I have acquired a 1930s-era dresser that is in solid condition, but has accumulated a thick greasy film and an assortment of scratches.
The scratches are primarily on the top and sides, while the greasy film is thickest on the front of the drawers.
I plan to strip the finish in order to remove the dirt and scratches, and then refinish the entire dresser.
My problem is that I don't exactly know how I should proceed.
Should I attempt to remove the greasy film before stripping the finish?
Also, will stripping the finish remove the scratches? The dresser also has an old musty smell.
Any suggestions on removing it? -- I.H.M.
It could be that your dresser only needs a good cleaning rather than a refinishing.
Before launching into refinishing, buy a good furniture cleaner (not a furniture polish) and test a small area. If that area turns out clean, and the grain of the wood is clear, you probably won't have to refinish.
A fairly new product on the market for furniture restoration without refinishing is Formby's Face Lift, available through decorator and home products stores, as well as hardware stores.
This is a kit that contains application directions, a cleaner, buffer and final finish, along with scrubber and buffer sponges.
If, after cleaning or trying Face Lift on a small spot, you find the finish is checked or "alligatored" heavily, chances are it needs refinishing.
If the finish is varnish, lacquer or shellac, you only need a modern furniture refinisher to dissolve the old finish.
But if it's painted or coated with any of the synthetic resins like epoxy or polyurethane, you will need a paint remover.
To test for the difference, moisten a cotton ball with nail polish remover and touch an inconspicuous area of the finish that is still glossy. If the cotton ball sticks, the finish is varnish, lacquer or shellac and a refinisher is needed.
If the cotton ball does not stick, use a paint remover.
If paint remover is required, choose one that does not recommend a water rinse, since water can loosen wood veneer and cause the joints to swell.
Work in small areas, about the size of a plate, removing all of the finish before continuing.
If you use a refinisher, complete the task by using steel wool and fresh refinisher, wiping with the grain of the wood to remove any streaks or residue.
If scratches remain, use a fine sandpaper to gently sand the area. Use caution, particularly if the wood is a veneer. It is easy to sand through the veneer and mar the finish permanently.
When the finish is removed, you can apply a stain for a preferred color change.
Whether or not stain is used, a finish should always be used to protect the wood. For best results select a finish that contains tung oil. Two finish coats usually are sufficient.
If you decide that cleaning the dresser is adequate, except for some remaining small scratches, try rubbing the scratches with a little raw linseed oil. Or use a commercial crayonlike stick shellac that is available in a variety of colors from your local paint store. The proper shade of shoe polish is also good for camouflaging small scratches.
To get rid of the musty odor, thoroughly air the dresser (outdoors in the sunlight would be best). Clean the drawers and spray with an aromatic cedar spray available at closet shops, or a similar freshener.
I have recently heard of a treatment for wood paneling called "pickling." Can you tell me what is involved? Can it be used to turn dark wood veneer paneling to a light blue-gray shade? -- C.A.S.
Pickling is a way of tinting open-grain woods by brushing on a solution of thinned-down white or pastel paint and then wiping most of it off.
Before you can proceed you will have to strip the present finish from your paneling. Use a commercial refinishing product such as those described above. After the finish has been stripped, you may want to lighten the wood prior to the treatment.
Use a commercial two-part wood bleach and follow directions carefully. Sand the surface lightly and go over the area with a tack cloth prior to applying the new finish. Be sure the wood dries thoroughly between refinishing, bleaching and application of a new finish.
For the pickling process you may need to experiment with the paint-to-solvent ratio, starting with a 3-1 ratio. Use water to thin latex paints, mineral spirits for oil-base.
The degree of transparency in the pickling finish will be determined by thinning of the paint with the solvent. You also can experiment with paint colors to find the shade that suits you.
The top surface of my dining room table is made up of thin strips of varying woods. It had never been treated with any material to resist water, food spills, etc.
The furniture dealer recommended using linseed oil to build up a stain-resistant surface.
The linseed oil has done that on the table itself, and every time I oil the table, I also oiled and wiped the leaves, which are seldom used.
The last time I planned to use the leaves, their surface was encrusted as if with enamel or polyurethane.
Is there some method of removing this glossy appearance? -- W.K.S.
Try thoroughly cleaning the leaves with Murphy's Soap, which is a good wood cleaner, or with the Formby's Face Lift described above.
You may want to clean both the leaves and the table so the finish will be fairly consistent.
After cleaning, if the glossy finish remains, use a fine steel wool and turpentine to rub the surface lightly. This will dull the shine. Send inquiries to Here's How, Copley News Service, P.O. Box 190, San Diego, Calif. 92112-0190. Only questions of general interest can be answered in the column.