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I'm in the final stages of finishing an oak poker table. I have applied 3 coats of deep mahogany oil, which went on OK but didn't really soak in well after the first coat.

Now I am applying 3-5 coats of polyurethane. After applying the first coat I felt small bumps here and there and so lightly sanded the surface with 400 grit paper. I have a smooth surface ready for the second coat now but I'm left with what looks like poly smudge marks in two places, possibly from pressing too hard, but only enough to smooth out the bumps. And also in a couple of places I have removed stain/oil back to original wood.

A similar thing happened when finishing the pedestal but I continued to finish the poly thinking it would cover it, but it is still viable. I think i can get away with it on the pedestal but not on the main surface of the table.

What is my best course of action here? If I sand back to wood to reapply oil where do I sand back to and how to sand back only the poly so to not remove all the stain? I know in an ideal world it would be take it right back and start again, but this table has a lot of layers/sections with moulding etc. I feel sanding too much will create a knock on effect and have to sand it all, which really isn't practical!

  • I removed some of the unnecessary portions at the end of the question. To keep the question about adding pictures on mobile: I am not sure, if it is even possible, to add pictures from mobile. – Matt Mar 28 '16 at 13:07
  • If you do discover you need to go back to bare wood sanding should be the method or last resort (always, not just here). It's far preferable to strip finish, and if you need to remove surface wood layers to plane or use a scraper. See this previous Answer and a little more info here. – Graphus Mar 28 '16 at 18:18
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    Related. – grfrazee Mar 28 '16 at 20:25
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And also in a couple of places I have removed stain/oil back to original wood.

Sounds like you sanded too far. You only want to do a very minimum of sanding between coats for the exact reason you stated.

If you're getting nibs in your finish, the air in your shop might be too dusty. It's a good idea to do finishing tasks right away in the morning when the dust has had all night to settle. Then, obviously, wait to make any dust until after the finish has set (or move the piece to a different area).

Also, 0000 steel wool is a bit less aggressive than sandpaper, so you might try that between coats. Be sure to remove all dust/steel wool fragments before applying the next coat of finish.

What is my best course of action here? If i sand back to wood to reapply oil where do i sand back to and how to sand back only the poly so to not remove all the stain? I know in an ideal world it would be take it right back and start again, but this table has a lot of layers/sections with moulding etc.

The course of action that will yield the best result is most likely going back and refinishing. If it's, say, on only one face of a piece, you might be able to mask off the surrounding areas and only sand/refinish the localized area.

The problem with only spot-refinishing is that sometimes you get weird color consistency issues.

  • Good Answer but just wanted to mention that steel wool is not ideal for de-nibbing, it tends to round over the top of defects in varnish instead of flattening them off as abrasive paper does. – Graphus Mar 28 '16 at 18:20
  • @Graphus, thanks for the info. I guess I never noticed this effect. – grfrazee Mar 28 '16 at 18:21
  • For de-nibbing, the paper from a brown paper bag has worked well for me. – Charlie Kilian Mar 28 '16 at 20:22
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I have applied 3 coats of deep mahogany oil, which went on OK but didn't really soak in well after the first coat.

The stains's latex or oil base seals the wood making penetration by further coats unable to be absorbed. This is one reason I use wood dyes (such as Transtint) to color the wood, The very fine powdered pigment is usually suspended in water or alcohol and can be applied in several coats to approach a match in steps. I have successfully color matched damaged, sanded areas in carved chair backs without having to remove all finish from the exposed face. I would suggest trying this in a test area before removing all finish and stain and starting over.

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