What finish to use on antique dresser after fire restoration?

A while back I posted a picture of a dresser that was one of the only 2 pieces we were able to save after a house fire. These were inherited, all of my newer furniture was destroyed. My question was- to paint or not to paint? And, the overwhelming response was not to paint. Well, I didn't paint it and spent quite some time cleaning the soot first with a vinegar and water mixture to eliminate the smell then with some Murphy's oil soap. I uncovered some beautiful Birdseye maple accents which unfortunately are not very visible in the pictures. Now I'm wondering what kind of wax or finish to use to enhance the wood grain?
q what finish to use on antique dresser after fire restoration, painted furniture, painting wood furniture, After
q what finish to use on antique dresser after fire restoration, painted furniture, painting wood furniture, Before
  21 answers
  • Janet Pizaro Janet Pizaro on Jan 10, 2016
    I am sorry about your sad news. I would research the products from Min Wax.They have everything from start to finish for your project and have there own web-site.Should you decide to use these products you can purchase them at Home Depot.
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    • Janet Pizaro Janet Pizaro on Jan 10, 2016
      @Beth hey don't worry you have enough to worry about.if you need any other insite please just ask.
  • Shari Shari on Jan 10, 2016
    This is a really beautiful piece. So glad you were able to save it! After all the work you put into cleaning it up, I would recommend something natural like hemp oil. Check out this post by Miss Mustard Seed about her hemp oil. There's also a link to a video tutorial on hemp oil within that post that you might find helpful. http://missmustardseed.com/2013/01/the-wonders-of-hemp-oil/ If you don't have a Miss Mustard Seed retailer near you, Robyn Story Designs, Tampa, FL ships all Miss Mustard Seed products for FREE! Amazon carries it too but even with Amazon Prime's free shipping, it's cheaper on the Robyn Story website here: http://shop.robynstorydesigns.com/miss-mustard-seeds-milk-paint-free-shipping/?p=catalog&mode=catalog&parent=136&pg=1&pagesize=60
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    • Beth Beth on Jan 10, 2016
      @Shari I've never waxed a whole piece like this (and it's got a matching vanity with many more nooks and crannies) so I'll opt for anything that's less work at this point. It was such a long, tough job cleaning the 2 pieces so I would much rather try rubbing the oil on the dresser rather than the more difficult task of waxing. I'm not sure if there's any finish remaining on the piece though. Will the oil still work if there is? I also should mention that around the edges of the top of the dresser the wood is pretty obviously burned and my cleaning did not help. Luckily, the top was covered in glass and is unblemished.
  • Cathy Cathy on Jan 10, 2016
    It looks pretty nice the way it is. Maple does not have a lot of grain so I don't think you can improve on this much without refinishing which is not necessary. I'd just put a coat of paste wax on it to provide some protection. You could use tung oil which will draw up the colour in the wood but it won't work unless there is no existing finish on it.
    • Beth Beth on Jan 10, 2016
      @Cathy Thank you. I believe the dresser itself is mahogany with inlaid Birdseye maple (if I'm correct in what I'm calling it) which does have a really lovely swirled grain to it. It's on the upper side rails where the raised rectangles are and square design at the top. It feels like there is no finish at all since the fire and so much "stuff" came off when I cleaned it that tung oil might just work. Maybe I'll try it on a small spot on the side and if it doesn't take I'll try a paste wax or look into the hemp oil that Shari recommended.
  • Vallie Cross Vallie Cross on Jan 10, 2016
    Such a beautiful piece, I'm glad you could save it. I'm so sorry about the fire.
    • Beth Beth on Jan 11, 2016
      @Vallie Cross Thank you so much. My Mom passed away a short time before the fire and my Grandmother's furniture had only recently been brought to my house. I wish now that I had tried to save a few more pieces but everyone told me I would never get the smell out or the soot off. Oh dear, this is starting to sound like a real soap opera! Truth is, no one was hurt except for a couple of burned kitty whiskers and and paws and after the initial shock we began to look at the glass "half full". We had good insurance and ended up with a completely rebuilt new home and I was able to make all the structural changes I've wanted to make for 15 years so it had a happy ending.
