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Repairing & Refinishing walnut burl table

15247 Views 4 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  Blur
So I am an amateur diy'er and after realizing that owning a home sometimes puts a hold on other plans like buying new furniture I am tasked with repairing and refinishing a table that was given to my wife and I when we moved into our home a year ago.
From my basic research it looks to be a walnut Burl veneer that is about 1/16 of an inch thick. It is a patchwork design (4x4 squares) of this veneer that has a lot of dark spots, deep scratches and discoloration. The design is not bad though and I'd love to try and bring it back.
Do you (collectively anyone willing to offer advice) think its salvagable?
Can I sand out the scratches and patch the veneer?
Should I strip off what finish is left, sand out all the scratches and see what I'm left with?
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Some pics of the table would be helpful in guiding you as to what to do.
Here are some pics, let me know if these give an idea or I need to take more.


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sawdustfactory said:
Some pics of the table would be helpful in guiding you as to what to do.
Hello, thank you for your earlier reply. Took me a bit to be able to get some pics. Can you have a look and maybe offer some advice? Would be much appreciated. Fyi, I took a second look at the leaf and it looks like the veneer is thcker than I originally thought. Do I just strip,scrape,sand wipe and refinish?

Thanks in advance for any guidance.
This is such a huge topic it's hard to know where to start... First, you've got to be careful when working with veneer. Too much sanding or scraping and you burn through the veneer ruining it. A couple more questions should be answered before you start on this: First, how old is this table? If it's from between about 1920-1978 you'll need to test the finish for lead content before anything else. If it's a lead finish I'd say just don't bother, it's too dangerous to mess with. Even some places that specialize in refinishing don't deal with lead finishes (they send them out to another outfit that specializes in dealing with lead finishes), you really have to be set up to handle them if you're going to do it safely. You can get lead test kits at your big box stores. You'll need to abrade the finish in some inconspicuous area and then apply the test kit to the shavings to get the most reliable results.

If it's not lead finished, I'd suggest going straight to a chemical stripper to take the old finish off to start. Then very gently sand back the veneer. I'd avoid the random orbital sander on this as it can burn through the veneer too easily; use a vibro sander (less powerful and aggressive than the RO) or even hand sand, start with about 100 grit or even 120 and work up to 180. Don't attempt to sand out any gouges or nicks in the veneer, most likely you'll only make the problem worse by burning the veneer. You'll have to take other strategies to deal with those. Once that's done you can decide on a repair strategy for the wood depending on the type of damage you have.

I'd suggest you pick up the book "Understanding Wood Finishing" by Bob Flexner, and read it before you start really. It will be worth it, and the time spent will pay huge dividends in the quality of your final product. The book is just about the last word on the subject of finishing, it's exhaustive, well written and will cover just about everything you need to know, though it can be a bit dry as it's essentially written as a textbook. In the meantime, if you need help with a specific step, post the question here and I'm sure someone will give you a hand. A quicker (and free) resource would be this link:


There is a six part video series for free viewing there on refinishing. It doesn't come close to covering everything, but it's enough to get you started. Even after watching this you should still get Flexners book as it covers a lot of topics not covered in the video. I think anyone serious about finishing should have it in their library.

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