Frequently Asked Questions


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 1.  Caning -- Tightening 
 2.  Cleaning Furniture 
 3.  Crackled Finishes -- Rejuvenating Finishes 
 4.  Finishes & Finishing -- Interior 
 5.  Finishes -- Exterior 
 6.  Finishes -- Marine 
 7.  French Polish Finishes
 8.  French Polish -- Simulated
 9.  Hardware -- Cleaning & Refreshing 
10.  Leather Care 
11. Lighten Dark Stains & Water Stains 
12. Metal Cleaners & Polishes 
13. Oil Finishes 
14. Sanding & Sandpaper 
15. Scratch & Dent Removal  --  Steaming Wood 
16. Spot Removal -- White Spots & Clouds 
17. Stains & Staining 
18. Staining With Non-traditional Colors 
19. Stripping Chemical & Procedures 
20. Stripping Paint 
21. Wax Finishes & Colored Waxes 
22. White Washing 
23. Veneer -- Various Topics 


To retighten sagging  and loose caning, use a sponge to apply warm water to both sides of the caning.  Place the chair out of circulation over night.  The caning will return to its previous form. 

It is often possible to save money on re-caning by removing the old cane and spline, and cleaning the dried glue from the groove.  Cut the old caning out with a utility knife.  Use a very narrow chisel or knife to extract the spline and scrape the dried glue from the groove.  In order to save money, this groove must be clean of debris and dried glue.  Do not damage or alter the groove in any way. 


For cleaning furniture use Murphy's Oil Wood Soap and a soft cloth.  For very dirty furniture use mineral spirits (paint thinner) before using Murphy's Oil Wood Soap For a refreshed appearance, apply a coat of mineral oil (from the pharmacy) and wipe clean. 



When we apply a new coat of finish material to an old coat of similar material, we reawaken or reactivate the old finish and the two finishes fuse into a single new finish.  This is called 'rejuvenating' a finish.  Steps vary depending on the finish. When working with finishes which contain shellac and/or lacquer, I recommend these steps: 

1.  Apply a liberal coat of mineral oil (from the pharmacy).  Use scuffed 400 grit -- 600 grit sandpaper to ever-so-gently massage the area, slightly disturbing the finish and allowing the oil to restrain the sanding effect. You're scuffing the surface slightly, preparing it for step #2.  Dry thoroughly.  Dry again. 

2. Apply a very thin coat of aerosol shellac, wet enough to fuse but not a sloppy wet coat.  Allow to dry.  Evaluate and repeat if necessary.  Sand lightly between coats with 400 grit - 600 grit paper.  Don't put on too many coats of shellac because it's already a soft finish and more shellac will not help that.  Also, Don't be put off by the extreme shine, we'll determine the gloss effect with the finish coat. Your finish coat will fuse with the shellac and the old finish to make your new finish. 

3. After shellac coats, repeat #1 -- mineral oil & light /massaging/sanding with 400 grit -- 600 grit paper. Dry thoroughly.  Dry again. Keep drying. 

4. Finish with a spray can product.  It's called DEFT CLEAR WOOD FINISH -- SEMI-GLOSS  It is a very lacquer-like material that's great for touch-ups or entire pieces.  It's comes in brush or spray cans.  The spray can features a very high quality spray nozzle and uniform spray pattern.  Here are some pointers on the proper use of a high quality spray can: 

When using a spray can, always practice your technique before applying finish to your furniture.  Always start by applying finish to less noticeable areas, save the tops and fronts until you're confident of the result you'll get. 

Use long, even strokes and apply in only one direction at a time, releasing the trigger after each pass. 
Hold the can 8 -12 inches away from the work.  Make certain to hold the can uniformly across the entire stroke, that is, don't allow the can to tilt or sway,  maintain a uniform distance from the work at all times, and spray right off the ends. 



(Also, see 'Oil Finishes')

I use a product called DEFT CLEAR WOOD FINISH -- SEMI-GLOSS It's a very lacquer-like material which comes in brush or spray cans.  The spray can offers a very high quality spray nozzle and uniform spray pattern. 

When using a spray can, always practice your technique before applying finish to your furniture Also, always start by applying finish to less noticeable areas, save the tops and fronts until you're confident of the result you'll get. 

Use long, even strokes and apply in only one direction at a time, releasing the trigger after each pass. 

Hold the can 8 -12 inches away from the work.  Make certain to hold the can uniformly across the entire stroke, that is, don't allow the can to tilt or sway,  maintain a uniform distance from the work at all times, and spray completely off the ends. 

