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I am reframing a question from before as my requirements have changed.

I have found a great old oak table and chair set which the neighbours wanted to get rid off. The table has a manufacturer label from Bogdon and Gross. Though the wood looks like Oak (I may be mistaken), I found a listing online which says that this is Maple: link to external post. But, I think the one I have is Oak as the grain pattern looks too busy to be maple.

The set is well used but in good condition. The photo below shows the wear and tear the set has had over years (decades?) of use:

enter image description here

As you can see there is not much of restoration needed; only re-finishing of certain areas. There is one heat ring too.

I am looking to touch up the table enough to prevent further wear and hopefully to improve the appearance a bit. I am not in a position to hire a professional restorer and would like to do this on my own.

I have looked into options such:

  • Stripping: Not needed as furniture are in decent shape.
  • Waxing: Will need removing varnish. And will require regular reapplication
  • Ready Made products (Howards Restor-A-Finish): Does not seem to be applicable for this (as pointed out in linked question)

What is the best way to go about with the touch up?

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  • 1
    Well done, I've upvoted. Hopefully you'll get some decent feedback on this and not just a solo Answer. Just to check, can you get brands other than Minwax near you? Any stores locally stock General Finishes or Varathane products for example?
    – Graphus
    May 19, 2022 at 4:24
  • @Graphus: Thanks for being so supportive. I am in Canada. So, most products should be available. I am not restricted to any brand.
    – DotPi
    May 19, 2022 at 12:43
  • I have done some more research and found listing for a similar set. Now, I think it may be maple. Stakes are higher now.
    – DotPi
    May 19, 2022 at 12:50
  • 1
    Nope not maple! Wood identification is notoriously difficult from photos but this is definitely not maple. Maple can be coloured to 'match' any wood (it doesn't usually match at all, it just ends up a similar colour), but maple is a very pale, generally featureless, close-grained wood, i.e. it has no visible grain structure, something evident all over these chairs and the table. There's a better than 75% chance that your set is oak of some kind (note that some people would put that number at 99%, but a few other hardwoods can be oak lookalikes and there is a chance it could be one of those).
    – Graphus
    May 19, 2022 at 18:45
  • Good to know you can get other brands. I'll probably be able to fit in a mention of this if I post an Answer — I won't if a good one is posted by someone else that covers all the points I think important — but Minwax is cheap for a reason. While people get decent results with some of their products (and a few things in their line are apparently quite decent) Minwax is basically bottom-tier stuff, directly intended for, formulated for & marketed to the home user. Other makers formulate for a level (or two!) above that, and it often shows, esp in colouring products which you'll need to use here.
    – Graphus
    May 19, 2022 at 18:53

1 Answer 1

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I suppose I should preface this by saying there is no TL;DR here!

What is the best way to go about with the touch up?

As always there is no one way to go about this.

There are basically two options when it comes to colouring wood, colouring it directly, i.e. staining, or the use of a coloured finish of some kind. Obviously a combination of these can also be used.

Regardless of the usual preference for colouring the wood directly1 the original appears to have been done with a coloured finish so coloured finish it is.

I often wouldn't recommend it but I think you'll be best served by using "gel stain" here. Don't be fooled by the (stupid) marketing name, this product is not a stain but instead a coloured varnish, artificially thickened to some level of gel consistency2.

You'll need both this and a clear topcoat, either varnish or lacquer. Lacquer would mean a spraycan since you don't have spray equipment I'm sure. Varnish, particularly polyurethane varnish, is also available in spraycans but I wouldn't advise it here.

Spraycan varnish could work well for quickly applying finish to the top of the seat backs, but it won't easily allow for minor touchups here and there throughout the set which we can see from just the one photo are going to be required. And more importantly it would be tricky to refinish the tabletop this way (in addition to working out quite expensive).

Instead of the spraycan version I would recommend you buy a tin of standard oil-based polyurethane. It must be oil-based for what you'll do next, which is to convert it (in batches as needed) to wiping varnish. Pretty much everything you need to know to get up and running on how to make, use and finish off wiping varnish is included in the pages from Bob Flexner reproduced in my previous Answer to this Question.

Although you'll be minimally covering the finish that's still present, there will be a certain amount of this inevitably since the bare areas run seamlessly into areas where finish remains. The basic rules for overcoating an existing finish are covered in a recent Answer. It boils down to a simple catchphrase, clean and matt, but read the previous Answer through before you even shop for supplies.

