Q: I have a black lacquered, Chinese-motif coffee table and want to know if there is any coating or type of finish that I can apply over it to make it impervious to water stains and scratches.
A: You can apply a coating that will make it much more resistant to water and food stains -- and possibly more resistant to scratching, but I hesitate to say that it will be impervious to either damage. Most well-stocked paint stores sell a type of varnish that is classified as "bar top" varnish. This can be applied to furniture and gives a very hard, stain-resistant finish, but you will still have to exercise reasonable care and wipe spills up as soon as possible. The finish can be applied over lacquer if the old finish is sound and adhering tightly, but make certain the surface is absolutely clean and free of wax.
Q: In my recently purchased condominium, the bathtub shows the remains of worn and faded decal applications that have apparently been long since removed. Can you suggest a way to completely remove these traces?
A: I would first try rubbing the stains with a cloth saturated with acetone or lacquer thinner. This will take off any residue of the old adhesive. (These solvents are highly flammable so make sure windows are open.) If this doesn't remove the stains, try scrubbing them with a cleanser containing bleach, or use a scouring powder such as Zud; this will often remove stubbon stains that other cleansers won't take out.
A: We have purchased an old house and the paint on the ceilings is chipping off in many places.The former owner told us that calcimine paint was applied to these ceilings about 30 years ago, and that since that time professional painters have not been able to get a good finish on those ceilings. Do you have any suggestions for correcting this problem?
A: At this point your best bet is to scrape off as much of the old paint as possible, down to bare plaster if necessary. Then have a competent painter level out the low spots with spackling compound and sanding where necessary. Next, apply a coat of alkyd-base primer sealer, after which you can apply any flat paint -- alkyd or latex base.
Questions about home repair problems should be addresed to Bernard Gladstone in care of The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 200 Park ave., New York, N.Y. 10017. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column, but Gladstone regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.