  • 9530106 9530106 on Jan 10, 2016
    Your piece is beautiful. It appears to be walnut possibly, with burled walnut being the "swirled" wood pattern you refer to.The piece is lovely and quite old, I am also glad you did not paint it. Another suggestion for a finish for you to look into, is Danish oil. It is easy to use, and soaks into the wood. There are many products out there that should be easy for you to use. You have given the pieces the love and respect, so to speak, they deserve. Good luck, and blessings!
    • Beth Beth on Jan 11, 2016
      @C_ann_g Thank you very much! The information about the wood is very interesting and I'll look for some products with Danish oil, that's another one I hadn't heard of. My Mom and Grandmother always called it the Mahogany dresser so that's what I assumed it was. I think my Grandmother must have bought it in the 1920's. I Googled burled walnut and it does appear to be very similar, I think you hit the nail on the head! I assumed it must be a veneer but it honestly looks like it's all solid wood. There are no signs at all that it is lifting or peeling off like veneer does. The burled pieces seem built right into the piece and the black knobs and side pieces don't appear to be painted either, I wonder how that was done (it now kind of matches the sides of the top that are burned that color)? I'll post a picture of the dresser and matching vanity when they are all prettied up. I have some reupholstering to do on the vanity seat as well.
  • Brenda Wendorf Brenda Wendorf on Jan 10, 2016
    You did a great job. That is what I would have suggested.
  • Leslie Leslie on Jan 11, 2016
    Beth what an absolutely beautiful piece. Your hard work and dedication paid off. Now I would like to suggest something that might make you scratch your head and make you look at my post as though I am nuts. Google, "how to polish furniture with coconut oil". It is non toxic it is extremely good for the wood and a side benefit is that if you have any left over you can cook with it, and it will make your hands soft. I Season my cutting boards with it :) Good luck.
    • Beth Beth on Jan 12, 2016
      @Leslie Wow..what a coincidence, I just bought 2 jars of coconut oil from Puritans Pride to use for it's health benefits and haven't even opened them yet! Since I already have it, I'm going to Google the coconut oil polish and try it and tung oil in some inconspicuous spots and see which does the better job. I'll let you know how I make out. Thanks!
  • Mickey Baron Mickey Baron on Jan 11, 2016
    I'm SO GLAD you didn't paint her. She just needed your TLC. LOVELY!
  • Country Design Home Country Design Home on Jan 11, 2016
    Beautiful! Great job in cleaning it up! There are a ton of finishes out there, but the one thing I will caution you on is if you use a water or acrylic based product, the smoke odor may seep through, especially when it is damp or warm outside. You may think you got it all, but smoke has a way of permeating wood that is long-lasting. You want to work with oils or shellacs that have a sealing effect. Best of luck!
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    • Country Design Home Country Design Home on Jan 16, 2016
      @Beth Would love to know how that works out. I have lots of stuff I could freeze and a big unheated barn to do it in!
  • Jackie Jackie on Jan 11, 2016
    Hi! We had a fire in our shop. Just finished an antique dresser into a sink vanity. We still want to use it but the smoke smell is still there. Did the vinegar/water mix and Murphy's oil soap take away the smell? It had been done with Danish oil before the fire. Thanks
    • Beth Beth on Jan 12, 2016
      @Jackie I was told not to try to save it and the salvage folks sent by the insurance company wouldn't even try. They were the ones who told me about the vinegar and water but to be honest, I don't think it even needed it. From the day we brought it back into the house none of us could really detect any smell. I've started to believe that the 11 months it spent in an unheated POD (while the house was being rebuilt) in upstate NY in sub zero temperatures may have done the job. I would not recommend such an unproven theory but when we opened that POD, nothing in there smelled of smoke! The vinegar and water and Murphy's got the soot off but even the rags that I used didn't smell like smoke. It's a mystery but I'm in the science field and the only variable between the the things that smelled like smoke and those that didn't was that the ones that sat through the freezing winter and hot summer in the POD did not smell. Or maybe just the fact that it was basically outside for so long aired it out. I'm not sure what kind of finish it had on it if any since it had been neglected for so long. I wish I had better news for you but the folks that deal with this all the time said the vinegar and water would work. They told me to use 1/2 & 1/2 vinegar/water but I used about 1/3 vinegar and 2/3 water. I'm so sorry for your loss after putting in so much work to turn it into a vanity. Good luck and let me know how you make out.
