighter shade, blonde, then the rest of the dressers which is a dark mahoghany finish. I do not know what type of wood they are but the inside of the drawers have a cherry color to them. Both appear to have veneer on the tops, front of the drawers and the front of the dressers and have a high gloss. The sides do not appear to have the same either veneer and/or finish as they are duller and more matte. Both dressers have alot of scratches and some pitting in the top which looks to be just from wear. I have a few questions regarding caring/refinishing. We do not plan to refinish immediately, what can we use to clean them safely, not knowing what exactly is on them, and should we polish them? When moving them, a drop of water landed on the side of the one dresser and the finish immediately turned milky and ran. It appears to have taken the finish off this one area despite immediatly wiping off the drip, any ideas why this would happen? And finally, How do you treat the inlay when stripping so as not to damage it and then how would you restain since it is a different color? Thanks!!
Old 07-19-01, 05:30 PM
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First, thanks for the detail leading up to your questions.

Taking them in order - I use VM&P Naphtha (available at paint stores) to clean all furniture brought into my shop. It is highly flammable, and should be used with appropriate caution, but it cuts dirt, oil, grease, and wax, and leaves no residue of its own. It will not harm any sound finish. It sounds like it may remove some of the finish on the sides that you mentioned turned opaque from water, but I wouldn't worry about it.

If you feel the need to polish, use a good paste wax. It will provide the best short term protection while being the easiest to remove when you get ready to refinish. Frankly, if I were planning to refinish within a year, I probably wouldn't bother. But then, I'm inherently lazy and a little of a slob in my personal habits anyway.

As far as why plain water affected the piece, I would suggest the finish had been subjected to extremes of heat and cold for a period of time and the finish (most probably lacquer) had crystallized to the point of being a cohesive powder instead of a solid finish.

When stripping, be careful working over the inlay. No special tricks, just be careful. I doubt it will move at all. It's possible to knock it out of place, but it is usually easy to put back.

To protect the blonde look, use Q-tips dipped in paint thinner immediately after staining to rub over the inlay. This will take the stain away. I suspect the inlay is a hard 'hardwood' such as maple. Maple takes stainly lightly at best, so you won't have much cleaning up to do. The contrast between the dark mahogany and the lighter inlay is one I would find appealing.

Frankly, after stripping, you may find you don't need to stain at all. Wet a rag with paint thinner and wipe down an area. The color you get while the surface is wet is the color you'll get if you refinish without staining. If you like what you see at that point, you don't need to stain.

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