When I got married and bought a house, my parents gave me their old dining set— the one I grew up with. It’s seen a lot of abuse from my kids at my house and I decided to get it and the chairs refinished.

I took it to a seemingly well-regarded professional furniture refinisher here in the Vancouver area. After several weeks he called me to say the work was done and I could come and pick up the chairs and table.

I think he did a good job re-upholstering the chairs but the wood work seems quite a bit below par for the cost — many thousands of dollars.

Can you tell me if this is adequate workmanship? I’m really upset over this because I was told that he was a good refinisher but the quality of the work seems like shit.

one of the leaves corner detail scratches on the tabletop unfinished corner another corner

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    NO, I would expect a child to produce better!!!
    – Volfram K
    Nov 23, 2021 at 8:09
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    What did you agree on in terms of "refinishing"? Because you may have a different expectation based on your conversation. If this wasn't a "strip and refinish" then most of what they can do is refresh the finish. 1000s of dollars could easily just be spent on the upholstering. If there is a work order or invoice, look at the details. There are ways to repair dings and scratches without a full refinish, but they are all "squint from 20 ft and it looks ok" sorts of fixes. Same for any ink or kids-with-sharpies stains. This is why you get in writing exactly what you expect to be done.
    – user5572
    Nov 23, 2021 at 13:03
  • While @jdv's point is very good — was there an agreement as to how the wood was to be refinished, and if so what was it? — I have to be honest, my first reaction was literally "Egads that's bad." This has hallmarks of being done inexpertly (cross-grain scratches, seriously? Avoiding those is sanding 101!) and what appears to be incomplete removal of the original finish (amateur hour). But the extensive flecks/spatters and what look for all the world like marks left by wiping a brush have me shaking my head. you see better than this level of work from hobbyist restorers on YouTube -_-
    – Graphus
    Nov 23, 2021 at 14:01
  • Oh P.S. I suppose it's worth asking if you have pictures of what they looked like before? I don't think it's really relevant to the assessment of the professionalism of this finishing result, but at least it gives a base of reference as to the previous colouring and the overall look of the pieces, in particular how worn the previous finish was in areas of high use or regular cleaning.
    – Graphus
    Nov 23, 2021 at 14:09
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    @RibaldEddie sure, but what did the other person understand? The main problem here is that we have no idea what was agreed on. Did you make it clear you wanted a complete refinish? Most would not pay for actual refinishing, and this will be reflected in the price. Did you settle on a work order? Do you have invoices? Did you discuss the details of the finish? Certainly they should have set expectations, but to refinish what you have shown would cost many hundreds of dollars per chair, without even considering any upholstery, and would have taken weeks or months to complete.
    – user5572
    Nov 23, 2021 at 17:46

1 Answer 1


I think the assessment of how good this refinishing job is going to vary, and this subjectivity may lead to the Question ultimately being locked. However I think at least part of this isn't purely subjective....

Can you tell me if this is adequate workmanship?

I think this is a good question to include since it can be assessed fairly objectively. And the answer is a definite no.

the quality of the work seems like shit.

As the client, really your opinion is the most important one. And if you think it looks like shit then that pretty much sums it up; nobody should get back a piece of furniture after a professional has done their work and have any legitimate basis for thinking this. And while I'd want to see more of the dining set to get a better overall picture, from what we can see in the images I'd be inclined to agree with your assessment!

I'm shocked at how bad this is in a few areas, not least given the quoted cost.

I wouldn't be surprised to see work of this (low) calibre from some of the hobbyist refinishers/furniture flippers on YouTube. And there are at least a handful capable of much better work than this.

Some specifics issues:

The cross-grain scratches
These are visible in at least two images and I'd guess they're more widespread; to put it bluntly these are a sure sign of amateurish or outright inept workmanship (depending on whether they were there to begin with or not).

No person engaged in this work who is calling themselves a professional should create scratches like this; it is pretty literally Sanding 101 to learn how not to do this!

But, what if they were there to begin with? It is by no means a gigantic task to remove them, without it taking a long time, if you know what you're doing. So IMO it is amateur hour to leave them, unless a prior agreement was made specifically stating there would be no surfacing work or something along those lines.

The speckling/flecking
This is the worst part of this I think. Although I can visualise a possible cause in the workshop I can't imagine anyone but the most amateurish leaving them if they were responsible for causing them1 .

One quick thing in relation to something you said later in the Comments.

"Refinishing" doesn't automatically mean a complete removal of finish down to bare wood and application of fresh finish, although of course the full monty can be specified in advance.

There are levels of intervention, which (often) lead to only partial refinishing in the literal meaning of the word2. There are legitimate cases where spot-refinishing or refreshing of the existing finish is the right call, based on finish type (easiest with shellac or traditional lacquers), an assessment of condition, and budget.

1 There are just certain things you can't accept if you call yourself a pro, even if it ends up costing you.

2 On tables for example it's very common for only the tabletop to be refinished (and sometimes the top surface only, and not the four edges), with the understructure and legs to only have light touch-up work done to them IF needed, only cleaned and polished if not needed.

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