Jill

Blotchy gel stain on oak table

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I am absolutely a newbie with wood refinishing of all kinds. I am trying to refinish a solid oak table (and benches) my dad made years ago. I sanded it down with 120 grit sandpaper. After sanding, I applied a quick, light coat of mineral spirits as suggested by the General Finishes tutorial video to reduce lap marks on a large surface. I am using General Finishes gel stain in Brown Mahogany.

I applied my first coat of stain with a foam brush, and then wiped off the excess stain with a shop towel. The whole tabletop looks TERRIBLY blotchy. See the attached pictures: the lighter table is after 1 coat, the darker table is after 2. The table is not covered in lap marks or streaks, but with big areas that are not absorbing the stain well. After waiting and applying a second coat, it looks the same, with the same areas not accepting as much stain (which leads me to believe it is a problem with the wood itself rather than the application of stain). 

From my research, it seems as though I just need to sand off the entire finish again and start from scratch with a different game plan. Is that my best option for fixing it? Or can I salvage it at this point? I've been reading that I then need to apply dewaxed shellac or some kind of wood conditioner to help the stain go on evenly. Any suggestions on kinds?? And where to buy them? And more importantly, will that help??

Lastly, the previous finish that my dad always used on this table every time was Danish oil. Although I have sanded the surface thoroughly, is it possible the previous Danish oil having seeped in deeply is the problem as to why the stain is so blotchy?? Anything I can do about that? I am now extremely frustrated with the gel stain and am not sure if I should even bother with it anymore. If the problem is with the previous Danish oil, would it make sense to just use Danish oil again instead of a stain? I would like the table to be a medium to dark wood, and I have seen Danish oil in dark or black walnut that would be pretty (I hate the red tone of the brown mahogany stain, but the blotchiness is the more pressing concern). I would prefer to keep the wood grain visible, hence why I am using stains and not paints, but I am getting to the point I just want to give up and paint over the whole thing ?

Any help/tips/advice would be greatly appreciated!!!

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Very likely there is oil left in the wood, causing the stain to be uneven. A thorough sanding, and maybe a scrub with mineral spirits, should remove enough to remove the blotchy stain. The walnut danish oil may allow you to darken the color, while keeping a compatible finish, but it may also blotch, unless the previous finish is completely removed.

I would start with 60 or 80 grit on a random orbit sander, if you are sure it is solid wood, not veneer. Work through each successive grit, to at least 180, or even 220. I find that finer sanding helps the wood take stains more evenly.

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It is a solid slab of oak. My dad made it himself years ago. It's a couple inches thick, so I can sand quite a bit more than I have done already!

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Wiping off the stain with laquer thinner might reduce the sanding time dramatically . Gloves, respirator and outside of course. If you are on the left coast ignore this advice and start sanding.<grin>

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Before you stain oak, take a damp cloth and raise the grain a bit. Do the stain, then sand back a bit when dry. Should eliminate any issues with blotching. edit: Thats actually pretty universal advice for most woods. Helps a lot to get a uniform color.

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I am with wdwerker, my first thought was wipe down with lacquer thinner to reduce sanding time. Remember to wear nitrile gloves when handling chemicals, not latex. Nitrile gloves resist chemicals, latex will let it pass through. 

I also second wtnhighlander on starting at a lower grit, I probably would try 80 and drop to 60 if needed.

I am guessing that you did not sand deep enough due to the penetration of the Danish Oil and that is the culprit. 

Typically gel stains come out pretty even in color, that is one of their inherent characteristics. 

Good Luck. 

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12 minutes ago, toddclippinger said:

I am with wdwerker, my first thought was wipe down with lacquer thinner to reduce sanding time. Remember to wear nitrile gloves when handling chemicals, not latex. Nitrile gloves resist chemicals, latex will let it pass through. 

Thanks toddclippinger! 

I have no idea how to work with lacquer thinner on something like this. How would you suggest applying it, and do I wipe it off? Do I need to let it dry before sanding? Thanks in advance!

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Apply it generously & then wipe off quickly cause it evaporate fast. Use rags or paper towels. Don't worry too much about waiting for it to dry because by the time you put away the lacquer thinner, it'll be dry.

Be sure to use a good respirator with organic vapor cartridges, not just a dust mask. And do it outside.

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Ya it evaporates pretty fast, making sure it has dry time won't be an issue. 

I have used lacquer thinner and acetone to strip stain in a situation similar to yours and it also works on a lot of finishes too. I just pour it out, maybe  12-16 ounces at a time and start wiping it around with a rag and then start mopping it up with shop towels and rags. 

I usually go over it to do a general removal and then once for a final cleaning. If you just get the largest portion of the stain off, you might find that is sufficient to keep the sandpaper from clogging up. If it clogs faster than you care for, another round of lacquer thinner would help. 

If the table was veneered, I would rely on the chemicals to do more of the job since sanding would be limited. But with a solid top like yours, it is not so much of an issue. 

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