Expert Answers: Restoring A Wood Finish

Would you like to restore an old piece of furniture to its previous natural beauty? HANDY has the answer.

Q: I'm working on restoring an old, black oak coffee table that my wife bought at a garage sale quite a few years ago. I'd like to strip its finish and bring out the natural color of the wood. Any suggestions on how I can do this? - Al Judd, Burnet, TX

A: Entire books have been written about refinishing furniture, and without knowing what type of finish is on the table, it's difficult to tell you the exact process and products you should use. But in general, you'll need to follow these basic steps:

Start by using a chemical stripper to remove the bulk of the protective topcoat and stain. Many types of chemical strippers are available, and as a general rule, the more hazardous they are, the better they tend to work. One common type is a methylene-chloride-base stripper such as Klean-Strip, which can quickly remove most wood finishes. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions when using it, wear protective gear such as goggles and butyl gloves, and always work in a well-ventilated area, preferably outdoors if possible.

Once you've removed the old stain, you'll likely need to sand the surfaces. Start with 100-grit paper to level the surface. Slowly work your way up to 220-grit, sanding with the grain, until you've achieved a smooth surface.

If discoloration remains, you may need to bleach the wood. Standard household chlorine bleach can remove dye stain; oxalic acid (available through most woodworking-supply outlets) can remove iron stains (such as those that appear around nails). Again, follow the manufacturer's instructions when using any bleaching agent. (For more information on removing old finishes, check out the article "How to Strip and Remove Old Paint" by clicking here.) - HANDY