refinishing dining table and sideboard

27 Aug 2012
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United Kingdom
Hi all

I recently bought a dining table and a sideboard on ebay. It was a bit of an impulse buy: we couldn't really afford to go for new stuff but we needed the furniture, and the pics looked good. I figured that if I had any problems with it I could just sand it down and refinish anyway, so we bought it.

On picking it up, I realised immediately that I would need to do work on it. The finish on the furniture as it stands is quite orangey. I attach some pictures- if anybody can tell me what sort of finish this is, I'd really appreciate it:

I was looking for a far more natural, lighter colour. No problem, I thought: strip it, sand it, and finish it.

However, I had a proper look at the furniture today and I think I've got a problem. The table is OK, but quite a bit of the sideboard seems to be panels of very thin oak veneer. The top, legs, and drawer fronts are all solid wood as are the drawer sides and backs, but the back and sides of the unit (as well as the drawer bases and shelves) are veneer. I think the substrate is mdf. I think the door fronts might be veneer too - is it possible to tell from the picture I posted?

So my question is:

Is it possible to remove this finish from very thin veneer? my concern is that I will have to sand it at some point to get rid of the current finish and I'll end up sanding through the veneer. The veneer is in quite poor condition in places too - you can feel it lifting and splitting.
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ok quick reply
what exactly do you mean by
"I was looking for a far more natural, lighter colour. "

if its the pine the natural colour after a year or so will be antique pine colour without any finish added
Probably some sort of pre cat laquer finish. Basically the colour looks like oak will go with a clear finish. Oak isn't one colour. Depends on the species, and where it was grown. There isn't a "natural" colour as such. Although the creamy pale brown that a lot of English oak has is usually preferred.
Drawer fronts look as if they are probably solid from the way the edges are rounded over. Panels, unless "raised" and including the back will almost certainly be veneered board with more or less any modern furniture. It's not really a measure of quality.
You can carefully strip it, not sanding the veneer too much and refinish, but I suspect that within a couple of years you will end up with a similar colour as big-all has already said.
Thanks both. I didn't realise that the colour would change over time to that degree. When I said "more natural, lighter colour", what I meant was I wanted it to look more like the sort of furniture that is sold today. I assumed that the difference between my (orange) furniture and new (creamy, whiter) furniture was simply a matter of fashion and that 10 years ago, shiny orange finishes were the all the rage and today, we prefer a lighter look. It didn't dawn on me that it's just that I'm comparing old furniture with new wood.

I'll try to strip it carefully. The top, legs and drawer fronts are all solid wood so I can strip and sand them no problem. I'm not concerned about the back, nobody will see that anyway. The door fronts and the sides of the unit are the biggest problem, hopefully I can strip the stain out. If not, I actually have some 6mm sheets of (unfinished) oak-veneered mdf from a different project so if it came to it, I could try to fit them over the existing panels. That won't be easy, but I think I can manage it as the people who supplied the veneered sheets can cut it down very accurately to whatever size I need for a few quid.

As regards quality: I have no problem with veneer, I use veneered mdf all the time for wardrobes etc. My problem was not with the fact that the thing included veneer panels per se, it was more that as I was planning to refinish it, I was really hoping that it would be all solid wood as I know the basics of refinishing solid wood. Although it has to be said, the quality of the furniture is not great - the joinery is very basic and not particularly impressive. They've used rabbet and dado joints and there is a good 2-5mm of space in the joint, and there is visible glue absolutely everywhere on the underside of the table and the drawers etc. Oh well.
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the orangey finish is typical off oil based finishes that turn orange in time

your modern furniture will look exactly the same as your furniture in a few years time but without the orange assuming an acrylic finish

your furniture looks like it has a neutral finish so stripping it will still be the same colour but not shinney
Thanks, that's really helpful. I assume that it is exposure to light and air that changes the colour? I took apart one of the drawers and where the side pieces butted up against one another, the wood was considerably "whiter" than the rest of the wood - it was a really obvious line.

Either way, I'm going to try to strip it all down (veneer panels included) anyway. It seems that it is not possible to get it to look like I want it to look for any length of time, but I'm really curious now so want to know what it will look like once stripped down and finished.
I know this is an old thread... but interesting to me nonetheless. I suspect that blond look, which I agree, is much more attractive than the old orange one, is achieved these days by sanding down to a fresh face and then waxing with a 'white' wax, like one of those shabby chic things from Annie Slone instead of varnish. Is that correct?
Even if you get that "blonde" look initially wood has this natural feature of darkening with age and exposure to UV light. American red oak starts out with a pinkish white hue and turns golden after a few years - similarly American white oak starts creamy white but takes on a darker hue in time. In addition, as stated above, the problem with modern factory made veneers is that they are so thin (0.4 to 0.6mm in many cases) that they are almost impossible to sand out (at least with a machine or power tool) without risking sanding through.

I suspect that the "shabby chic" look you are talking about is achieved by mixing a clear finish with some form of white bodying solid, such as titanium dioxide. This will whiten the surface, but also obscures the grain to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the volume of compound mixed into a clear finish

BTW AFAIK "varnish" more or less disappeared decades ago. Most finishes these days are lacquers of some form or another (despite what some manufacturers call them). We were using pre-catalysed lacquer cellulose lacquer and polyurethane or acrylic brushing lacquers when I started in the 1970s and true varnishes were hard to come by even then then partly because they either never fully set (e.g yacht varnish) or they craze over time. In terms of yellowing, water based clear lacquer products (acrylic, etc) eith a UV inhibitor are generally far better in terms of not yellowing than more traditional solvent based finishes which are prone to age yellowing. Wax and oil both tend to accumulate dirt over time (what antique dealers call "patina") and oils in particular, often being straw or even light brown in colour, will accelerate colour shift over time, although wax can also yellow a bit with age

At the end of the day it's wood, and wood is organic and will mature in colour with time regardless of what you do. So it may be best to accept it
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