Refinishing Oak Table top - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 20 Old 09-05-2019, 04:47 PM Thread Starter
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Refinishing Oak Table top

In the past when I have refinished furniture, I have found that sanding the wood too much, i.e. 400 grit or finer, does not allow the stain to penetrate the wood as well as if I sand only to 120 grit. My question is, can I use something like lacquer thinner, acetone, paint thinner or alcohol to open up the pores of the oak to better accept the stain? Thanks for any all replies, first time pos! Bill
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post #2 of 20 Old 09-05-2019, 05:22 PM
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Not sure of lacquer thinner would do anything but clean the pores. If you are going to finish a piece, there normally is no need to go above 180 grit.
Most finishing products will tell you what grit to go up to. I dont have any stain around to look at a can, but I'm pretty sure it will tell you what grits to use. Dont follow the internet.
If nothing on the label, they all have a tech support number to call. Some companies have better tech support than others, but if you are having a problem, call the tech support for that particular company.
Do what the manufacturer says. they know what they are doing. They spend tens of millions of dollars a year on research, no yahoo in his basement is going to find a better way, although he might think so.
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post #3 of 20 Old 09-06-2019, 12:10 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks Tony B, I checked and Watco says no higher than 200 grit so I feel safe at 120. In the past , I've felt that I have "polished" oak when I used anything greater than 180. Consequently, the stain couldn't penetrate the pores. Thanks again, Bill
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post #4 of 20 Old 09-06-2019, 12:16 PM
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The 120 grit may leave the sandpaper scratch pattern. If it does, sand to 150 and see if you like it. But higher than 180 is not normally necessary.
Glad you can get back to your project.
Keep us informed

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post #5 of 20 Old 09-07-2019, 02:00 PM Thread Starter
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Applied the Watco stain and knew right away that something was wrong! The stain pooled up into what I call "fish eyes"! If this was a car and I was painting it, that would mean that there was silicone or wax still on the surface! And Watco has always just sooaked right into the surface, it just seemed to float on it. I'm thinking that I need to start over and start sanding with 80 and work up to the 180 just to get rid of any surface contaminants that ae present. Who knows what waxes, polishes, etc were used in this tables past life!
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post #6 of 20 Old 09-07-2019, 04:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cprteacher View Post
............. My question is, can I use something like lacquer thinner, acetone, paint thinner or alcohol to open up the pores of the oak to better accept the stain? .....
The stain pooled up into what I call "fish eyes"! ................I need to start over and start sanding with 80 and work up to the 180 just to get rid of any surface contaminants that are present. ..............
OK, so here we are.I am going to assume that you did not use a stripper. I'm not judging, LOL If you didn't use one, your sanding just drove any contaminates on the surface further down into the wood. So if this be the case, I would advise you to use a stripper. If for some reason, you really dont want to, see if you can still get some MEK. It is a very powerful solvent so handle with care and work upwind from it. You will really have to saturate the area with it changing rags often. BTW, did I mention "SATURATE" and flood the surface with this stuff and then use lots of fresh water to wash it away. Dont worry, there is not going to be enough saturation of the water to cause any problems. Most commercial strippers, including myself use pressure washers to wash away the stripper. If you do use a pressure washer, keep a good distance away so that you dont scour the surface with the water pressure. Stand back some and slowly move closer with the pressure wand to watch that you dont scour the surface. If you are not going to use stripper, use the MEK and still thoroughly wash the surface, pressure washer or not. The very next day the table top should be dry enough to sand and apply the oil finish.

I dont think that going down to 80 grit will do you much good. I would start with 100 grit and not skip grits, just go 100 - 120-150- 180 and that's it. the 100 grit is still pretty course so I would expect that you would spend the most time with the 120 removing the scratch pattern from the 100 grit.

You said "Watco", can I guess that you are talking about the Danish Oil? If that be so, apply the Watco using 200 grit if u can get it or the 180 grit to wet sand the finish in place. I haven't done that in over 35 years, but i remember the surface felt unbelievably great.



I have never seen an oil finish fish-eye before. It's usually the oil that causes other finishes to fish-eye. Is it possible that there was a hard finish on the top before you started sandin this project and that the old finish was -not completely removed? That would certainly account for the fish-eye.

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Last edited by Tony B; 09-07-2019 at 04:42 PM.
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post #7 of 20 Old 09-08-2019, 09:44 PM Thread Starter
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Tony B, you are a wise Master! You are exactly right, I just sanded the surface, no stripper. So I will be following your advice and get some stripper. And, yes, I meant Danish Oil. I've only ever referred to it as Watco. Is there a particular brand of stripper you recommend over the others? And, finally, thank you so much for being a fountain of information and for being so willing to share it with an old fart from California! I really appreciate it, as does my wife! Bill
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post #8 of 20 Old 09-09-2019, 12:03 AM
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They just recently passed some new laws restricting the main active ingredient Methylene Chloride to commercial sales only. The non-Methylene Chloride stuff aint all that great. I'm used to the industrial stuff and that is what has been restricted. At least that is what I read on here a few times.
If you are near a stripping/refinishing shop, it might be less expensive to have them do the strip only job for you. When i had my shop, if someone came in with a table top only and it wasnt very big, I probably would have stripped it for around $40. About $5 worth of chemical and 20 minutes of my time. That would be less expensive than most strippers that actually work.
If you cant get a decent striping chemical and no refinishers near by. I would buy a small can of MEK and check it out. Wont cost very much.

