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Cabinets, Furniture, Woodworks/Refinishing maple dresser bought in 1953


QUESTION: Good morning, Eileen.
Over the weekend my husband and I acquired a lovely bedroom set.  The gentleman who we bought it from has a letter from M. Feigelman, Fine
Furniture in New York City, Oct 1953, stating the set is made from high grade sliced white maple.  My question is how to refinish just the tops of the long dresser and the nightstands.  Both nightstands have water damage, where the color has actually peeled off and the top of the dresser has what appear to be blotches randomly all over the top of the dresser.  They feel sort of gummy.  I've tried cleaning with Dawn and warm water (barely wet of course), I've tried to clean it with Murphy's Oil Soap, but I just can't get them to go away.  I am pretty certain that there is some type of polyeurethaen or something over the stain because it is so shiny, doesn't look like a piece of wood that's just been stained.  So my thought was to tape around the whole top of the dresser and nightstands, then strip the top coat off, then I guess restain (not sure how I will be able to match the color) and then apply a top coat for protection.  So that's what I'd like to do, but I have no idea how to accomplish it because I've never done any type of refinishing at all.  I don't mind the scratches or nicks at all, gives it character, but I would just like the tops to be smooth and protected.  Can you help me out??? I've attached pics of the nightstand, a corner of the dresser, but that doesn't really show the gummy spots all over the top, and a picture of the chest which is in beautiful shape, after lots of cleaning Sunday...

Nice to hear from you.
This type of finish cannot be duplicated by the us do it yourselfers.
And you noticed that its not just stained wood.
This is what I call a colored lacquer finish.
But you can certainly make these great pieces look nice again.
And your idea is what I would do..strip off just the tops (after taping the bottom parts off and restain and apply a nice finish.
I am sending you the instructions to do this.
As long as you are aware that the results will not be as original there is no reason why a total novice cannot do this.

The first thing you must do is assemble the material to do the job.
The stripper is the most important item.  
I am hoping you can get "CIRCA 1850" brand paint and varnish remover in your area.
Here is a link
If you cannot find this brand ask the store for "An MC stripper". They are made in various brand names.

MATERIAL LIST For the stripping stage.
1 quart stripper
1 boxe of Bull Dog steel wool in medium grade.
One 2 or 3 inch paint brush.
Rubber gloves (like you do dishes with), and a pair of cotton gloves inside the rubber ones.
People react differently to stripper. A lot of people feel heat through the rubber gloves, but I feel cold. Have no idea why.
An empty large coffee can. (for the stripper)  
Lots of old rags (I like t-shirts or cotton but for this first stage whatever you have)
Lots of newspaper to protect the garage floor
That's all you need to get started.
Work in sections.
Brush on the stripper with the brush. Stripper will quit working if it dries, so keep it wet till the finish softens (this type of finish comes off easily Jody).
Then take a rag and wipe this mess off.
Then another coat of stripper, rag off again, then while the wood is still wet, take the steel wool and rub with the grain till the wood is nice and clean.
Depending on the material you are removing, another coat of stripper is often needed but you will know this as you progress into the job.
Thats all there is to it ...move to another section and continue.
No other prep is necessary...and DO NOT SAND..that means (DO NOT SAND LOL)
When the stripping is complete, stain with Minwax oil stain applied with a rag.
You will find Minwax has color charts of all their stains.
Pick out the color you like. But test it on the underedge of the top before you apply to the top. Old maple wood such as this will take stain beautifully in most cases. If this was new maple furniture it would not..its an age thing.
Let the stain dry overnight then apply 2 coats of Minwax fast drying oil based poly in a satin finish. (follow poly instructions for second coating times.
Please let me know if anything is not 100% clear.

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Chest of drawers
Chest of drawers  
QUESTION: Good evening, Eileen.  Thank you for your response.  I do just have a couple other questions.  I've taken a picture which to me looks like there may be a veneer coating on the top.  If that's the case, would any of your directions change?  And why not use like 180 grit sandpaper instead of steel wool?  As for stripper, how about that environmentaly friendly citrus stripper they have out?  Thanks again for all of your help, I can't wait to start this project.  I've also attached a picture of the chest so you can see how beautiful this set will be when I'm done, hopefully...

Hi Again Jody
None of my info changes if this is veneer, contrary to what some people think, stripping will not harm veneer.
Most definately avoid sandpaper if this is veneer.(Avoid it anyway LOL).
I have never personally bought an enviro stripper but have seen it used with poor results.
Nothing wrong with you trying it but you'll likely have to purchase the proper one afterwards.
This is lovely furniture Jody.
Get back if needed

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Eileen Cronk


Hi..I can answer most questions about the repairing,stripping and refinishing of all your old furniture and wood items(the things we call antiques)I can give advice about what to buy/avoid at auctions/flea markets. I do not give appraisals on antiques.


I have been refinishing antiques for the past 30yrs. While I have taken several courses over the years,I have found that "hands on" learning is the best teacher. Perhaps I can help you avoid some of the mistakes I made while learning.

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