Refinishing without refinishing

As I was walking through the paint section of my local hardware store, I spied a product on the shelves that claimed to work miracles. It was called Howard Restorafinish. The can shows a picture of someone wiping a door or tabletop that has scratches, water marks, and other nastiness and making it look brand new.

Too good to be true? Probably. But it was about five bucks. So I bought a can.I have a grandfather clock that belonged to my dad. A family friend built it for him in 1978. To most people it would be nothing special, but for whatever reason it meant a lot to my dad, and he lost it under some questionable circumstances and ended up going to a lot of trouble and expense to get it back.

Since then it’s endured four moves, and it’s spent the majority of the past 10 years sitting in basements. It sustained some damage in at least two of the moves, and in the last move it got some nasty scratches. Scratches is probably putting it nicely. I want it in my combination study/den, next to my wall-size bookcase, where I think it’d look gorgeous, but not with those huge gouges in it.

Since the clock needs to be sanded down and refinished anyway, I figured this stuff couldn’t do any harm, and I figured it was worth my five bucks to find out. So I took it home, grabbed an old sock, took the Howard Restorafinish and the sock down to the basement, and went to town.

The results were mixed. It really does seem to make minor scratches disappear. It also seems to help tired, faded color. I don’t really know how to describe it, other than spots that seem dry and lifeless. It also seems to do a good job of eliminating dirty buildup that turns the wood almost black.

The parts that were passable before now look bright and shiny–better than I ever remember it looking.

At first I was really impressed with what it did with the gouges. It recolored them. After 24 hours, I’m a bit less impressed. The cherry tint it put down is too dark. It seems where there’s no finish left to restore, its results aren’t as good. But I have to admit it still looks much better than before.

I found a few other light spots that it wasn’t able to do much of anything with. They’re minor. I can live with it.

The verdict? It didn’t exactly work miracles, but it made the clock look more than presentable again. I might need heavier-duty artillery for the spot that gave me trouble, but in all honesty I might be the only one who’ll notice it. I’m glad I spent the five bucks.

At some point I do need to sand it down and restain and refinish it. I’m sure I could sand it down, stain it and lacquer it and spend less than $100. But I really don’t have the time right now to do it. I can easily come up with five bucks and half an hour.

So I wouldn’t buy it expecting to make thrift-store furniture look like it came from Neimann Marcus, but for a scratch or a watermark on a kitchen cabinet, a piece of furniture, or a hardwood floor, it might save you a time-consuming refinishing job, or at least let you put that off until a more serious accident.

I’ll be buying the oak and walnut varieties to see what it can do for a couple of spots on my hardwood floors and my kitchen cabinets.

3 thoughts on “Refinishing without refinishing

  • October 2, 2004 at 10:01 pm
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    Sanding and refinishing is dirty and hard work. It’s great for time when you want to lose yourself in thought, but it’s never been something I enjoyed that much.

    But… that said, watching the beauty come out from a piece of wood is magnificent. My wife enjoys painting wood — I enjoy finish and stain. Why paint wood? Just buy plastic or some other manmade equivalent if you want paint.

  • October 2, 2004 at 10:54 pm
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    Thanks, Dave; that may be just the thing for a tired bathroom cabinet I’d like to put off replacing…

  • October 8, 2004 at 10:40 pm
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    Thanks for the tip, I’ll look for that refinisher. I inherited a desk from my mom this summer — the front and one side were kinda beat up from her walker. So I got a little oil-based stain and rubbed it into the scratches. That refinisher just might complete the job the easy way. It’s a nice piece of furniture, but not a museum piece, and I intend to use it as a writing desk.

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