When you apply a finish with a brush, do not over brush!  Make a brush stroke and leave it alone! Too much brushing leaves brush marks in your finish coat. The purpose of multiple coats is that they fuse together for even coverage, so don't worry if you miss a spot in the first pass. Always brush in the direction of the grain. 

Polyurethane is another excellent finish material that can be more affordable and very resistant to water and alcohol. Compare the qualities and prices near you.  Always test your finish on a scrap piece of wood before applying it to your furniture. 



Do not confuse EXTERIOR finishes with MARINE finishes.  Marine Finishes are intended for boats and items that live outdoors in areas near water and salt water.  Marine finishes are very resistant to the elements, however, they need a LOT of maintenance and constant refinishing. EXTERIOR finishes are intended for items which live outdoors in areas not effected by constant access to water and salt water, but which do indeed come in contact with weather and water.  Polyurethane is a typical and effective exterior finish, available almost everywhere. Doors, window sashes, decks and outdoor furniture are a few good examples of appropriate surfaces for polyurethane finishes. Some people like to use exterior polyurethane finishes in bathrooms and kitchens where surfaces come in contact with water. Be sure to apply multiple coats and follow application directions carefully. 



True marine finishes (like marine varnishes) are intended for boats and items that live outdoors in areas near water, salt water, and sun.  Marine finishes are very resistant to the elements, however they last only a short time, and they need a LOT of maintenance and constant refinishing.  These are typically not good finishes for homes and furniture because they require so much maintenance. 



French polish finishes are very difficult to apply even for very experienced refinishers.  They require hours of vigorous hand rubbing and a real feel for the chemical interaction between shellac and denatured alcohol.  Do not attempt this on your furniture without much prior finishing experience and a great deal of independent research.  By reading the following books, you'll see that French Polish finishes can take different forms: 

Wood Finishing with George Frank, George Frank 
The Complete Book of Wood Finishing, Frederick Oughton 
Wood Finishing and Refinishing, S.W. Gibbia 




The big deal about a french polish is that it is built up over a long process of hand rubbing coats of finish material (shellac) together, each coat accepting the next when all of the variable chemical factors are correct.  Then there's sanding the coat away leaving only that which has fused properly to the prior coat ... repeating endlessly ... so ... here's what I do to simulate the effect of a french polish: 

You'll need: 

1. clear shellac (2 or 3 Zinser shellac spray cans) 
2. orange shellac one pint, 
3. one gallon denatured alcohol 
4. a few plastic containers for mixing 
5. a paint strainer 
12. one high quality paint brush, long nylon bristle 

Coat the piece in clear mineral oil (from the pharmacy) -- rub dry -- wait a day -- do it again. 

Spray a very misty light coat of clear shellac on the piece -- start with the legs and apron -- then the edge of the top and then the top -- practice your spray technique on something else first.  JUST A MIST COAT. 

Use scuffed 400 grit sandpaper to scuff finished surface lightly -- don't rub, just wipe it down a little -- takes one second!! 

After 2 coats of clear, put on a coat of orange shellac -- here's how: 

Mix orange shellac mixture: 1 part orange shellac, 2 parts denatured alcohol 

strain twice. 

Apply a very thin coat with a a pint brush -- VERY THIN -- APPLY VERY FAST -- DO NOT RESTROKE -- Put down one thin coat and don't fuss with it ... the alcohol will evaporate very quickly leaving the shellac fused to the earlier coats. 

This one tinted coat of shellac will give depth of color and act in unison with your tinted waxes later in the pocess. Don't use enough to see much color, it's PART of the color and it has to be subtle ... 

Use scuffed 400 grit sandpaper to scuff finished surface lightly -- don't rub, just wipe it down a little -- takes one second!! 

Reapply another coat of clear spray shellac. sand with scuffed 400 paper. 

Reapply another coat of clear spray shellac. sand. 

Reapply another coat of clear spray shellac. sand. 

Now, apply a heavy coat of mineral oil and really sand your shellac coats using the mineral oil to help soften the effect of sanding.  Here is where your coats of shellac will fuse -- you'll make sort of a pastey film made of sand and oil -- gently massage the surface for a pretty long period and you'll see that the coats will take on an unusaul softness and pliability.  Rub it out in a circular motion, polish it. 

Apply a few more coats of shellac, sanding between coats. 

Repeat the sanding with mineral oil. BUT THIS TIME SAND WITH SCUFFED 600 GRIT PAPER. 