When you are done with the MEK, rinse it off with water. You will be able to tell by how wet the wood is to let you know if all the finish is gone or not. If some finish is remaining, there will be some shiney spots that aren't that wet.

Anyway, maybe someone here can recommend a good stripper. When you write down the name, use the term, finish remover. dont want to write down an address with the word stripper on the same piece of paper.

Anyway, thats is a few alternatives. Maybe someone else can chime in.

One more thing: if you do it yourself I would strongly advise good chemical gloves and eye protection. Work up wind of the piece and keep a hose handy to immediately wash off any chemical that gets on your skin.

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Last edited by Tony B; 09-09-2019 at 12:07 AM.
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post #9 of 20 Old 09-09-2019, 01:32 PM Thread Starter
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I do have some good gloves, I work with Oxalic acid for rust removal on old beer cans so I'm very familiar with using protective gear! Out here in CA, the shops would charge as much as the whole table could be bought for! Trying to retire on my project! LOL. I'll check what's available go with the best I can get. Thanks again Tony! Bill

Last edited by cprteacher; 09-09-2019 at 01:32 PM. Reason: spelling!
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post #10 of 20 Old 09-10-2019, 11:55 AM
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I didn't know those solvents were available in CA.

The issue with oak is the porosity of the wood and how deep the finish has penetrated.

You may have to consider having it sanded, deep enough to remove any trace of finish. You might be able to find a shop with a wide belt sander.
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post #11 of 20 Old 09-11-2019, 10:55 AM
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There are two levels of solvent restrictions in California. The official term is volatile organic compounds (VOCs):

CARB (California Air Resources Board)
Applies statewide:
Some restrictions. If you want to cheat, you can go to Arizona, Nevada, or Oregon to buy restricted solvents.

SCAQMD (South Coast Air Quality Management District)
Applies to Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties:
Many restrictions. If you want to cheat, you can go to San Diego or Ventura Counties, or the states above.

I live in Orange County, so CARB and SCAQMD restrictions both apply. Here are some of the solvents commonly used in woodworking that we cannot find on store shelves here. Sorry, but I do not know which items are restricted by which organization:

* Denatured Alcohol (DNA) as a solvent.
* Japan Drier
* Oil-based wipe-on urethane and polyurethane finishes, such as the once popular Arm-R-Seal.
* MEK (methyl ethyl keytone)
* Mineral Spirits (it was called "paint thinner" when I was a child)
* Turpentine and something called "Turpatine" (which may be an alternate spelling)

The restrictions are not simple. I have been told that you can buy denatured alcohol at REI (a hiking/camping/outdoor store). They sell the identical chemical, but it is classified as stove fuel rather than a general solvent. I also heard that you can buy very small cans of Arm-R-Seal at one woodworking store, because they classified it in a different way and it is very small can. In a few cases, larger containers of product were removed, but the smaller ones allowed, because the VOC levels were under some threshold. Smarter people than I can explain the rules. All I know is what you can buy and what you can't buy.

There are replacement products on the shelves, but they are not nearly as effective as the restricted ones. Acetone seems to be a "go to" replacement for restricted solvents, but it isn't the same and it is not nearly as effective. Acetone is so volatile; it evaporates too quickly to do the job, leading to frustration. We have "paint thinner" on the shelves, but it doesn't work well and it is wrong for some kinds of paint. Most people don't know which paints, including me.

Water-based urethane and polyurethane finishes are available. They do not make the "grain pop" the way that the oil-based finishes do, but there are effective ways to work around the issues and get great finishes. Eventually we may all have to learn those approaches to the hard finishes like that.

Some products come in two variants: one for the general market, and a separate formulation for the restricted market here. I heard about a product (line) where you had to pay close attention to which thinner you added, depending on the formulation. Adding the incorrect thinner could ruin the product. I have a feeling that most manufacturers have given up trying to make special versions of their products for this restricted market.

The denatured alcohol and Japan Drier were taken off the shelves a few months ago without warning. I was stunned about the denatured alcohol and asked. I learned that the denatured alcohol is not the pollutant. The problem occurs when UV rays from the sun cause a photochemical reaction that converts the denatured alcohol into other unhealthy pollutants. I am not qualified to understand or argue the science.

There are probably more restricted solvents that I have forgotten, but you get the idea.

Last edited by Tool Agnostic; 09-11-2019 at 11:22 AM.
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post #12 of 20 Old 09-11-2019, 11:19 AM
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(I want this in a separate post. It is way off topic, but important to me. I am not looking for a response, only restraint.)

