Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Refinishing tables

We have various tables around the house whose tops are fading fast. The time came to do something about it. In order to do it in the house with the least amount of sanding, no stripping, and something easily repaired or stripped later, my weapon of choice is shellac. I got some buttonlac from shellac.net, which is supposedly the toughest form of shellac for a high wear, high water application. The bad thing about it is it has a ton of wax content, which I removed by trickling through two coffee filters. It takes all night to filter eight fluid ounces of solution that way, and then you end up with about 4 ounces.

The idea was to use padding lacquer, which is really shellac with lacquer thinner and some kind of oil for wiping lubrication in it. I would use that to burn into the existing lacquer finish (on the dining table) and then build shellac from there. Of course I had to mix my own to make sure it was fresh, and then I had to waste a bunch of money on additional resins to try to add durability.

Here's all the stuff. See all that wax in the bottom of the shellac jar?

Mixing up the buttonlac:


In the end I never really figured out the padding lacquer application technique, which is different than French polishing or just plain wiping, but still requires vigorous rubbing. I used 10% acetone to burn into the lacquer a little bit, but after failed experiments with the full concoction with mineral spirits lubrication on the end table, I backed off to straight shellac plus a small percentage of Paraloid B-67 for the dining table. The technique I used was just plain padding as described by Jeff Jewitt in his books. Basically you make a fist full of cotton, pour shellac on it, wipe in straight strokes, and repeat until it starts to stick. Then you wait half a day, sand, and do it again. Repeat until it looks like you want. It works for me.

First, a faded end table to practice on:




It came out pretty good after brushing one coat, wiping three more, wet sanding with 400 and 600, and rubbing out with steel wool and paste wax.


Then on to the monster dining table. First a good two-step cleaning:

Here's the bare state:


Here's all the gear for sanding and finishing:

 After the first wet coat was brushed on:
With all the finish on after building with the wiping pad:

And rubbed out with steel wool and paste wax:

I could have spent more time sanding, but it came out fairly smooth with all the patina intact and much improved color. Mission accomplished. We'll see how long it lasts.

EPILOGUE: About four days. That's how long until a hot dish (on a pad) burned through and melted a nice pattern in an 8" square area.