  • Patty Patty on Jan 11, 2016
    I always heard to prevent odors and stains from coming back that you need to use a pigmented shellac, but this is such a fine piece that to be really sure I would contact someone that specializes in antique restorations. You did an outstanding job cleaning it up, it is a beautiful piece.
    • Beth Beth on Jan 12, 2016
      @patty Thank you. I'm not too worried about the smell. Although I did clean it with a vinegar and water solution just in case, it spent almost a year in an unheated POD in upstate NY before the house was ready to move back into. Surprisingly none of us could really detect a burned smell, even on the top part that was very visibly burned wood. I guess that frozen mountain air really did it some good. Now I wish I had tried to save more. Our newer furniture burned up in a flash but the antiques in the back bedrooms were hit with intense heat and fumes, I don't think they ever actually caught fire.
  • Duv310660 Duv310660 on Jan 11, 2016
    GORGEOUS!! What a great job! In my humble opinion the best finish is the one you can make work really well - this means a little experimentation & practice. That said, poly has NO place on an antique like this. I vote for tung oil or wax, whatever brand serves you well.
    • Beth Beth on Jan 12, 2016
      @Duval.26 Thanks! I'm going to try the tung oil this weekend on the dresser, matching vanity and mirror and will try to get some good pictures to post.
  • You did a wonderful job. Gorgeous piece. I refinish a lot of wood so if I may impart a bit that i've learned over the years?? From the one picture I can tell you the wood on the drawers is mahogany.( it could be a walnut and if I had a better pic, I could tell you because it's difficult to see the real coloring on a computer monitor w/the picture you provided)If you have a natural reddish tint, then it's most like mahogany. I don't know if there was a stain applied to your wood. Makers switched from oak in the earlier part of the century to mahogany starting near the 1930's. Of course these are veneers. (veneers are very thin sheets of real wood glued onto lesser quality wood. It's still solid wood, just not solid mahogany or walnut or maple, etc). Now those old antique oak dressers, most of those were solid oak tops and drawers. But as mass production started, veneers obviously became more cost productive. I can't see the top or sides of your piece, but mahogany was very popular in the late 20's 30's and 40's and parts of the 50's. Yours looks like a 'ribbon or flame' mahogany (the stripes or ribbons running horizontally). It also has a reddish tint. Walnut has no such tint. Most of the drawers in these eras were also mahogany (solid). I have a picture I'm trying to upload of a walnut veneered mid century piece made with mahogany inner drawers. should be pic 1. pic 2 is the walnut drawer fronts after sanding and completely bare. I applied a walnut stain and a glossy urethane (GF aArm r Seal) to the top, Pic #3. Pic 4 is an antique dresser similar to yours made entirely from mahogany. I redid the top by sanding and applying a tung oil. I only posted these pics so you could see the difference in mahogany and walnut, both in raw wood and stained/coated woods. So, stay away from poly top coats. They will yellow over time. Tung oil (100 percent oil not a tung oil finish) comes in a natural and dark. You could try one or the other or mix a combo. Just google how to use it, it's easy. After a few coats, tung oil builds up a natural barrier and hardens over time as it dries. It would bring out the natural beauty of the wood. Wax or beeswax could also be used, but I like the oil better. Sorry for the long-winded post. Hope this helps.
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    • @Beth glad to help. the black accenting on yours may have been a black dye. You can order the tung oil online (I get mine from The Real Milk Pain Co.) again, 100 percent oil, not oil finish! With the pure oil you must mix it w/something otherwise it's too thick. The Real milk paint co also sells the citrus solvent. It's like mineral spirits only it's completely natural and non toxic (The solvents mixed in the oils evaporate once you apply them. You need the solvent with the oil to make them spreadable). I also subscribe to a woodworkers forum online and get tons of info from the pros over there. I have a blog called Makemeprettyagain.blogspot.com if you want to see my before and after gallery. In the beginning I worked on a lot of antiques. if you scroll to the bottom you can see those and click on the link for how I did it! Thanks and keep up the good work!
