A couple of days ago, I received the following question in my email from loyal reader Mick, of Everyone Goes to Mick's.
When you refinished your console radio, how did you get the final coat of stain/ gloss so smooth? Any tips?"
Well, what an excellent question! For those of you who haven't been readers since the beginning of the blog, here is a photo of the console radio that he is referring to:
Here is my reply:
My first tip: Do all the prep work carefully. Use a good quality stripper to completely remove the old lacquer and stain from the piece. I used Formby's Furniture Refinisher to remove the old lacquer and shellac from the radio. After doing this, you'll have to determine if the original stain is in satisfactory condition or if you need to strip the stain as well and get down to bare wood. I went ahead and used a stripper to remove the stain as well. Carefully sand down the entire piece with fine grit sandpaper (150 or higher) and wipe down with a tack cloth to remove the dust. Wipe it down several times. Make sure you wear furniture refinishing gloves when you use stripper...that stuff burns you skin badly if you get it on you.
My second tip: Don't rush anything. The stain may say that you can recoat after 2 hours, but I try to give it more time. I would do one coat in the morning and leave it until after lunch, when I would give it another coat. I applied the stain with cheap foam brushes that I get in a bag of like 10 different sized brushes for $1.50 at Walmart, and rub the stain off with a terry-cloth towel (you can buy terry-cloth rags in the paint section at Walmart - wash them before using them to get rid of the extra lint). (I used Red Mahogany stain from Minwax for the console I refinished). I have used Minwax Polyshades before, which is stain and polyurethane mixed into one simple application. While it looked good, I found that it is easy to chip off. Stick to the old-fashioned way of separate stain and finish for most satisfying results. Don't forget to lightly sand between coats to smooth everything out. Also, use light coats. If you put too much on it at one time, you get runs in the finish that you have to sand out. Many thin layers will prevent this from happening.
My third tip: Forget the polyurethane. I used Cabot Brushing Lacquer on my radio (and the table that serves as my computer desk). This is much more in line with what vintage pieces of furniture were finished with. I used "Super Clear Semi-Gloss" #8057 for my projects. Use a good quality brush for this step. (Clean the brush with mineral spirits between uses). Allow to dry, sand lightly to remove flaws in the finish, wipe down with a tack cloth to remove the dust, and repeat the application of the lacquer. I believe that I used three coats of lacquer on the the console radio and table. If it is too hot where you are applying the finish, it may start to set up before you are ready for it to. Also, if it is humid there (it is incredibly humid here) it will stay sticky for longer than it is supposed to. As with the stain, I prefer many light coats to one heavier coat. The lacquer will want to run worse than the stain, and you definitely don't want runs in the finish.
Remember to work in a well-ventilated area (I worked in my driveway just outside of my garage).
My biggest tip: Take your time! I think that it took me 4 or 5 days to strip and refinish the radio."
Here is the table that I referred to above:
Disclaimer: I am not a professional furniture refinisher. I am a complete amateur that enjoys working on bringing old furniture back to life in my spare time. Please read and follow all manufacturer information on the products that you work with if you tackle a project like this. Also, just because I mentioned the names of some products that I used in the above correspondence, please do not take that as an endorsement of a particular product. I find that many people are satisfied with different brands / products. The brand of product that you use is up to your personal preference.
If you tackle a project like this, good luck! Please share photos of your finished product!