The project is an oak dining table top. The varnish had worn off in spots. After stripping a few spots that had been exposed for longer still had a gray, aged look. It is a veneer so I didn't want to do too much sanding; therefore, I used Bar Keeper's Friend (oxalic acid) to bleach the spots. That and light sanding lessened the stains enough that I moved on to staining after cleaning the entire table with mineral spirits. Used Minwax penetrating stain and it looked beautiful. The "problem" occurred when I applied Minwax wipe-on poly. The first application dried fine, except for the spots where I had used the bleaching solution. Those spots stayed tacky. After letting it sit overnight they seemed sufficiently dry to apply second coat. But the tacky feel is again present only in those spots. I am considering trying a shellac finish over the poly. Other options y'all might suggest? Any advice on how to proceed is much appreciated.

  • How thoroughly did you wash off the surface after the Barkeeper's Friend was used? And what was the gap between that and the first coat of varnish going on?
    – Graphus
    Commented May 6, 2017 at 7:11
  • Had read not to use water to rinse off the Bar Keepers Friend because water could raise the grain. So I used a fine brush, x0000 fine steel wool, and air compressor to bow off all the dust. Then went over it with mineral spirits. Maybe should have really saturated it with th spirits, but we just wiped it to get any dust that may have been left. Commented May 6, 2017 at 18:07
  • Time between cleaning off and applying first coat of poly...maybe 36 hours. We used wood conditioner, stain (waited 4 hours), 2nd coat of stain (overnight...7 hours), 3rd coat of stain (waited 24 hours), then applied poly. Commented May 6, 2017 at 18:13
  • Raising the grain is the least thing to worry about since it's the matter of a few moments to correct it (light sanding using med/fine paper is all that's required). The traces of the chemicals in the BF (oxalic acid being just one of a few) could well be the problem here although I don't know what the chemistry explanation would be guides to using it always emphasise how important it is to rinse away excess. BTW it wouldn't have helped if you'd used loads more mineral spirits, the ingredients in BF that you need to clean away are water-soluble and not spirit-soluble.
    – Graphus
    Commented May 7, 2017 at 10:15

3 Answers 3


Your best option at this point is to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, so just wait longer and see if the varnish will dry properly given enough time.

Be patient. Sometimes drying is slowed by one or more factors and sometimes it's slowed a lot, but often (usually?) it will cure if you can just wait it out. Many times when you read someone complain that their varnish "just wouldn't dry" you find out they only waited a few days to a week, when in my experience retarded drying might take weeks to resolve.

However that is not to say that drying will always complete, unfortunately it is possible to have something that remains permanently tacky :-( And in this case the best course of action is often to strip back and begin again*.

For now, if you can, put the table somewhere warm with good airflow to provide the best drying conditions.

I am considering trying a shellac finish over the poly.

That would work to seal off the areas of new varnish, but it would be best to apply the shellac to varnish that is dry to the touch because otherwise the tacky surface could interfere with application — you'd have 'draggy' spots.

And in order to have a varnish-tough surface you'd need to apply further coats of wipe-on over the top, the shellac then being used as a barrier coat (something it is often relied upon for).

If you create a new surface of shellac it'll be like you only applied shellac, your tabletop will remain permanently sensitive to water, will be damaged by alcohol, and won't be as resistant to scratching as you'd like it to be.

*Although if it's very slight a coat of paste wax over the top can resolve the issue enough that the surface is usable. But be aware the tackiness indicates the varnish hasn't dried thoroughly so the surface won't be as tough as it could be.


Problem is the oxalic acid. I'm in the midst of the same issue. I forgot to add Borax to the water when wiping off the acid and now my poly is sticky after 3 days with a fan on it. Looks like I'm going to have to re-sand the floor, wipe with Borax solution, and THEN re-poly. Good luck to you!

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    – Community Bot
    Commented May 23, 2023 at 21:11

If it is still tacky, more than likely it needed sanded. Anything like poly won’t dry on surfaces that are slick or previously had poly in it.

  • Hi, welcome to StackExchange. I'm afraid this is not accurate, at least as far as the stickiness issue is concerned. Oil-based poly, whether full strength or thinned to wiping consistency, will dry just fine when applied to old finish that hasn't been surface prepped it just won't bond well. In addition, note that the OP says the varnish dried just fine on the majority of the surface, where the previous finish was still present.
    – Graphus
    Commented May 31 at 6:30

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