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Hi, I'm refinishing an old cabinet that has been in my family for many years. The top is oak (added onto the original top at some point) and the body of the cabinet is maple, I believe. I stripped the old finish and then sanded using 60, 220, 400, and then 1000 sand paper for the finishing. I'm happy with the look of the body of the cabinet, but I'm not happy with the top. I don't mind the dark spots (caused by water damage over the years), but I'm unhappy with the "blotchy" overall appearance. I've been coating the sanded surface with natural danish wood oil, waiting 48 hours, then lightly sanding and reapplying the oil. I've done this 3 times, but the blotching remains. Was I too hasty when I sanded the top? I stopped when black specks began appearing in some areas of the oak grain. I was afraid I was sanding too much, but maybe I needed to continue? I'm new to this, so any help you can provide would be much appreciated. Thanks!
 

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Old School
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Looking at that picture I can't tell what it is. It looks like a slab of wood in a box. Is that the top that's supposed to be Oak? Is it supposed to have a finish with some color? Where is the rest of the cabinet?

When you sanded, 60x is way too coarse, and anything over 220x made the wood too smooth to take a finish. The finish you used is an oil varnish mix. At this stage I would use a chemical stripper (MC based...methylene chloride), and start over.









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Yes, that's the cabinet's oak top in the first photo. Here is another photo, at a different angle. Could you recommend the grades of sandpaper I should use when starting over? Thanks for your help.

 

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where's my table saw?
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maybe you stopped sanding too soon?

It would seem the blotchy coloring may be a result of the old finish remaining underneath and not taking the oil (stain) evenly.
Now the problem is the oils may have pentrated into the pores sufficently to prevent it's complete removal....I donno? I would try to scrape the oil finish off as much as possible. It will clog any sand paper except the most coarse grit....60 or even 50.

A ROS, Random Orbital Sander is the machine you need to use for best results. Progressing from 60 to 100 to 180 then 220.
Possibly 320 but, I don't think anything finer is necessary from my experience. If you are hand sanding, then a block with a front handle will give you the best control, like a hand plane.
Auto body shops have them and they have quick release attachment for changing the sandpaper...usually comes in rolls. Harbor Fright has them also. Sand in line with the grain or at a very slight angle and change back and forth as you go.

There are some very experienced refinishers on here they may have other, better suggestions for you. :yes:
 

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Thank you for your input! I don't have an orbital sander. I've been using an electric handheld sander and also sanding by hand with a sanding block. I worried that I was sanding too much because the grain began to look "dirty" in some areas. But maybe that was because I was using the wrong grit? The cabinet has been painted and varnished a number of times over the years.
 

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I'm kind of with woodenthings. I think it is still the old finish. With just Danish oil on it, it shouldn't take much to clean it off with paint stripper. All you really need to do is clean the oil off so it doesn't gum up your sandpaper when you sand it. If all you have is a finish sander I think I would sand it with 60 grit paper to begin with and thoroughly sand the top. Once you have resurfaced it with the coarse paper, then gradually work your way down to 220 grit paper. You might also wet the wood with water between grit changes to raise the grain. It will take a good bit of sanding to get rid of the swirl marks the 60 grit paper will make.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Again, thank you everyone for taking time to reply. This is my first time refinishing a piece of furniture and I probably should have done my homework before I started. My intention was to remove the old finish in order to clean and brighten up the cabinet a bit. It doesn't have value, other than sentimental, and now I fear I may be making it worse rather than better. Anyway, today I stripped away the Danish wood oil I had applied to it and sanded the top using an electric handheld sander and 60 grit paper. After an hour of sanding, this is how the finish looks (pictures below). The wood still looks very mottled. This is the same way it looked after the first time I stripped/sanded the cabinet before posting here. Should I continue to sand at the 60 grit? If the mottling is caused by oil that has seeped deeply into the wood, is it pointless to keep sanding? Would it be better to just finish with the lighter stages of sanding and then use a darker stain on it to hide the "blotching"?

Howie, I think it's oak, but I'm not sure.

Any and all help is appreciated. Thanks much! ~Julie


 

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There are a few unknows here

Here's what I would do. Remove the top, take it to a cabinet shop and for $20 in shop time...maybe a bit more, they will run it through their wide belt thickness sander, and you will have a perfectly flat and even surface which will have little or zero trace of the old finish. That will eliminate the "unknowns" :yes:
The amount of energy you now have invested will not have been in vain. If you don't want to do that then you need to get a more aggressive sander, a ROS, but I suspect even that won't be satisfactory. Just do it and see if that won't be 100% better. :thumbsup: The shop may also have the expertise on the old finish...2 birds ...one stone. :laughing:
 

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I believe your alright this time. I think initially when you refinished it you left enough of the old finish on it to prevent the Danish oil from penetrating in spots. Now that you have done it again there are spots of raw wood but there are also places of Danish oil making the dark spots. I believe if you apply Danish oil again the finish will be uniform. Now having said that I would apply water first to see what it looks like. The water should come pretty close to the effects of the Danish oil without all the work to get it off if it doesn't. Also wetting it will show up any swirl marks from the 60x paper that you may have missed. After it dries it will just take a minor sanding because wetting it will raise the grain.

I missed the wood type initially. The wood is most likely maple but could be birch. It's not oak.
 

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I took the earlier suggestion from woodnthings and got a random orbit sander today. It does seem to be helping to remove more of the old finish more efficiently. I felt sure I wouldn't be able to remove the top of the cabinet because the screws were so imbedded in the wood and caked with years of grime and old stain. But after I cleaned them a bit with an old knife, I was surprised that I could loosen them. I didn't remove the top, though, fearing it might be hard to get it back on again. But, at least I know I can potentially take the top off and bring it to a cabinet maker if the sanding doesn't work.

I'm so interested to hear that the top is not oak. The grain pattern looks different, to me, from the rest of the cabinet, which I think is maple (tighter grain with some "birds eye" swirls). But maybe I'm wrong about that too.

I appreciate your time and suggestions. My dad was a cabinet maker most of his life, building pews and chancel furniture for northland church furniture in luck, wi. he always smelled of sawdust, so this project is bringing back lots of childhood memories for me. :smile:
 

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I would condition the wood first using an oil based conditioner before applying the danish oil.

What weirds me out is that the blotching is there before you even apply a finish, which leads me to suspect what everyone else is, and that is that there are remains of an old finish deep inside the pores.

If that was the case, I would hit the top with some acetone to see about pulling out the crap deep inside the pores, then condition after giving it some time, then try out the danish oil.
 
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