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Refinishing a Hard Rock Maple Table

lumberhack's picture

I just bought a used hard rock maple dining room table that needs the finish on the tabletop rejuvenated.  I just finished scrubbing the top with Murphy's Oil Soap and it looks a lot better than when I started, but it isn't quite yet ready for the kitchen.  I'm not sure what the finish on the top even is, or even how old the table is for that matter.  It looks to me like the finish may have gotten wet at some time, probably underneath a table cloth by the looks of the pattern that's embossed in the finish.  The two leaves that came with the table look even rougher than the table itself.  The furniture dealer suggested I use Olde English oil to restore the finish. 

Is that the best approach for restoring the luster on hard rock maple or is there something better? 

I've got three kids that are going to do their best to destroy the table - I'm looking for something that will hold up well to daily use (and abuse) and can be done relatively easily when it needs to be redone.



forestgirl's picture

(post #82540, reply #1 of 6)

From the sounds of it, Olde English isn't going to help you much.  You'll need to determine what the finish is, then decide whether to strip it or take a less drastic restoration approach.

The test for finish type is a progressive one:  using Q-tips, apply a bit of

  • denatured alcohol -- if the finish dissolves, it's shellac; if that fails, then with a new Q-tip apply

  • laquer thinner -- if the finish dissolves , it's lacquer; if not go next to

  • methylene chloride, which dissolves varnish

Take a look at this thread for a discussion on one of the ways to approach this task.


forestgirl -- you can take the girl out of the forest, but you can't take the forest out of the girl   ;-)

forestgirl -- you can take the girl out of the forest, but you can't take the forest out of the girl ;-) 

lumberhack's picture

(post #82540, reply #4 of 6)

Thanks for the advice!  Based on your suggestion. I tried the different solvents in the order you gave them.  The finish turned out to be shellac.  I'd estimate that the original finish is restorable, with the possible exception of one of the table leaves.  I guess the bad leaf will serve as my practice piece - if I mess it up, no great loss.

How well does shellac hold up to everyday use?

forestgirl's picture

(post #82540, reply #5 of 6)

Jim, shellac on its own isn't particularly durable.  But what you can do, if you want to restore the shellac, is apply 2 or 3 coats of shellac, and then apply a final coat of varnish.  I'm assuming you plan to do some "reamalgamation" type restoration.

Is this likely to be the first and last piece of furniture you'll ever restore or refinish?  If the answer is "no" -- if you anticipate occasionally picking up a sweet table or chair or whatever now and again -- I'd recommend you get a copy of Bruce Johnson's book "The Weekend Refinisher."  It is well-written, pretty comprehensive for a book of this type, and very straightforward.  In an evening or two's reading you can look at the various options and choose one, follow along and complete your project within a few days.

forestgirl -- you can take the girl out of the forest, but you can't take the forest out of the girl   ;-)

forestgirl -- you can take the girl out of the forest, but you can't take the forest out of the girl ;-) 

RSRose's picture

(post #82540, reply #6 of 6)


"How well does shellac hold up to everyday use?"

Well, take a look at the existing finish on the table top. That tells you. Shellac is not the best finish for a table top that going to get hard use. And you've already said that you have 3 kids who are going to challenge any finish that you put on it.

It's only wood, Jim. And maple at that. Don't let it scare you. Show it who's boss. Sand that sucker down to bare wood and put some varnish on it and you'll have a surface that's durable and good-looking until the kids go to college.

At least 3 coats. If Varnish is not your strong suit, start with a thin wash (60:40) mineral spirits/varnish. Use alkyd, polyurethane, but not spar. The thin wash will be very easy to apply and will form a base coat. Then use a good natural bristle brush and apply the stuff full. By the time you're on your on the 3rd coat, you'll be brushing like a pro.



Edited 7/9/2002 1:43:41 PM ET by Rich Rose

dhpascoe's picture

(post #82540, reply #2 of 6)

When in doubt, I always strip it and start over. If it's worth having, it's worth doing that because you then know what you've got. Otherwise, you may end up wasting a lot of time with a table that is frequently getting damaged. In my view, old, deteriorating finishes aren't worth messing with, particularly commercial finishes that could be anything.


Paul_Snyder's picture

(post #82540, reply #3 of 6)

Here's an article that has some suggestions you can try. Please ignore the advertising - the author is a supplier of the products he recommends. Click on this link ->

Boiled down, here's the approach I would take;

1. Clean thoroughly

2. Sand lightly with 320 grit paper to remove the ridges you describe

3. Apply a wipe-on coat of polyurethane (poly thinned 50%), let dry, buff with steel wool, and apply a second coat.

4. Apply a coat of paste wax, if desired

Use the directions in this article to apply the paste wax -


F'burg, VA