Refinishing Tables Without Stripping

Advice on a quick clean-and-recoat job on some lacquer-finished bedside table tops. July 29, 2007

I have a customer that wants seven or eight tabletops refinished, but doesn't want to spend a lot of money to strip and do them right. He is not picky and just wants them to look better.

I believe they are all NC lacquer, as they all reacted to lacquer thinner. The tables were factory made in the US within the last 8-10 years.

I propose to wash with TSP, sand as much as I can without getting into the white wood, touch up missing color with a stain mixed with lacquer (shading) with an artist's brush or air brush, and then add a topcoat or two of lacquer. Some might do with just the wash and a good paste wax. What would you recommend?

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Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor T:
A quick and dirty way to do this is to spray NC lacquer and tone. TSP may react with the NC if not properly washed off. I use a degreaser such as Mr. Clean or 1 litre warm water with 1/2oz of sunlight. Been doing it that way for years and I've never had a problem with fish eyes.

Personally, I would evaluate this client and if he can't lead you to future business, then drop it. It sometimes is not worth the hassle. I personally do not deal with clients that are looking to save money. Through all my years of finishing, every time I do a job like that, it winds up costing me in the end.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I was concerned about the TSP, as some of the finish has had water damage that went through to the wood. What do you mean by 1/2 oz of sunlight?

As for the customer, he is a friend, and I took the job to see if I could learn to do this type of touchup. I quoted him $100 per top, so if I do it fast, I can make some money. Like I said, he will not be real picky, and I have suggested that he put glass tops over the tables which will further disguise any finish flaws. But I want to do a good job.

From contributor G:
Hold the glass. It will damage whatever finish you do put on. Since this guy is your bud and not too concerned about perfection, take this as an opportunity to practice and go for it. You didn't mention spray capability. If you can, find some more NC lacquer and spray that on after your touchups. Chemcraft's Chemlack is an NC.

From contributor T:
1/2 sunlight is something I learned from a European finisher. He would mix a 1/2 ounce sunlight in 1 liter of water and clean the furniture before spraying.

Another alternative is if you use acrylic polyurethane and tone it a bit to add color. This will adhere very well to NC lacquer if it is well sanded. I used to do this kind of work all the time. When someone would bring me a piece of furniture that they wanted refinished to a darker color, I would always wash it down to remove any traces of wax and then shade it with the appropriate finish, which in most cases was NC lacquer.

You won't have any problems doing it - all old timers do this on a regular basis.

P.S. The best wax remover is Varsol or paint thinner. It will remove all traces of wax. I still prefer to use the sunlight mix; it's worked for me for 14 years now.

From the original questioner:
I planned to put some felt tabs under the glass to keep it off the finish.

I do have spray equipment and I use Mohawk products. I planned to use Mohawk M610 Clear WW, probably their -256 semi-gloss.

I also thought about washing with naphtha instead of the TSP?

Okay, I'm biting. I feel foolish, but I still don't know what you mean by "1/2 sunlight". Either it is a product that I have never heard of, I'm having a brain freeze, or you are pulling my leg! So please set me straight.

From contributor G:
1/2 oz of dawn will work, too.

From contributor B:
Sunlight and Dawn are brands of liquid dishwashing detergent.

From contributor T:
Sunlight is dishwashing liquid! Dawn will work as well that's right. Nothing removes wax and grease like them and you'll have no contaminants left on the surface. Make sure not to use more than 1/2 ounce per liter, otherwise it will leave a film. Wash down with fresh water afterwards and let dry for about a day. It's the fastest method to recoat furniture without stripping.

From contributor W:
A mild detergent solution will clean most contaminants, but not all. You'll need to follow that with a naphtha wash to get the solvent soluble contaminants and then scuff sand to promote adhesion.

TSP is an alkaline cleaner that cleans both water and solvent soluble contaminants and it does attack lacquer - leaves it de-glossed and etched so you don't need to scuff sand. One step (TSP) vs three (dawn, naphtha, scuff).

From contributor T:
TSP is a good one step process, but you have to make sure not to leave any traces of it behind. When I wash with detergent, I let it dry and then lightly scuff with a foam pad and spray right away. In 16 years I've never had a problem with detergent, but I've seen plenty with TSP.