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First, I'm not a professional and I don't play one on TV. ;) I'm refinishing a dining set for a friend (paid!) and I'm staining the top, painting the rest. I stripped with Citristrip, used an after wash, and started sanding the leaves and that's when I realized the table top is veneer. It's applied in parquet squares and edge pieces and has a fake grain that you could feel. I continued sanding, and sanding, and sanding (started getting scared I would go through) until I thought all of the finish was off. It felt smooth and had taken away the fake grain. Sanded with 120, 220, and 400. I applied General Finishes Java gel stain and that's when I realized I have a mess. After applying the stain, I can see some of the sanding marks and the stain is very blotchy and uneven. On one of the leaves parts are shiny and parts aren't. The other leaf isn't as bad but it has a huge dark spot at one end. I've applied 2 coats of stain and it's gotten a little better but it is still terrible. I need advice on what I should do. I don't want to do anything more to the rest of the table until I figure out how to fix the leaves first. Should I use a stripper again and sand some more? The photos show the table after I used a stripper, then the two leaves which are totally messed up. I just refinished a table for another client using the GF gel stain and it turned out great. It wasn't a veneer though. I've never refinished veneer. PLEASE HELP!!! Thanks!
 

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Veneer isn't the problem, the old finish wasn't stripped off completely. The main reason it's blotchy is you used citistrip. That remover is one of the worst on the market. Stripping furniture is a messy business and needs a strong harsh chemical to remove the dried finish. The only fix would be to strip it again. If you use a methylene chloride type remover and rinse it with lacquer thinner there shouldn't be too much re-sanding to do to correct the problems. The best retail remover I've used is Kleen Strip.

After you strip the stain and the rest of the old finish off you should be able to sand the table top with 180 grit and then maybe 220 and leave it at that. It's not necessary to go to 400 grit on oak with a film finish. All you need to do is eliminate the swirl marks. I suspect you are using a finish sander instead of an orbital for sanding. Sanding with multiple grits with a finish sander is going to wallow out the soft part of the grain and give it a washboard look to it. An orbital sander has a more firm base which is prone to sand flat. It also runs faster preventing as many swirl marks.

The dark spot looks like a spot that got wet with water and not sanded. Water will raise the grain making the wood more porous where it accepts more stain.
 

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Thank you for the input. I was afraid that Citristrip was the problem. :( One question - an orbital sander won't mess up the parquet squares? I have a Mouse sander that I have been using but I can get the orbital out if it is better. I am just afraid I'll go through the veneer with a more heavy duty sander. Thanks again
 

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Actually the mouse sander is more dangerous to the veneer than an orbital. It has a softer base and smaller base than an orbital and runs slower. The slower speed is responcible for the swirl mark problem. Anyway if the old finish was completely stripped off it should require less sanding.

When sanding veneer keep the sander moving around. Nearly every time you can see the veneer going thin before you go through it and get off that spot. There is just no way of knowing how thick the veneer was to begin with and how many times it has already been sanded. All you can do is be careful.
 

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Sanding is a poor way to remove a finish. Sanding will not remove coloring that has be absorbed into the wood. There will always be some finish that stays in the wood. This residual finish will impede the even absorption of any subsequent stain you apply. The uneven absorption will show up when you apply your clear coats.

The proper way to remove a finish is to use a chemical paint remover containing methylene chloride. Follow the direction carefully. A liquid paint stripper will remove prior finish that has penetrated into the wood.

If your table surface is a veneer you must sand very lightly and carefully. Sanding is highly problematic. If you are too aggressive you are likely to sand through the veneer. If you do this there is little you can do to correct the sanded through area. The only fix is to remove all the veneer and re-veneer the surface.
 
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