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Thread: Refinishing old oak?

  1. #1
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    Refinishing old oak?

    Hey, folks,

    One of the things I got from Craig was an old pew. I wasn't going to take it, but Doorlink loved it. It came from an old Augustinian chapel in downtown DC, and it had been sitting on Craig's enclosed porch for about 20 years. When he got it (the chapel was being torn down), he just put it out there, so it likely hasn't been refinished for, I'm guessing, at least a century.

    Luckily, the Augustinians aren't known from being especially rowdy monks, so it's in pretty good shape. There are a couple deep scratches in one place on the seat, but other than that, all is well.

    I'm wondering how best to refinish it. I used some 320 grit sandpaper on parts of it, just to get the dirt off, but it's going to take a whole mess of sanding. The trouble with sanding: once you start, you have to keep going... and the oak is pretty old... for a moment, I got worried about reshaping some of the curves, even with 320 grit. Is there some wonder product I can brush on that'll take off the old finish? Not sure what the old finish is, maybe shellac or lacquer? What did they use for finish in c. 1880? I tried naptha, but that just loosened the dirt and dust, not the finish.

    Assuming that goes well, any ideas for a modern finish? Doorlink wants it to find a home inside, so I don't need to worry about weathering. My first thought is to just use what I'm used to, which is 1/3 BLO, 1/3 poly, and 1/3 naptha. But I'm open to all suggestions...

    Thanks,

    Bill

  2. #2
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    try mineral spirts and steel wool on it first to clean the junk off, then try a small spot to see if its shellac or not use dna and see if that cuts it, if so then use a gray scotch bright and dna and scrub again.. as for refinishing the witches brew your accustomed to will work.. if it is actually as old as you mentioned then the shellac would be the finish of choice then.. somewhere back in the threads i posted a old head board that i cleaned up this way and then coated it turned ok i thought..
    If in Doubt, Build it Stout!
    One hand washes the other!
    Don't put off today till tomorrow!

  3. #3
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    You can test if it is shellac by rubbing an area with an alcohol soaked rag. Shellac returns to solution when hit with alcohol. If it softens, your job just got easier. Use rags and a soft brush and denatured alcohol to soften and remove the finish. I often start with paper towels, throwing them away frequently so as to not re-apply the finish I just wiped off. For the detail work, use a soft brush (like a shoe shine brush) to work the finish out of the crevices. If it is not shellac . . . calling Dave Hawksford, calling Dave Hawksford . . .
    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
    - Arthur C. Clarke

  4. #4
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    I would just start with a chemical stripper. I would first give a waterbase stripper a try, like Citristrip. It's not as toxic as an MC (methylene chloride) stripper. It can be used indoors, smells like oranges, and is water clean-up. I would give it a chance first, even with a couple of applications. I like starting off with the least toxic and easiest to use method. If it doesn't work to your satisfaction, I would then use an MC based stripper. They are very toxic, and I would recommend gauntlet type chemically resistant gloves, a two cartridge respirator, and face/eye protection. Work in a well ventilated area.

    One of the best I've used over the counter is called "Aircraft Stripper" in the blue can. It's available at many auto type stores, and dedicated auto paint type stores. Follow directions to the letter. Once you are down to bare wood, you can do repairs and sand without loading up your paper.




    .

  5. #5
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    OK, so I tried the DNA. It had some effect, but I was just rubbing the finish around. It was as if it loosened it, then as soon as it dried (almost instantly), it looked like I had just refinished. Weird.

    So, on to the citistrip. Stuff's not unpleasant. Took me about an hour to brush it on to every square inch, even underneath. It's clearly going to do the job. Seems to have worked best where I'd already sanded, but also seems to work in the places I hadn't yet touched. Clean up was easy.

    As soon as it's dry, I'm going to lightly scrape, and then sand. Looks like I might be halfway home...

    I'm going to need to make some molding, as a couple pieces are missing, but that's going to have to wait a day or two. Since the darned thing's on the front porch, and vulnerable in a bad rain, I have to get some finish on it tonight. Even if I could pick it up myself, there's no room for it in the shop right now...

    Thanks,

    Bill

  6. #6
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    Darren

    To a small child, the perfect granddad is unafraid of big dogs and fierce storms but absolutely terrified of the word “boo.” – Robert Brault

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Lantry View Post
    ...Since the darned thing's on the front porch, and vulnerable in a bad rain, I have to get some finish on it tonight...
    Is there no way you could simply cover it? A tarp or sheet plastic?
    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson
    When the weird get going, they start their own forum. - Vaughn McMillan

    workingwoods.com

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vaughn McMillan View Post
    Is there no way you could simply cover it? A tarp or sheet plastic?
    I'm going to have to. I was overly optimistic about how well the citristrip worked. It had an effect, but there's way more to do...

    Not only that, but I scraped it a little. I've got some sanding ahead of me. Now I remember why I don't enjoy refinishing

  9. #9
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    another thing to consider bill is that after you strip it you should allow some time before refinishing it.. check the can to see there instructions.. sometime they recommend a neutralizer be applied to it after the stripping solution.
    If in Doubt, Build it Stout!
    One hand washes the other!
    Don't put off today till tomorrow!

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Darren Wright View Post
    Pics you requested, pics you shall have. First, a brief note. I'm a little frustrated with the citistrip. For this project, at least, I think that 20 bucks might have been better spent on sandpaper. I'm sure it has its uses, but, yikes. Also, after spending 8 bucks on DNA, I got back to the shop and discovered I already had a full can, unopened. Aw, well, it's always good to have some around...

    Two views of the whole thing:

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    Citistrip plus sanding with 220 grit vs. just citistrip:

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    After a few minutes of sanding with 220:

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    The other side, after a few minutes of sanding with only 120:

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    Off to the depot, to buy a mess of 120...

    Thanks,

    Bill

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