I have a lovely oak table; most of its surface looks as pristine as the day I got it, e.g.:

enter image description here

Parts of the table surface are getting damaged -- the finish is wearing off and the pores of the grain are exposed and feel pitted to the touch, e.g.:

enter image description here

Any ideas why this is? It looks like the areas where this is happening are the areas that get the most sun (through a skylight, not directly overhead), but I haven't seen sun damage like this. Perhaps somebody else has?

I can rule out water damage or heavy use -- the table is lightly used and wear doesn't seem to be a factor as some of the most used parts look the most pristine.

Any suggestions for an intervention, short of or including refinishing?

migrated from diy.stackexchange.com Jan 1 '17 at 15:47

This question came from our site for contractors and serious DIYers.

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    It's hard to be sure from photos but this could be UV degradation. All finishes break down over time and light exposure is one of the primary causes. As you might have noticed yourself the damage looks a little like the finish has bubbled from below in the low points in the wood (in the pore structure of the oak) which could be indirect damage from the light, causing water to migrate out of the wood. Not sure if you'll get Comments in a migrated post but there is a possible easy fix but I have to get you to check something first. – Graphus Jan 2 '17 at 8:46
  • Thanks @Graphus for your post -- yes, I'm happy to check something on the table if you want to suggest an intervention. – Kevin Cain Jan 6 '17 at 0:42
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    If you could wet the surface somewhere the problem shows with a bit of water and see if that has any effect (just a bit of spit on a fingertip will do). Then wet a different patch with oil. If neither has an effect then you are looking at removing the existing finish and a revarnish. Good news is the revarnishing is a snap to do and it's easy to get a very nice surface with no experience. Less-good news....OK bad news, is that removing the existing varnish (even using stripper) is a messy and sometimes smelly job that nobody enjoys and will probably take 2-3 times longer than you anticipate. – Graphus Jan 6 '17 at 8:20
  • Okay, but you've piqued my curiosity. What are the tests for? What reaction are you looking for if something does happen? – Charlie Kilian Jan 10 '17 at 20:10
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    Those tests are pretty conclusive that varnish is indeed gone, rather than just damaged. The starting cause is a mystery to me too, but these sorts of things often have no clear cause. Use, cleaning (esp. with water) and light exposure can all take their toll on a varnish but normally it wouldn't fail in little spots like here, or just in one area and not in another that seems to be equally exposed, but both things do occur. – Graphus Jan 27 '17 at 8:32

I would refinish with a couple light coats of oil and/or wiping oil-varnish blend, making sure to wipe away the surface residue completely. The oil should help with the discoloration some, as it looks like the current finish has some tint to it. Oil will not be nearly as protective as what's currently on there. If you use a wiping blend, it will provide a modicum of protection, but you have to be a little more careful in applying it to blend it in with the surrounding area... and again, very light coats.

  • Thanks for posting, but this does not address the question. – rob Aug 28 '17 at 5:11
  • @rob: incorrect. the final line of the OP is "Any suggestions for an intervention, short of or including refinishing?" my answer provides info on how to refinish in an easy an unobtrusive way that will renew the surface appearance. – aaron Aug 28 '17 at 12:34
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    I suppose that part of the question should not be there in the first place. The question really was "What is happening to the surface". You answered the secondary question correctly but it should be part of another question altogether assuming that is not a dupe. – Matt Aug 28 '17 at 14:07
  • if this is a big enough problem for you guys (and it was big enough to downvote my answer!) I implore you to add to the discussion i started here: woodworking.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/364/… – aaron Aug 29 '17 at 11:40
  • @aaron you say "I suppose that part of the question should not be there in the first place. The question really was "What is happening to the surface". " Surely a relevant sub-question that supports the OP in getting a piece of furniture into a state they are happy with is allowed? Knowing the cause is prime concern but how to fix the situation is tightly linked. – Fatherjack Jul 15 at 12:44

The light discoloration resembles that caused by an infestation of some sort. In my case it was in douglas fir and the inspector would not pass my house because of it. Perhaps an exterminator would examine you photo and comment.

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