P.S. It has become fashionable to bash "California" in the mean-spirited, nasty way that has become commonplace these days. One active member posted in a different thread on WoodworkingTalk that they wished California would fall into the ocean and everyone die. I did not appreciate someone here advocating for my death, just because of where I live. Others were not as explicit, but publicly shared the sentiment and joined in the "fun."

I posted the information above about solvent restrictions as a way to help inform others. I am not interested or eager to invite a debate about the state where I live, its residents, or its policies. Save that for another thread or your personal thoughts.

Let's talk about finishing and adapting to restrictions that you may face someday, if you don't have to deal with them now.
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post #13 of 20 Old 09-11-2019, 12:14 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you, Tool Agnostic! Both posts are very articulate and well put together. I have a friend who lives in Truckee and is able to get some stuff that I can't! Up here in Sacramento, we can still get pain thinner/mineral spirits, acetone, and denatured alcohol at the local Ace. It's the strippers that (finish/paint) are not as good as they used to be. I appreciate you taking the time to explain the regulations! Bill
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post #14 of 20 Old 09-11-2019, 06:02 PM
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Originally Posted by cprteacher View Post
Thank you, Tool Agnostic! Both posts are very articulate and well put together. I have a friend who lives in Truckee and is able to get some stuff that I can't! Up here in Sacramento, we can still get pain thinner/mineral spirits, acetone, and denatured alcohol at the local Ace. It's the strippers that (finish/paint) are not as good as they used to be. I appreciate you taking the time to explain the regulations! Bill
True about paint strippers. The ban on Methylene Chloride for consumer products is not only in California. It is nationwide, issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The ban is the result of too many deaths from toxic exposure, generally by ordinary people who did not understand the dangers and who did not follow the directions carefully enough.

An expert told me about six months ago that the soy gel stripper is the stripper to choose among those that remains on the shelf, at least here in Orange County (CARB and SCAQMD). It is not nearly as good as the old strippers, but it is the best available. He said to leave it on overnight, then scrape off the yucky goo. Repeat as needed. He estimated that it requires three or four times the effort of the old product, but it is the best available. I have not needed a stripper since that conversation, but will try it when the time comes.

Hopefully better strippers are available outside the SCAQMD.
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post #15 of 20 Old 09-15-2019, 12:12 PM Thread Starter
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OK guys, here's where I stand as of today. Got some Green's Product semi paste stripper and did 4 cycles with that. Cleaned after each cycle with acetone and let dry. This AM, I sanded with my new belt sander with 100 & 120 grit. Almost immediately, I have little dots of wet stain cropping up! WTF is going on? Where do I go from here? Will these "leaks" hurt the new finish down the road? Help!! Bill
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post #16 of 20 Old 09-15-2019, 03:19 PM
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Just take a clean white rag, sopping wet with acetone (If that is what the stripper says to use), and wash and try to lift out the old stain. Just work in those areas. Without a proper stripper, this will happen. Just take your time and you will get it all.
It's possible that all of the stripper hasn't been removed yet and that is what you are witnessing.

It's hard to give advice without actually being there, so here are some considerations:
Have you tried a pressure washer yet standing back some so that you don't scour the wood?
If you dont have a pressure washer, use a garden hose with a spray pattern.

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post #17 of 20 Old 09-15-2019, 05:05 PM Thread Starter
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No water yet, I have an aversion to getting wood wet! Must be something in my previous lives! I'll try the pressure washer even though my mind is saying "NOOOOO!" After all, I have to listen to the master!
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post #18 of 20 Old 09-16-2019, 08:37 AM
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The stuff I been told you cant get anymore unless a commercial enterprise is Methylene Chloride. It is used commercially and that is all I ever used. The chemical is extremely caustic to your skin and burns like the dickins when you get even the slightest amount on you. The normal procedure after applying MC is to use a pressure washer, light pressure to rinse. Water is the neutraliser. It neutralizes the chemical as it washes it off. That is the common way it is done. So water is OK. Also, it will dry a lot faster than you would expect. usually in an hour or so it looks dry but best to wait 24 hours.

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post #19 of 20 Old 09-16-2019, 02:09 PM Thread Starter
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Looks like I'm on the right path finally! Thanks to you Tony! Wiped down the table with liberal amounts of acetone, let that dry for a couple of hours and then liberal washed of the top with the garden hose and a rag. Man, that scared me! LOL! Today the top looks ready to go for staining. I did notice that there were no shiny spots or places where the water appeared to be spotting as though it were on wax! So today we stain. Will it matter if it's raining! Our first wet weather in 6 months! Maybe I'll wait until tomorrow! Thanks all, Bill
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post #20 of 20 Old 09-16-2019, 03:46 PM
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Glad you finally got there.
Also glad no shiny spots. This is one of the primary things to look for. Also with a damp rag, u can wipe the surface and look for fish-eye and dry spots where the water wont soak in.

Wait for tomorrow. Unless your shop is climate controlled, try to get the humidity under 85% which is almost impossible in some areas.

As you found out, repair and refinishing takes a whole different arsenal of tools and chemicals and skill set than making stuff new.

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