Refinishing furniture - mixed woods and carvings edition
August 20, 2016 3:41 PM   Subscribe

My parents are giving me an old buffet table for my new place. But it needs refinishing. But the piece is made up of different kinds of woods, and has some pretty intricate carvings. What's the best way to refinish it?

Here's the piece in question. All the old finish has already been removed, and to our surprise, the woods for the main body & drawers, the doors, and the carvings on the doors are all different, so I can't imagine they'd all take stain the same way.

I should probably just paint it (I know chalk paint is the 'in' thing of the moment), but I really like the grain of the wood on the main body and I hate faux finishing and distressing.

Any tips or ideas from people handier than me?
posted by Caravantea to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would at least paint the doors on the sides, with the relief, and anything else with wood grain not matching the drawer fronts. Or maybe just keep the drawer fronts unpainted. Then clear polyurethane (or a light stain to make the grain pop, then poly) over everything you didn't paint. The doors look like later additions or substitutions. The wood species probably would have been matched it it were meant to be stained. I wouldn't have thought paint-stain mix would work, but I've seen some really nice pieces done this way. This isn't the best example but you get the idea.
posted by supercres at 4:07 PM on August 20, 2016

Best answer: Why stain it if you like the grain of the wood? That thing will really pop if you put some natural color oil (I like Watco) on it and a then a clear topcoat.
To see what it would look like, put some paint thinner on a paper towel and wipe down each piece.
posted by qsysopr at 4:19 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's pretty common to find this sort of thing when the piece is supposed to have different colors/textures when finished. No, they won't take stain the same way, that was the intent. In fact, they might be stained different colors on the different woods.
This is a bit more ornate/deco than what you have, but it's the same idea.
Here is a simple table with some burl in the center.
Your piece to refinish of course.
I've restored a Victorian house interior with the original colors. We found the original colors hiding under later layers. It was pretty shocking to some folks when they walked in. Sensibility and taste in color has changed a great deal over the years.
posted by rudd135 at 4:25 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The grain on the drawer fronts is indeed very nice. I would apply a little natural oil to those and the carcass and top and then cover with oil-based polyurethane.

The doors are a little tougher with the carvings. I'd aim for a stain that leaves the doors significantly darker than the rest of the piece to put the emphasis on the nicer grain. If you want to feature the carvings, you can use a very light stain on them (or natural oil again) to give them contrast from the background (I think this would be the original intent of the piece, to have the carvings lightly coloured). If you don't love the carvings, darkening them will make them less prominent.
posted by ssg at 5:41 PM on August 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Don't paint it; it's in too nice a condition to do that. Plus, it takes a lot of skill to do a good paint job on furniture with just a brush (if you don't have a spray set up.) The same actually applies for brush-on polyurethane, although a non-glossy finish may hide the brush strokes and other problems better.

I would just use a semi-traditional oil finish, like Watco. These are all usually modified Tung and Linseed oil based. My favorite right now is "Waterlox". It applies with rags, dries quickly, and has a nice mild color to it with a shiny finish after repeated coats. It does tend to smell quite a bit so you would want to do this outdoors.

If you will be putting things like drinks on the furniture, you might find you need a polyurethane. Try to find a rubbed on varnish. Although these tend to be a little harder to find now.

Also, I'm not convinced that the wood on the doors is different from the drawers. It looks a lot drier whereas the drawers look like they still have some oil/stain. When you finish it, it may very well even out.
posted by at 5:46 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Please don't paint it!!

I have a Telephone Stand from the 40's I wiped down with a mixture of oil + vinegar (I got the recipe from Pinterest) and to my surprise IT HAS LOOKED FABULOUS AND FINISHED FOR OVER A YEAR.

I'm just getting ready to reapply that recipe. Only a few spots need it. The recipe is supposed to cover scratches, I think it's actually a miracle.

Linseed Oil if that recipe scares you. That buffet is gorgeous. I wouldn't paint it! I think oil (or maybe just wax finish and buff?) is the right answer.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 6:51 PM on August 20, 2016

Do not paint this, it would definitely be the worst case. There are liquid strippers that would stripe the finish off and make it very clean so it would only require a quick final sanding before refinishing. When using liquid strippers wear a cartridge respirator and nitrile gloves to be safe and make sure to follow the instructions for time and tools. I have done many different and intricate pieces with this and the results are always good if you move slowly and patiently.
posted by Nackt at 7:08 PM on August 20, 2016

Remove the metal, wipe it down well, and get some paraffin blocks (canning wax) for $5. Rub into the wood (if you have kids available this would be a good opportunity for some "go nuts" time), then rub the finish out with some rags (a hair dryer simplifies this). A nice, natural finish. Can be removed with turpentine/mineral spirits if you wind up wanting to change the color and/or durability with stain, poly, etc.
posted by rhizome at 7:13 PM on August 20, 2016

Best answer: I like that ribbony grain too, and would put a simple oil polish on it. I like the "Tried & True" oil and varnish oil - you rub them on in very thin coats, buff out a little, repeat as often as you like to make it glossier (if you do it every year it keeps getting nicer). Easy to work into carvings and you don't need a dustless room. Not polyurethane so not waterproof.
posted by clew at 9:14 PM on August 20, 2016

Best answer: Don't you dare paint that.

Natural oils, or spray on a spray can of clear polyurethane.

It is gorgeous enough you may want to pay a professional to finish it.

Play to its natural awesomeness, a layer of paint would be so disheartening. And I am a fan of painting all the things, including bricks and cedar sided interior walls and cabinets and... All the things except the beautiful wood grain on the piece you have.
posted by slateyness at 9:43 PM on August 20, 2016

Best answer: Nthing do not paint.

I used Tung Oil to finish my walnut and oak antique dresser, and it looks AMAZING. Very easy to apply with a rag, but ventilate the room or do it outside, it's whiffy.
posted by ananci at 9:50 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The nice grain is called quarter-sawn oak or tiger oak, by the way. I wouldn't paint that part but you could paint the lighter panels- black, charcoal, or a rich subdued blue would look great.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:02 PM on August 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh I'm so glad that other people think it doesn't all need to be painted! Everyone I've talked to IRL has gone straight for Chalk Paint. Thanks for everyone's suggestions. I'll look more into the oils. I hadn't considered just oiling it. (All the finishing I've done before has been strictly, sand - seal - sand - stain - sand - varnish - sand - wax), you have a good point about the doors. The rest of it my dad stripped by hand, but I think he had the doors sent out to be dipped. That could definitely make the doors drier than the main body.

pseudostrabismus, thanks for the heads up about the tiger oak. The piece belonged to my great-grandmother originally, and I think was given to her in lieu of payment for cleaning work. So that seems to fit well.
posted by Caravantea at 7:01 AM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Quarter-sawing is cool- it's just a normal oak log, but sawn into boards in a particular cut pattern that makes for fewer boards per log, but really highlights that ribbony grain pattern, especially in oak. Diagrams here.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:29 PM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

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