You'll need:

  • Cleaning agents. Basically dish soap in warm water is enough here, but use a commercial product like Krud Kutter if you have it already and you like how it works.
  • Scuffing and/or sanding supplies. My advice: don't skimp here. You won't need a lot and whatever you get will last throughout this one project and although worn won't be in any way worn out when you're done (you might actually get months and months of use from the right products).
  • Gel stain. Unless you get very lucky and one colour happens to be a really great colour match you'll need to get more than one colour. Then either use them sequentially or mix a custom batch which you arrive at through testing3.
  • Polyurethane varnish, gloss only. Do not be temped to buy satin or semi-gloss because the existing finish is not super shiny.
  • Mineral spirits. You'll need this for general cleanup, brush cleaning (IF you use any brushes, this project won't actually require any but you can use them if you wish) and of course for converting your poly into wiping varnish.
  • Copious amounts of paper towels or lint-free cloth rags. See safety note below.
  • Brown paper. Brown paper from grocery store bags is good enough for this.

Optional:

  • 0000 steel wool.

Brief summary of procedure:

Step 1, clean everywhere you'll need to apply finish.
Be thorough. Work in sections, don't start at one end of the set and work through to the other. Rinse residue when you're done using clean water and wipe dry. Afterwards be sure to allow plenty of time for the bare wood to dry out! A full day minimum.
Step 2, scuffing or light sanding.
This is to prep the wood for new finish, dull the existing finish adjacent to the bare areas so it can successfully accept new finish, and to feather out the edges where needed.
Step 3, apply "gel stain" using paper towels or lint-free cloth.
This is the step that will require the most artistry, since you'll both be applying colour and wiping it away (standard methodology for "gel stain") while each time trying to seamlessly blend it into the surroundings. Don't expect the job to be done in one step, even if you luck out and find a single "gel stain" that's just the right colour plan to do at minimum two rounds of colouring. It's much easier to add colour than to remove it.
Note: judge the colour wet! There may be some or a lot of dulling when "gel stain" dries, with consequent colour change but the wet appearance will be restored when the varnish goes on.
Step 4, once the colour steps are thoroughly dry it's time for wiping varnish.
On the seat backs and the tabletop I would advise a minimum of three coats and 4-5 would be better. Elsewhere on the chairs just two should be sufficient (and just one rarely looks right), but add more if your patience holds out.
Step 5, bringing the appearance together.
After the varnish has had a chance to harden up sufficiently (a week or more) you will very lightly abrade the surface to bring the surface finish in line with the rest. A vigorous scuffing with the rough side of brown paper followed by a buff with a clean cloth might be all that's necessary here, but if the gloss level is very starkly higher a gentle abrading with 0000 steel wool first is what I would advise4.


Safety note
Paper or cloth wet with both gel stain and varnish are a fire hazard. They can ignite on their own without an external spark or heat source if disposed of carelessly.

Dry flat on the floor or draped over a railing. Once dry and stiff they are safe (and legal) to dispose of in your home refuse.


1 It's preferable for a number of reasons, one being that it is more durable because it's in the wood with a clear finish on top acting as a protective layer. As opposed to a top layer containing all the colour which when it wears away reveals bare uncoloured wood, as is the case here and on much modern commercial furniture (read modern as: since the early/mid 20th c).

2 Some are more goopy than others. There's no firm reason to prefer one consistency over another, other working properties are more important.

3 Measure the mixture carefully and write it down in case you need to mix another batch to complete the job, as well as possibly for future touchups. Don't expect a small batch of your mixture to remain usable in the container you store it in, unless there is no airspace or you can replace the air with an inert gas.

4 You can do this with fine Scotch-Brite but I find the action of 0000 steel wool superior personally even though it's slightly messier to work with. Note that opinions definitely vary on this and if you would prefer not to have to deal with the fine steel dust that 0000 generates by all means go with Scotch-Brite, it sure lasts longer!

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  • A refinishing book in 14,000 characters! Nice!
    – FreeMan
    May 26, 2022 at 11:15
  • @FreeMan, thank you so much, but I'm painfully aware of all the little details that (inevitably) are left out and that I wish I could have somehow shoehorned in.
    – Graphus
    May 26, 2022 at 12:28
  • Fill those in with references to read some of the books in your collection. That, and personal experience, is, I presume, where your info comes from. You just nicely summarize, and there's always something missing from the Reader's Digest™ version... ;)
    – FreeMan
    May 26, 2022 at 13:04
  • To be honest, most of the accessible books don't cover certain things as well as truly needed IMO. Older books can, because they were so wordy, but they tend to be dry and sometimes very hard to read because of the dated language. [Not that all old books were better by any means, it's clear now that some were written by what amount to technical writers who had sometimes little or no direct experienced about what they were writing, so errors and omissions are not uncommon.] Because it's a single focussed task the best example of what I'm getting at might be sharpening directions..... [contd]
    – Graphus
    May 26, 2022 at 19:56
  • ....which are almost without exception way light on detail. It's probably something you noticed yourself when you were learning, I think the majority do. Lots of people have related that they came across a problem, went back to the article/chapter entry/YT tutorial(s) they were using as a guide and there was no help to be found in any of them.
    – Graphus
    May 26, 2022 at 20:04

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