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Antique Furniture/help w.restoring veneer damage of table top


Walnut Veneer Table Top
Walnut Veneer Table To  
Walnut Veneer Table Top
Walnut Veneer Table To  
QUESTION: My husband just restored a lovely table from the 1920's that has beautiful walnut veneer on the top. He filled a few small holes in the veneer with pre-stained wood filler and then sanded, stained and used a varnish oil for finishing. The stain was not absorbed by the wood filler, and those areas are now noticeably lighter than the rest - please see attached picture. I think he should have used a darker color wood filler, but he says he never knows what the color tone will be once the oil is on, particularly if there are big color variations on the veneer.
He had bad experiences with past projects with stainable wood filler and does not trust it either - because it also stayed lighter than the surrounding area. Is there a trick to using it that he is not aware of ?
What to do now? He does not want to strip everything and start all over ( since he did this already twice on this table top...)
Your suggestions would be greatly appreciated..

ANSWER: This is always a problem with wood fillers whether using solvent or water based.  Spots are always difficult to make disappear.  Challenges are not just color.  Wood is like skin in that there is no area just like another.  Additionally, different light sources change the color, there is a word for this but I cannot remember right now.  Direction of view changes color as well so you can see that if you get a match and then look from the opposite angle the spot shows up again.  You have to deal with birefringence and chayotancy.  Difficult to explain here but you will nod your head and talk to yourself as you read about it, and you will love it.

Coloring kinda goes like this when dealing with spots such as these.  First to remember is that the filler, whatever you use, is just the start.  Doesn't matter how close you get it you still have to use artists brushes, touch up brushes and your pallet of colors (stains or artists paints) to stipple the color in.  This is called inpainting in the trade.  As it was told to me years ago; there is a difference between touch up and inpainting.  That difference is about $75 per hour. :)  Put in dots, yes dots, of color, pin head size.  Fine brushes to paint the strong grain across the void (spot of filler) always using a nervous hand.

Two schools of thought here.  One is to put in the lightest background color first, other is to put the dark in first.  I often land in the middle.  You see a light dot quicker that a dark one and if you get the light to dark correct you can be off on the other axis and still win.  Other axis being the shift from green to red and violet to yellow (check a color wheel you will find they are opposite to each other and will cancel one another.

In addition to color, there is the texture.  Does the fill have a smooth surface free of pores, yes, but the surrounding wood does not.  It has pores so you should put pores into the fill to match the texture.

Another thing to consider is this; since you are inpainting different colors and shades in a small area you must layer the colors.  for example, you put down umber and like what you have, so you must seal it in before adding the next color or you might loose it.  so you spritz some shellac on it to lock it.  after it dries you go to the next color, like it then lock it in.  if you dont like what you have then wipe it off and you have not disturbed the color below that you like.  and so it goes once you have it, lock it in with the shellac and go on with the finishing.

All that comes to this, rub the top out, start coloring the spots and lock it in as you go then put another coat of your top coat on and be done.  

by the way, the top looks really good, beautiful grain and clear.

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Walnut Veneer Table
Walnut Veneer Table  
QUESTION: Hi Bob, thank you for your quick yet detailed answer.
Yes, you are so right about direction of view changing the color. This table has a lot of crossfire grain, I can take pictures from one direction and the spots are totally visible, but not at all from another...
more questions:
1) Do you mean to rub just the top out where the light spots are, or strip the whole section of ( half of ) the table and do it all over ( big resistance here...).
2) For inpainting, what type of colors should we buy? Are these regular artist's colors? I assume we should use oil based colors ? I have water based colors, acrylic colors, and coloring crayons at home, but none of these would do, right?
3) Do you put pores into the filler with a pin ? Is this done after the inpainting or before?
4) Can one use something other than shellac to seal the layers of color in ( would in this case water based color work o.k. ...?)? There was no shellac used on the table, the finish is Tried and True Varnish Oil. The shellac may add more gloss to it and make the spots stand out again...
5) And if it has to be shellac, how do you spritz it? We have some ready mixed shellac here, do you put a bit into a spray bottle and hope to hit just a tiny area?

It is otherwise a spectacular table ....

Thanks again!

no stripping!
just rub it out with 320 or 400 no fil paper, whichever you used before.   the whole top so everything will be consistent.  at teh end you will apply another coat of the finish to make sure everything is the same.

a pin will work fine for the pores as will an exacto knife, dont over do it.  after you do this then do the color so the color will trap in the pores.  wipe on wipe off.  this gets the color in the pores only, not on the high surface.

i say shellac because i am used to it.  On the finish you have applied, the linseed and pine oil varnish will wipe the touch up off when applied then wiped.  shellac does come in a spray can - 6$ at lowes, it is bleached shellac--but if you have mixed your own that is even better if the wax content is low.  Seal coat is a 2 pound cut that has been dewaxed but is not in a spray can.  you can use something other than shellac if you wish, its just that shellac will pretty much stick to anything and anything will stick to it and i am used to it;  just a flash of whatever you use, be it shellac or your varnish but something as to lock the color in, a light mist.  have to be careful so the spot will not become heavy with finish.  shellac will add gloss but that can be rubbed back, remember a light mist coat just enough to lock the color.

a thought, it might be that you can put color in the varnish you are using, just put small amounts, like a few drops in a bottle cap or on a piece of glass for a pallet--i like using glass since i can put it over the area i am trying to match and see what is going on match wise-- and very gently apply it with a tiny artists brush using the varnish to lock it in.  I am not so familiar with the varnish you are using and am guessing it is pretty thin.

The easy way, after adding the pores is to use touch up markers or paint pens from <> I often use the paint pens, grain pens or touch up markers, the paint pens i often apply with an artists brush.

remember taht the dark spot hides better than the light spot so a touch up marker in an umber might push it back just enough.  Its fun until it is frustrating, it will not hide completely but your neighbors will not find the spots.  Or you could draw a knot there and on each piece of veneer in the same location.....

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robert klein


Regarding American antique, vintage, and collectible furniture I can help with wood identification, styles, age, periods, historical coatings, materials, techniques, repair, restoration, refinishing. Please read instructions for posting.


I have been in the antiques furniture and restoration business and in the sales of American antique furniture for 40+ years and have continued my education in the trade attending workshops and seminars through several organizations.

Professional Refinishers Groop, Int., AIC, Antiques Dealers Association

BA Florida State University BA University of West Florida 1971

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