Clean and dry.  clean and dry again. again. 

spray a coat of DEFT. See instructions in 'Finishing -- Interior' 

apply a very thin coat of brown paste wax -- buff 

apply a coat very thin coat of desert sand paste wax -- buff 

apply a coat of clear paste wax -- buff 

apply a coat of clear wax -- buff 

have a beer.  put it on a coaster. 

Each of these thin coats will act with the others to create a beautiful, durable 

Good luck! Enjoy! 


When hardware is covered in paint and finish,  use Green's Liquid Paint & Varnish Remover to clean the hardware.  Use a soft brush like a tooth brush to help agitate the stripping material. 

Once stripped, use medium or fine steel wool to VERY LIGHTY clean and polish the metal.  If your metal is plated, you must be careful not to scrub away the plating.  See cleaning and polishing products below. 
If the hardware is badly aged and you would like to return your hardware to a near new appearance very inexpensively, I recommend the new generation of spray epoxy paint products which have the uncanny appearance of new metal.  Colors replicate brass, steel, copper, and more. 

If you want a slightly older appearance, use a coat of Watco Medium Brown Walnut Wood Oil over the metal or over the dried spray epoxy to create a faux aged appearance. 

Here are some metal cleaning and polishing products: 

Naval Jelly -- Removes rust, even heavy rust 
Seapower -- Metal Polish 
Guardsman, Brilliant Shine -- All Purpose Metal Polish -- 
Brasso -- Pewter, Brass, Chrome, Copper, Stainless 
Tarn-X -- Sterling, Silver, Platinum, Copper, Gold, Diamonds  
Goddard's -- Heavy Duty Brass & Copper Cleaner 



Clean leather with saddle soap -- do not clean very old leather because you will cause it to deteriorate.  For more information on leather care, consult your local upholsterer or cobbler. They know a lot! 


Wood surface areas which are badly stained, in need of lightening, or in need of overall uniformity, all benefit from the application of wood bleach. 

This procedure is intended for wood surfaces which have been stripped and are in the process of being refinished.  It will be necessary to sand the surface after bleaching. 

There are a few varieties of wood bleach but I use Oxalic Acid which is a bleaching crystal that I mix with very hot water.  The hot water opens the pours and the crystals penetrate and bleach the wood. 

Apply with a soft scrubber such as a used dish brush. 

Place in sun to dry.  Wipe crystal film with wet cloth. Allow to dry again. 

Sand with 120 grit sandpaper. 

Evaluate and repeat if needed. 

Always wear gloves, a sanding mask, and eye protection when using Oxalic Acid.  It is very unpleasant to breath the dust or to feel it in your eyes! 

Note:  The bleach only works on the surface of the wood so you must not sand so much that you sand through the bleached portion down to the stained portion.  In extreme cases you may need to bleach and sand several times. 




See 'Hardware -- Cleaning & Refreshing Metal'

Naval Jelly -- Removes rust, even heavy rust 
Seapower -- Metal Polish 
Guardsman, Brilliant Shine -- All Purpose Metal Polish -- 
Brasso -- Pewter, Brass, Chrome, Copper, Stainless 
Tarn-X -- Sterling, Silver, Platinum, Copper, Gold, Diamonds 
Goddard's -- Heavy Duty Brass & Copper Cleaner 



Oil finishes are easy to apply and some offer limited protection against water, sun and alcohol.  Most oil finishes can be applied to raw or finished surfaces. 

I use Watco Danish Wood Oil a lot!  It comes in natural, medium brown walnut, dark walnut and black walnut.  I usually start with a coat of natural or medium and then use darker oils here and there to achieve an even tone and color over the entire piece. 

Apply with brush.  Wait 30 minutes.  Reapply. Wait 15 minutes. Wipe with clean cotton cloth.  If you would like a heavier oil finish with more protection, wait a week and repeat the process. 

To achieve a superior oil finish with this product you can follow this technique:  After the first oil application, let dry overnight and sand the oil finish until it is almost removed.  Then apply fresh oil beginning with step #1.  This provides additional depth and fusing of oil coats. 

To protect your oil finish try a coat of clear or tinted paste wax! 

Mineral oil is excellent for furniture maintenance.  It is a clear oil available at the pharmacy.  Simply apply with a cloth and buff clean with another clean 
cotton cloth. You'll be amazed at the effect this has. 

Tung oil is a popular hand rubbed oil because it's easy to apply with a soft cloth and it offers protection from water and alcohol.  Simply apply and let dry, and buff with brass (steel) wool.  Repeat until satisfied. 



