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I am new to refinishing and slowly working on some pieces of furniture. I am currently refinishing a vintage vanity comprised of mahogany veneer. I now have a bunch of scratch marks in the veneer that I don't know how to remove. My intent was to remove the final finish and not to go down to bare wood. After reading some threads, I understand that sanding is the last resort. Whether this would apply to my situation I don't know, but these were my steps.

  1. I sanded the vanity top starting with 120 grit using a hard block behind the sandpaper. I gradually went up in grit to 400, hoping to smooth out the top.

  2. I applied a water based stain, but it came out botchy with scratch marks present.

  3. Re-sanded maybe using 180 grit and then jumped to 400 grit.

  4. Re-stained. The staining came our better but not the best. (Probably really need to soak my tag in the stain before applying). However, I still have the scratch marks.

I have not applied the water based polyurethane as if yet. What will be the best way to remove the scratches?

I was just trying to remove the polyurethane and make some minor repairs, re-stain and polyurethane. It appears that my scratches are due from my sanding since they are throughout the top. Other than let it be and move on, is there anyway to minimize those scratches. I used Varathane Premium wood stain. It colors in 1 coat

Vanity top

Vanity top

Vanity top

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  • Hi, welcome to StackExchange. Do you have any photos of the project piece before you started? We could do with a couple because we can only guess what the scratches were like. I'm confused about you saying that your intent was not go down to bare wood, since removing final finish means to go down to bare wood. And re. sanding as a last resort to do this and whether it applied to your situation, it applies universally. And a general point, you almost never need to sand furniture to 400 grit, and when staining you specifically don't want to as the finer you sand the lighter the stain result.
    – Graphus
    Mar 14 at 19:22
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    In the absence of photos and from what I can glean from your description, I think the main issue here could be incomplete surface prep, i.e. the scratches haven't been removed, hence why they keep on showing up. When refinishing damaged stuff you often have to live with some amount of that damage remaining visible when you're done, especially with veneered pieces where you have to be so cautious not to go through the full veneer thickness during scraping and subsequent sanding. So it's possible you need to accept that your final result won't be as perfect as you'd like, and proceed from there.
    – Graphus
    Mar 14 at 19:33
  • If 120 was lowest grit used these images are very close and sanding scratches are not severe, but correct sanding with 150 or 180 should have removed all 120 scratches. Surface is very shiny if no finish is applied yet! After drying water stains should be matt/matte. Which stain product did you use??
    – Volfram K
    Mar 15 at 7:32
  • Thanks for the added photos, they help a lot.
    – Graphus
    Mar 15 at 14:41

1 Answer 1

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My intent was to remove the final finish and not to go down to bare wood.

As I say in the Comments, this confuses me because removing final finish is synonymous with going down to bare wood.

After reading some threads, I understand that sanding is the last resort. Whether this would apply to my situation I don't know

Yes, sanding should be the method of last resort to remove old finish. And yes, it applied to your situation since this applies universally.

There are numerous reasons for this, but it boils down to the high potential for damage to pieces. In addition to the unintentional rounding of sharp features one of the main risks is sanding through veneers. The more modern the furniture the more this applies, because veneers have become thinner and thinner through history as wood values increased and the technology improved1.

As much as possible chemical strippers should be relied upon to remove old finishes. It's a dirty, sometimes smelly and always messy job that tends to take longer than anyone wants it to2, but it's still the best way. If stripping is not an option (for any reason) I would rely on scraping, because it's much more efficient than sanding and far more controllable if done correctly.

I sanded the vanity top starting with 120 grit using a hard block behind the sandpaper. I gradually went up in grit to 400, hoping to smooth out the top.

Sanding with the paper backed by a hard block was good, sanding up to 400 grit was not.

400 grit is far finer than necessary on almost all furniture work, and specifically not what you want to do when staining because the finer you sand the less stain the wood takes. When using a clear protective finish as the final step in general you can stop sanding at 150 or 180 grit. You can even get away with using 120 as your final grit sometimes!

What will be the best way to remove the scratches?

You might not be able to.

The major scratch visible in the first two photos might be too deep to remove, and may require filling.

I have successfully removed cross-grain scratches that might have been approximately this severe on veneered surfaces, but it's hard to get a proper sense of scale on your scratch. It does look very bad but some of that impression is from how the bottom is catching the light and the dark stain caught on both 'walls' of the scratch.

Without anything to go on to asses the thickness of the veneer you're working with I'm not sure whether to advise further sanding (or scraping) to get it out.

If you don't want to risk it you either have to live with them, or do some kind of filler work. Filling is too complex a subject to get into here so further research will be needed on your part.

It might also be worth trying steaming the worst scratches, but only if you can get back to bare wood beforehand.


I used Varathane Premium wood stain. It colors in 1 coat

From what I can see on the Varathane site you used this (since their waterbased stain says "classic" on the flash on the label, not "premium"). FYI this is an oil-based stain, not their waterbased stain.

It doesn't actually matter which type you used (except for how exactly to proceed later3) but this would appear to account for the sheen seen in the photos you added.

If Varathane Ultimate Polyurethane Water Based is the waterbased finish you intend to use I wanted to highlight the recommendation to use a minimum of 4 coats. Note the use of the word minimum.


1 They have become very thin in the modern era, to the point where on many recent pieces you can't risk any amount of heavier sanding.

2 It's best to go into a project expecting that stripper will NOT remove all the finish in one go. Time-served pros were often trained to strip three times to be thorough (and to avoid the need for ANY heavy sanding, something considered absolutely vital when working on antiques).

3 You want to wait MUCH longer before final finishing if overcoating with a waterbased clear as you've indicated you intend to.

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