Buffing An Old Finish
By Alan Noel
Professional Wood Finisher
A long-time client asked me to come by and take a look at her dining table that I restored
some 25 years ago. There were the usual minor scratches and a few water spots here
and there but overall the finish was still in very good shape. I had seen the table a
couple of times over the years and was happy to see that the finish, good ol' nitro
cellulose lacquer, the workhorse of the industry for many years, had held up very well
for a couple of reasons. First, my client took care of the table/finish exactly how
I explained it to her, "use nothing but a damp cloth to dust it with and NEVER use any type
of liquid polishes." Secondly, the table was never in direct sun light...the killer of all
finishes over time.
Wet sanding is the key to a fine finish and for reviving an older finish. Using mineral spirits,
NOT the odorless type, and 1500 wet dry paper, I first wet sanded the water spots which faded
very fast. Next, I lightly wet sanded the entire table in sections, wiping each one dry before
moving on to the next one.
I have always used the same approach to polishing by using a power buffer with a wool bonnet. Using no pressure other than the weight of the buffer, I polish in sections using
nothing but water and rottenstone to create a "slurry." As you
can imagine this can get messy but it's very effective. I go with the flow of the buffer in
circular motions making sure the slurry doesn't dry by adding water with a spray bottle. Even though you're making a bloody mess, you can see the sheen very easily
through the haze that the polishing creates. Next, I wipe the entire surface with a wet rag to remove
what's left of the slurry. Then dry it with a clean cloth. Now the polished surface is looking great.
Next, I use another buffer with a new wool bonnet to do the final polish using nothing
but a little water to cool the surface as I buff. First, polish in the direction of the buffer, clockwise,
then polish in a counterclockwise motion with virtually no pressure,
letting the buffer actually "skim" the surface to remove any swirl marks that may be left
on the surface. The last step is to do a final wipe down with a damp rag, wiping in the direction of the grain.
A few thoughts on the buffers.
- Keep the buffer bonnet wet when using the slurry and let it dry when finished with this part of the job.
- When using the dry buffer on the different sections, clean the buffer
after each section by placing the buffer on your knee, squeeze the trigger and use a screw driver to scrape the bonnet gently, which will remove the buffing dust
from the bonnet. This is a must because a dirty bonnet will scratch the surface and create swirl marks, causing you to have to wet sand those areas and start over.
- When using the buffers, start using them on slow speeds first. They are just as effective on slower speeds and this helps
to keep from making mistakes, like trying to speed up the process and burning the finish.
- After the "wet" buffer has dried out, clean it the same way.
- Lastly, be sure to use a very firm grip with your feet and legs apart because a buffer can get away from you if you are not careful. Also, ALWAYS start with the buffer on the surface.
I demonstrate this complete process in my Finishing the Finish class held at Highland Woodworking throughout the year.
Alan can be reached directly via email c/o Alan Noel Furniture Refinishing at email@example.com. You can also visit Alan's website by CLICKING HERE.
Visiting Atlanta? Attend one of Alan's upcoming highly informative Highland Woodworking wood
December 2, 2017 Finishing 101
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December 13, 2017 Finishing the Finish