There's no such thing as sanding a scratch!  We're really sanding the area surrounding the scratch, bringing the surrounding area down to the level of the bottom of the scratch.  "Sanding scratches" causes an uneven appearance over the entire piece of wood.  Instead, sand the entire piece of wood evenly over the entire panel with long, even strokes.  At first, this will just reveal all the scratches and problem areas, but as you continue you will see that the superficial scratches will disappear while retaining an overall even tone. 

At this point you may apply a small amount of attention to scratched areas but keep moving on over the entire piece -- take your time -- don't try to get everything right away -- work the entire piece evenly.  Start with a more coarse sandpaper for removing more wood from the surface, and finish with a finer grit sandpaper to sand out the scratches left by the rougher paper. 

These are the sandpaper grits I use most frequently: 

  80 grit - Coarse 
120 grit - Medium coarse (my common, every day paper) 
220 grit - Fine, finish up with this 
400 grit - Very Fine, for sanding between coats of finish 

Before sanding, please read the next section on steaming wood (Scratch and Dent Removal). 



Applying steam to wood surfaces is an excellent way to raise grain, dents and scratches.  The steam fills the wood grain and forces it to expand, lifting the grain, dents, and scratches.   This is a great preparatory procedure before sanding because it reduces the amount of sanding needed:  By using steam we bring imperfections to the surface where they are more easily sanded. 

This can be done to entire pieces or to single injuries -- this procedure is best on pieces which have been stripped and are ready for refinishing.  However, if you try this on a single injury on a finished piece you must do it very quickly using only the tip of the iron -- it may leave a white cloud -- see the section on white spot and cloud removal. 

When steaming entire or large surfaces, use a wet terry cloth towel and a very hot steam iron.  The towel should be very WET but not drenched.  The iron should be VERY HOT, THE HOTTER THE BETTER. Fold the towel in half so it's double thick.  Place the folded wet towel on the wood surface and place the very hot steam iron on the wet towel.  The iron will spit and spew a very dramatic blast of steam!  You will feel the iron lift up and hydroplane for a few seconds.  Hold for about 3 seconds.  Remove iron and allow steaming towel to remain on the surface for another 5 seconds.  Lift the towel and wipe the area dry with a dry towel.   Evaluate and repeat if necessary.   Make sure that your iron is HOT and your towel is WET for all applications.  Do not leave the wet towel on the wood surface for longer than necessary.  Please read STEAMING VENEER. 



Apply a liberal amount of mineral oil (available at the pharmacy).  Place the piece in direct sunlight for a few hours.  If you cannot use direct sunlight, use a desk lamp 60-100 watt approx. 8-12 inches away.  This will heat the area and allow the oil to penetrate the finish. Patience, grasshopper. 



Evaluate the stains available in your local hardware store -- most places carry Minwax stains. 

You are not stuck with whatever comes out of the can!  You can mix stains within the same brand, and ESPECIALLY, you can use paint thinner to thin stains and control the degree of color saturation. 

The best way to get to know the stains you are considering is to make several samples on scrap wood of possible colors and degrees of saturation. 

If you put on a stain coat and don't like it, use paint thinner to remove the stain, and start over with another color. I often build up colors over a process of applying and removing stain coats -- I leave behind a history of residue colors which provide depth and pattern for my final stain or oil coat. 



Solarlux makes an assortment of gorgeous, very intense,  non-traditional colors.  They are thinned with Solarlux Reducer. 

There is also an environmentally friendly line of excellent, brilliant colors produced by Country Colors. 
All these products are available at Japan Woodworker in Alameda CA.   510-521-1810 or pick up their link on the link page in this web site. 

Another inexpensive way to get a custom color stain effect is to use thinned paint.  Select a color and thin the paint with mineral spirits (paint thinner) to desired intensity.  Do a few tests to get what you really want.  Apply with a paint brush and wipe off with a clean cotton rag.  You'll be left with a residue of your paint color.  You can control this procedure by adding more or less thinner to the paint, and wiping off more or less.  A brief period of experimentation will pay off! 



I use a product called Green's Liquid Paint & Varnish Remover Green Products also distributes a stronger semi-paste product but the liquid is strong enough for most jobs.  It's available at Ace Hardware and True Value Hardware stores almost everywhere. 

Take the furniture apart as much as possible -- look underneath and in back and locate all the screws and nails that can be removed.  Remove all hardware. Remove all ornamental trim that is loose or needs repair. 

Set up in a laundry tub or other large tub to catch and contain the stripping material and waste finish. 

This product contains methylene chloride.  Use a charcoal activated breathing respirator.  3M makes a good disposable one that will last a weekend. Use rubber gloves which are rated to withstand solvents. Use eye  protection. 

