Refinishing Water-Stained Cherry Furniture

Can a craftsman remove water stains from an old cherry piece without destroying its natural aged patina? March 29, 2008

I have a set of natural cherry cabinets to refinish. There are some water damaged areas. The customer would like to keep the original aged look. Is there any way to remove the water stains and the old nitrocellulose finish without damaging the patina?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor H:
The water stain is in the wood or the finish? If it's in the wood, it cannot be removed without affecting the patina. Removing the lacquer is easy. Wash it with lacquer thinner.

From contributor U:
Strip the finish (don't sand it off) and use oxalic acid. It'll remove the water stain, or most of it, without changing the color of the wood very much.

From contributor G:
I'm trying to think of a way to strip lacquer and still leave the patina intact. After you get the lacquer off you'll still need to prep sand before re-lacquering and there goes your patina. I think you will wind up staining anyway. Unless you are getting conservator pay to preserve the patina on heirloom cabinets, I'd try to sell the customer on a nice stain-and-refinish. You'll probably be able to get pretty close to the original color anyway and save a lot of time. If they are old enough to have actual plain N/C lacquer on them, they'll still look old when you are done.

From contributor P:
There won't be any need to stain the cabinets. The wood will retain its aged color even after using the oxalic acid, neutralizing, and sanding smooth. It's a process that I've done plenty of times and unless you use a belt sander you won't harm the patina. And you can get lots of furniture and cabinetry with nitrocellulose lacquer on it. It's still a popular finish. You don't just find it on old pieces.

From contributor T:
If the stain is white, it's in the finish, and removing the finish with a stripper will remove it. If the stain is black, it's in the wood and oxalic acid is needed to remove it. Also: the finish you use will have a significant affect on the final color of your cabinets. Samples are essential.