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Thread: Correcting a bad finish on a stained / varnished desktop

  1. #1

    Correcting a bad finish on a stained / varnished desktop

    Hi all,

    I recently made my first attempt at staining and varnishing a piece of wood for my standing desk but didn't do it properly and want to have another go at it. I botched the varnish by applying the poly (image 1 below) too soon after the last coat of stain (image 2 below), which made it look patchy (image 3 below).

    Advice required

    How should I go about fixing my poor job from last time?

    I would like to do a proper job of the varnish, also darken the wood further and get a glossier look so my thoughts were


    Is there anything i'm missing here, that I should be doing when fixing a previously bad varnishing job?


    Image 1: Screenshot 2020-10-18 at 15.04.25.jpg
    Image 2: Screenshot 2020-10-18 at 14.59.43.jpg
    Image 3: Screenshot 2020-10-18 at 15.05.10.jpg

  2. #2
    Hey Brian,

    - I used an IKEA Gerton table top which I believe, is beech wood. The stain itself looked quite good and it's just the varnish that looks blotchy (I think).
    - I plan to purchase a new can of varnish that's gloss instead of matt.

  3. #3
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    Hi Zac, and welcome. Can you give us a little more detail on your application? How long did you let the stain dry? How did you apply the varnish...spray, brush, wipe on? If you wiped on, was there stain on the rag? Did you apply more than one coat of varnish? If so, did you sand in between coats? Did you rub out the finish at all?

    It looks a little like either the stain lifted a bit when you applied the varnish, or perhaps the varnish soaked into the wood more in spots and just needs another application...not sure

  4. #4
    Hi Phil,

    Thanks for replying.

    How long did you let the stain dry?

    I applied 3 coats:
    • The first coat I let dry for 18 hours before applying the second coat
    • The second coat I let dry 4 hours before applying the third coat
    • I then applied the varnish about 3 hours after the 3rd coat of stain


    How did you apply the varnish...spray, brush, wipe on?

    I used a paint brush to apply the varnish.

    Did you apply more than one coat of varnish?

    Nope. After 2-3 hours the patchy effect appeared and I went online to get some answers. A lot of forum posts with similar issues seemed to suggest that I had not left enough time between the final stain coat and the varnish. So, I decided not to layer on more coats of varnish and instead to just wait a number of weeks and start again when it was convenient.

    Finally, just to reiterate the point I made in my last comment...

    After a few weeks looking at the stain i've decided I don't love the redness of the mahogany all that much and I would like to go darker (e.g. walnut). I was considering just using a walnut varnish, sanding down and applying that on top of the mahogany. I'm not sure if that's necessarily a good option though.

  5. #5
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    If the varnish is the root of the problem it will go away as you add more coats. However, it looks to me like the wood itself is what's causing the uneven stain absorption. I know you said it looked uniform, though, after you applied it, so if that's true go ahead and apply more coats of vanish. When the sheen is uniform you will have your answer. If it looks no better at that point then you will have to strip/sand it all back to bare wood and start anew. If that ends up being the case, then I would use different approach. Blotch prone woods don't do well with hand applied dyes/stains. You will get much better color uniformity if you can spray the dye on. If you don't have spray equipment then you could seal the surface with a coat of dewaxed shellac and then apply a gel stain to get the color you want, and then apply your topcoat.

    Next time work out the entire finishing schedule on scrap, or on the bottom where it can't be seen.

    John

  6. #6
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    Hmm, not sure what happened to my first response...

    Even though beech is not usually considered to be a "blotchy" wood, it appears that the panel is a lamination of small strips. Any species of wood has variation of density from board to board, tree to tree, etc. I think some of the uneveness (is that even a word?) in the stain job is due to this. I think the rest of the uneveness is due to technique which John addresses.
    Brian

    "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger or more complicated...it takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." - E.F. Schumacher

  7. #7
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    Additional thought - you show a picture of a wood dye. Dye and stain are 2 different things. Dye gets into the wood whereas stain sits more on the wood. I think dye would not do as good a job of evening up the density variation in the wood. However as I stated in my first post (that's MIA) I am no expert on this stuff.
    Brian

    "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger or more complicated...it takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." - E.F. Schumacher

  8. #8
    Sorry for not being clearer.

    The stain/dye itself is uneven but i'm not bothered about that. The problem for me is the varnish - you'll see in the photo that some bits are shiny and some aren't. I.e. once I had finished applying the stain/dye I thought the wood looked really good and I was happy. It's once the first coat of varnish had dried that I thought "now that looks a little crap".

    I think I might go with the first suggestion from @john first, and attempt to do the varnish job fully (multi-layer). If it looks bad from that point I will go with the second suggestion (sand back fully and start again).

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zak Smith-Sanga View Post
    Sorry for not being clearer.

    The stain/dye itself is uneven but i'm not bothered about that. The problem for me is the varnish - you'll see in the photo that some bits are shiny and some aren't. I.e. once I had finished applying the stain/dye I thought the wood looked really good and I was happy. It's once the first coat of varnish had dried that I thought "now that looks a little crap".

    I think I might go with the first suggestion from @john first, and attempt to do the varnish job fully (multi-layer). If it looks bad from that point I will go with the second suggestion (sand back fully and start again).
    Ok, with that added input, definitely apply more coats of finish. It should look much better after another 2 or 3 coats.

    John

  10. #10
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    Sanding is not the best approach to remove the finish. A chemical stripper to remove old finish and dye.
    (FYI that dye contains pigment too; so, it's really STAIN).

    Blotchiness looks to be the wood... Beech can be finicky at times... It may be that while you were brushing the varnish you moved the dye/stain around; removing it from the harder/tighter grain and not removing any from the more porous grain.

    A Light spray coat of dewaxed shellac will lock it in place... Rattle can at any big box store.
    Scott

    Finishing is an 'Art & a Science'. Actually, it is a process. You must understand the properties and tendencies of the finish you are using. You must know the proper steps and techniques, then you must execute them properly.

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