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Colin Nicholson 07-06-2012 05:03 PM

China Cabinet Restoration
Hi everyone, I'm new on this forum. Quick intro - I'm a piano tuner/tech/restorer by trade, and occasionally do French polishing to pianos & old items of furniture. I'm not sure if this post is in the right subject, but here goes!

I have been asked to restore an old china cabinet; I reckon its early 1900's with ball & claw feet, crescent shaped with 2 curved glass panels and a centre curved door - the glass has 2-3 beading trims with a finnial pattern on the top. Also each shelf is fitted with a lace fabric. The wood finish looks like a dark oak with occasional black brush strokes to simulate a grain....I suspect its a fake colour.

My query is about the wood finish/ shellac. I have stripped most of the polish off, and revealed different woods - some is mahogany, not sure about the lighter wood.... could be cedar? When I stripped the polish off, it left no traces of the colour or stain on the wood.

My question is.... is there a kind of french polish product with an all-in-one wood colour aswell? I dont think staining the wood will make much difference. In parts, the colour is dark oak, and in other areas it looks like mahogany or rosewood effect.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

Gratefully received


oh'mike 07-06-2012 05:48 PM

Coln--you are into experimental waters here--sounds like the original was shellac with a faux finish then a clear coat---

There are poly finishes with color in them---but they are are nasty to work with.

You may wish to replicate the original--shellac--then a color glaze--then top with clear.

Time to break out the artists oils and some linseed oil--

ghostlyvision 07-06-2012 06:27 PM

Or you could try Restor-A-Finish and then wax (can't poly on top of R-A-F), they also make a Feed-N-Wax product but you could use any kind. I've used the dark oak R-A-F on a desk I refinished and it came out very nice looking.



Colin Nicholson 07-07-2012 02:09 AM

Thanks for that guys, much appreciated. I realise I'm 'tapping' into deep water here!.... I like the cabinet ghostlyvision, but I'm aware of shipping costs to UK may not be cheap! (and I think your cabinet looks like one type of wood?) .... I'm on a very tight budget. I've try to upload a picture so you can see it, but when I clicked on the "insert image" icon, it wants an URL? .... when I only have JPG images (the photos are not on a website). Hopefully someone may be able to tell me what processes have been used, and what to do. I have a website for my piano work.... would it be easier to put a picture on there, and just send you the link?

When you say 'poly' .... is this a polyester (glass) finish or shellac (piano finish)?

thanks again

Colin Nicholson 07-07-2012 02:18 AM

1 Attachment(s)

Has this worked?

Left = mahogany. Top = Cedar?
R hand 'finnial' original colour (very dark oak?) - the rest is stripped to bare wood.

Colin Nicholson 07-07-2012 02:53 AM

1 Attachment(s)
Hopefully.... this image will show!
One showing all 3 'panels' - left and right panels are the original - not touched yet.... the centre panel is the door. I have noticed that none of the grain or wood type shows through anywhere on either side panels - its as though something has just been painted on? :(

ghostlyvision 07-07-2012 12:59 PM

The finish looks heavy like a gel stain, no clue if that's what it is though. Once you get it completely stripped you'll probably need some stain to make the different woods look alike. The desk/cabinet I did above had 3 different kinds of wood, I used Minwax provincial (and a little sedona) to even them up before using the Restor-A-Finish. Oh, and by 'poly' I meant polyurethane.

P.S. That's going to be a beautiful piece once you're done, good luck with it. :)

woody4249 07-07-2012 01:09 PM

Colin...........You have a challenge on your hands here mate.......but you mastered inserting images ok........the cabinet is a little trickier.
First, all the finish needs to be taken off to all the pieces. It's probably a mineral spirit or turpentine based finish [as we Brits call it].
I would tackle this by toning the lighter woods to the same or close to the darkest colour. You may have to mask off the other area's. Use a wiping stain like Minwax to achieve this. You may have to tinker with it to get it close by adding tints.
Once you are happy with the colour uniformity, give it one coat of sanding sealer.
After it dries, lightly sand with wire wool but not too much as to penetrate through to the stain. Go over with a tack cloth to remove dust. Now you are ready to stain it to the colour you want it to end up. Using a wiping stain now will just end up streaky so here's how to achieve an even caot.

Here in the US we have water-based polyurethane finishes in matt, satin and gloss luster. I add tints or stains directly to this to get the colour I want.
Water based polly' is easier to clean up and easier to sand.

How's Bradford these days??
I think Leicester is about the same when I was there in 2009


user1007 07-07-2012 01:23 PM

Just remember you may be working with veneers in places and not solid woods.

This site has a sister wood working site with more people specifically into furniture in things. You might post your question there too?

Colin Nicholson 07-07-2012 01:25 PM

Thanks for that.... well, after 17 hours! .... it's eventually all stripped down to the bare wood. Looking more closely at the top & bottom sections of wood (ones that bend) .... it looks more like maple, not much of a grain & tight looking. I was thinking of toning the lighter wood down a bit, but I once tried to stain maple, and it had little effect. However, I've looked into a supplier that sell very dark french polish, and recommend mixing with these sachets (25g) - concentrated dye powder , possibly a tudor dark oak? Its a shame to have to spoil the natural colour of the mahogany to improve the 'maple' (which the top panel not shown is all mahogany) - and there is a like a small ''head board'' at the back with a central finnial to match the window panels.

Just seen other suggestions.... thanks Mike, will bear that in mind. Bradford is very wet at the mo! ,,,, flood alerts everywhere believe it or not.

sdsester.... yeh, there isnt much veneer actually. I'm more used to polishing pianos with one veneer throughout - simple! This cabinet has a veneered top (2mm) glued onto a carcass wood, but the rest is solid wood - all panels & door are solid mahogany & possibly maple. There are also 2 shelves, each one lined in criss cross lace.... poo, they stunk to high heaven! - and the semicircular base (as on photo) is the bottom shelf - also lined with this fabric.

I'll plod on as usual! ...... thanks for all your top tips.

user1007 07-07-2012 01:54 PM

Might try painter's tape to hold some stain off from at least the top as you apply? Nothing you can do about keeping it from seeping through the grain once in there though.

The pigment sachets sound like a plan.

Regards to the Royal Family.

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