How to Refinish Red Oak Veneer Furniture
Before you begin the task of refinishing your red oak furniture, it is important to determine whether it is made from solid wood or continues to be veneered. Chairs and tables are most likely strong, however your kitchen or bathroom cabinets — and your dresser — are more likely veneered, and you need to handle them carefully when preparing them for a new finish. Veneer is fragile, and oversanding it or exposing it to water can ruin it.
If your dresser or cabinet is veneered, that reality might not be readily obvious, but a fast examination must settle the question. Look at the way the wood grain runs over the end grain of horizontal surfaces, like table tops and cabinet faces. It’s beading if it runs longitudinally instead of down and up, and the surface is veneered. You might identify beading by the border — sometimes almost invisible — that it leaves with the surface. An test is to examine the bottom of a surface that is horizontal. It might not be oak, and the grain might not fit with another hand if it’s. Both are indications of veneer.
Stripping and Sanding Veneer
Water may raise veneers, which contraindicates using a stripper that you need to wash off with water. Taking away the finish by sanding, however, is also harmful, since the veneer might be lean. A strong solvent, like lacquer thinner, removes lacquer finishes almost as efficiently as stripper, also it will not increase the grain or raise the veneer. If you need to use stripper, wash off the residue with lacquer thinner or mineral spirits instead of water. Avoid grits coarser than 120-grit after sanding, hand-sand whenever possible, and proceed easy around the edges, where wear-through is most likely.
Smoothing Matters Out
Orbital sanders leave curved scratch marks, even when sanding with fine-grit paper, and they frequently don’t appear on red oak until once you stain or complete. Prior to sealing the wood, this makes it important to sand by hand. Red walnut has a wide-open grain that’s not possible to sew sandpaper, however. To get the smoothest finish on the top of a table or credenza, use wood grain filler. You brush or trowel it on, wipe off the surplus, and sand the surface when it’s dried. Grain fillers do not stain well, so select the one that best matches the color of the stained wood, and employ it once you stain.
A lacquer finish has more subtlety than varnish and will be the better option for red pine. If you do not have spray equipment, you may use a brushable product. Some are water-soluble, although these may render a filmy, plasticlike coating. To get the best finish, thin the first coat 50 percent, then wait patiently for it to dry and sand it lightly with 220-grit sandpaper. It typically requires three full-strength coats after the thinned-down seal coat — using a light sanding between each coat — to get the best results. Wet-sanding that the last coat with 600-grit wet/dry paper then polishing it with a lambswool buffer creates a mirrorlike finish.