As much as possible, work on a raised surface so you're not crouched over the work. 

Pour some stripping material in a smaller container to hold as you apply stripping material to the furniture. Strip one panel or area at a time until you feel confident. 

Use a paint brush to drizzle the stripping   material over the work.  Start at the top and work your way down.  Keep rotating the piece as you work so that you strip thoroughly from every direction. Apply the material liberally over the piece.  Continue to allow fresh applications of the material to run down the  panel.  The finish material will loosen and drip down into your tub. Do not scrub.  Allow the chemical to get under the finish and lift it from the surface.  Keep the  area wet until the finish is completely lifted or fallen. 

Pay particular attention to edges, corners, and ornaments.  Use a toothbrush, dish brush, or other soft brush to gently agitate areas that are stubborn. 

When stripping job is complete, use a bath of 50% lacquer thinner and 50% denatured alcohol to wash away the stripper residue left on the furniture. 

Federal law requires that you dispose of all chemicals safely.  When I have stripping sludge that is mostly evaporated, I throw on a pile of sawdust and make a block.  I allow the chemical to evaporate completely and throw away the remaining small, hardened block. 



Follow the procedures above, however, you might find it helpful or necessary to use a putty knife to lift the finish.  Do not draw the scraper toward you as you may be forcing the paint further into the grain. 

If you're stripping a deep grained wood like oak of its difficult white paint and the paint just won't come out of the grain, use a brass bristle brush, available at most hardware stores -- if they don't sell them in the  hardware area, try the BBQ section, they sell larger ones as grill brushes. 

Apply some stripper, let it stand and do its work, use a toothbrush to gently get started, use the brass bristles to VERY GENTLY agitate the pours in the direction of the grain. IMPORTANT: Do not scrub back and forth. Either push or pull AND TAKE YOUR TIME. This brush can leave very deep scratches and discoloration when used too vigorously!  Once you've loosened the paint with the brass brush, use the tooth brush to finish up. Don't overuse the brass brush! 


Paste waxes are a versatile finish which can be applied over existing finishes or directly to wood surfaces. 
Waxes offer terrific protection from spills and abuse. 

Waxes come in many colors as well as clear.  You can mix colors and control color saturation by adding clear as a color thinner. 

After applying colored waxes, apply two coats of clear paste wax to seal and protect the color coat. 

Use black wax to enhance ebony and black finishes. 

Use liming wax (white) wax to enhance white finishes and to achieve a whitewashed appearance.  Use two coats of clear paste wax over liming wax to seal and protect the liming wax. 



White washing can be achieved a few different ways, depending on what stage of finishing or refinishing you're in.  Whitewashing gives a white grained appearance which reveals the wood surface. 

One way to achieve this is to use thinned white paint.  Use about one part white paint and three parts thinner.  Make a test and adjust your color intensity. 

Apply with a paint brush. 

Wipe surfaces with a clean rag or with pure paint thinner on a rag. 

Experimentation will really pay off! 

Another way to achieve a white washed appearance is with liming products offered by paint companies like Kelly Moore.  These are white paint/stains designed to be applied and then removed.  Try McClosky's Limed Oak Tung Seal. 

Often when a piece is finished and a white finish is desired, we use a liming wax which is a white colored paste wax.  This  imposes a white color on top of the existing color. After application and buffing, use two coats of clear paste wax to seal the color.  See the link to Liberon for Liming Wax. 



Please read the section on Scratch & Dent Removal -- Wood Steaming, before or after reading this section. 

Steaming veneer to raise grain, dents, or scratches must be done very quickly because the steam will soften the glue which is holding the veneer to the core panel.  Follow all directions in the Scratch & Dent Removal -- Wood Steaming section,  but apply steam only for 1 or 2 seconds at a time. 

To remove old veneer in preparation for replacement, use a wet towel and steam iron. Place the wet towel on the wood surface and place the hot steam iron on the towel.  Force the steam down under the veneer surface and the glue will loosen.  Repeat over entire surface until veneer is lifted.  Use a broad putty knife to lift veneer. 

Re-glue veneer with contact cement.  Clean each surface of dried glue.  Apply cement to each cleaned surface.  Allow each surface to dry completely. 

Apply the glued surfaces together.  Bond will be instant.  Use roller or block to tamp veneer onto core surface. 

When applying new veneer, use a piece larger than the gluing surface and trim the new veneer with a razor blade after the piece is glued in place. Use roller or block to tamp veneer onto core surface. 

Hardware stores and woodworking stores carry replacement veneers of all varieties. 

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