I own a small couch table with a pattern made of veener on top (picture 1). As far as I can tell, the tabletop consists of at least three layers:

  1. Massive wood
  2. A layer of thin veneer
  3. An unidentified but glossy coating (might be varnish or wax?)

While the veneer (layer 2) is intact, the unidentified coating is damaged. There are areas on the tabletop where the coating is completely rubbed off (picture 2, 3). Multiple fine cracks can be seen all over the table top.

My question:

I'd love to get your input on my question: How can I restore / repair the table? I would prefer to do it in a way so that the tabletop becomes as pretty as it once was and as resilient as possible.

Thanks a lot in advance :)


Picture 1: View of the tabletop enter image description here

Picture 2: Detailed view of an area with damaged coating enter image description here

Picture 3: Residue of the coating on a white sheet of paper (each particle is less than 1mm in size) enter image description here

  • It's hard to be sure of everything that is going on here but, at minimum, you're looking at a strip and refinish. Both jobs aren't necessarily something you should consider trying yourself if you have no experience, especially if the piece is valuable (either in real terms or has sentimental value). Stripping an existing finish is a messy, tedious and often smelly job and with modern safer/greener strippers the process can pose a greater risk of causing damage to veneers because they may contain water, and if the table is old enough the veneer will be adhered with a water-sensitive glue.
    – Graphus
    Feb 10, 2019 at 18:50
  • Thanks for your comment, @Graphus :-) I had not thought of a chemical stripper but was thinking about carefully and manually stripping of the stripper using sand paper and then applying new coating. Would you advice against that? Feb 12, 2019 at 14:49
  • You can find numerous previous Answers where I talk about why old finishes shouldn't be removed by sanding if you want to read more on this in context. But briefly, sanding is the worst way to remove finish and one of the main reasons for this is the potential for damage. With veneered pieces in particular there's a great risk of sanding right through the veneer, especially if the piece is modern because modern veneers became increasingly very much thinner than they used to be — now often under 0.5mm!
    – Graphus
    Feb 13, 2019 at 7:47

1 Answer 1


How to tell what type of finish you have:

Fortunately, you have some flakes. The finish is water damaged...that's why its lifting.

Drop some of the flakes into a glass jar of denatured alcohol.....if they dissolve, you have a shellac finish.

If not...put a few flakes into some lacquer thinner....if they dissolve, you have nitro or acrylic lacquer.

These finishes are cross-linking finishes; I.e. one layer melds or melts into the next because of the solvent nature of the carriers (the liquifiing agent).

If its neither of these, it could be an oil based finish, or one of the newer acrylic or water based urethanes, which don't lend themselved to easy repairs.

Both of the cross-linking type finishes can often be repaired without full stripping and refinishing....but in the case of this piece which has large amounts of missing finish, I would mask off everything but the top and use a soy stripper like Ready Strip to lift the remainder of the top finish. After you are done, rinse the top with a wet rag to remove any remaining stripper. Let it dry a couple of days.

LIGHTLY hand sand with 320 on a felt covered block to knock down the grain from wetting. De-dust with a vacuum or pressurized air.

To determine what it will look like without stain....take a rag with some Paint Thinner and wipe it across the top.

How it looks when wet will pretty much be how the various woods will look with a couple coats of clear lacquer or shellac.

If how it looks is close to the rest of the piece, there are tints (dyes) available from Woodcrafters that can be mixed in to the finish before you apply to get closer to the shade of the rest of the piece. If its way off, you may have to experiment with stains to get it to match before you top coat.

P S... I'm just guessing.... But what you have there looks like the darker veneer is mahogany and it appears there was little if no stain..

Most likely you'll end up with just light amber shellac or light amber lacquer as the only company.

But again, I'm looking at it through camera and display and, as they say: you're results may vary......

Yes, Graphus is right....water based strippers do run the risk of lifting old veneers. .....but the fumes of the old stripper can burn flesh and lungs of the uninitiated. Veneer can be repaired. Health; less so.

  • Thanks for your reply @atcfurnitureservice :) It indeed was shellac. I proceeded as you described (with the difference that I used denaturized alcohol to strip away the shellac finish where it was still intact. May 27, 2019 at 12:40
  • I also did use blotting paper plus an iron to re-attach the veneer where it had slightly lifted. May 27, 2019 at 12:41

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