Repairing a Table-Top Finish with Bad Fish-Eye

When it's this bad, you start over. Here's some detailed advice. January 14, 2008

We've accomplished a beautiful, soft finish over a contaminated mahogany veneer dining table. But the result is an almost useless finish, because nearly anything with any weight to it left to sit will leave an impression. The process was: two coats Zinsser Seal Coat, smoothing, three coats sanding sealer, vigorous smoothing (sometimes down to the Seal Coat), two coats standard high solids water-white lacquer, with additional smoothings. We need to fill the pores, over either oil or lacquer stain, rub smooth, have high shine, and it must be hard enough to sit most anything on (with felt or cork pads) without leaving impressions. Seal Coat worked well to pass over the fisheyes, but I suspect it is the main contributor to the impressions. I need a new plan!

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor P:
I'd guess the Seal Coat is the thinnest part of the finish, so not likely that's the culprit. I'd suspect the sanding sealer. Three coats is a lot; the stuff is thick to begin with, and very soft to boot. Another possibility is the table was put into service before the finish was totally cured. Depending on what the finish is, that could be several weeks.

From contributor B:
Water white lacquer (or any lacquer for that matter) should not be used on a table top. Don't know about the shellac. I would strip the top, clean it using toluene after the stripping, then either use a 2K urethane (not polyurethane) or at the very least a conversion varnish. It is possible that you will not get rid of the fisheyes. In that case I have seen guys apply thin coats that snap quick and "encapsulate" the fisheye.

From contributor U:
I agree with contributor B - strip the top, fill with grain filler (I use black), lightly sand smooth, usually by hand. If you use a machine at this point, you will sand out the filler and be at square one. Stain, seal with vinyl sealer, and top coat with Magnamax or CV. Nice hard finish.

Forgot one thing - fisheyes. Go to an auto paint store and get some Smoothie. Put two squirts in a quart of finish - works very well.

From contributor B:
I failed to mention the smoothie and the grain filler. Both are excellent ideas and should serve you well.