  • Jackie Jackie on Jan 12, 2016
    Well, thanks so much! We live in the bush actually and the vanity is being stored outside in a shed while we build our forever home. So that is encouraging! We thought maybe a coat of verathane over the entire dresser may help, but now we will have our noses on that thing first thing this spring, and a vinegar/ water wash for sure! Thanks again, Jackie
    • Beth Beth on Jan 13, 2016
      @Jackie That's great! Does it get particularly hot or cold where you are? I was going to write you back because I remembered something our contractor who specializes in fire restoration told me just after the fire. He said the way to get the smell out of wood was to heat the wood to a certain temperature which opens the pores or grain of the wood, then sand and refinish. My dresser did sit through a particularly cold winter and very hot summer so I'm not sure just what combination of circumstances helped but we never sanded or refinished it. After the fire there was essentially no finish left on the wood at all so I don't know if that made a difference. I'm not familiar with Danish oil, would the heat from the fire extrude or burn off the finish from the wood like ours did? I'll be talking to my contractor soon so I'll ask him if he has any ideas as to whether it was the hot/cold or some combination of the two. Good luck and please let me know how you make out after the winter or if that doesn't work and you have the patience to let it sit somewhere hot afterwards. I will let you know if my contractor has any additional thoughts.
  • Patty Patty on Jan 12, 2016
    A house fire is so devastating my family went through that and we pretty much lost everything. My poor mom I didn't realize at the time how great her loss was, so many memories. Maybe your other antiques could have been restored and maybe not. I would not think about it to much, I know that is easier said than done. I wish you the best, and hope you will post a picture when you complete your beautiful dresser.
    • Beth Beth on Jan 13, 2016
      @patty Thanks so much for your kind words. I understand your mom's loss. We lost everything but this dresser and matching vanity because they were in a back room. They belonged to my grandmother, then my mom and just recently were sent to my house when my mom passed away. Once everything was rebuilt and new again it was much easier to push the memories aside but I must admit that as I work on the dresser and vanity those memories come flooding back and I sometimes wish I hadn't started it. So it really helps to hear that folks think it's coming along nicely and that it's a nice piece of furniture. I furnished the rebuilt house in kind of mid century modern look though and it's a bit out of place, maybe I'll use some funky bedside lamps and tables and call it eclectic :)
  • Leslie Leslie on Jan 13, 2016
    Most welcome, good luck. Coconut oil has so many uses it will surprise you :)
  • Kim C Kim C on Jan 13, 2016
    It's a beautiful piece and I would use Dutch Glow to bring the shine back to all surfaces. I would not varnish or poly. You did a great job.
    • Beth Beth on Jan 16, 2016
      @Thank You Kim C Nope, I won't be using poly or varnish. I've been given a few options that I may try in an inconspicuous place. I'm leaning towards tung oil
  • Jackie Jackie on Jan 13, 2016
    Hello again! We live in Northern Alberta, cold winters and warm summers, about 3 weeks of hot weather. Danish oil sinks in to the wood. We love it, comes in many different shades. It can make old wood look brand new. I guess to heat the wood to sand and refinish could be done on a really hot day in the sun, if it still has the smoke smell. You have been so helpful, I really appreciate your input here. This dresser is very ornate and after looking to replace it, there is nothing out there that would be as nice, and comes with memories like this one. I will let you know how this goes. Thanks so much! jackie
  • Patty Patty on Jan 13, 2016
    That's the way to do it, today I think most people decorate with what they love, pieces that have meaning to them, I know I do. There are ways to make them fit right in and I know you will figure it out. By putting the mid century lamps on it might just be the right touch. If I can do it, you can do it, believe me. I have pieces I bought at truly junk shops 45-50 yrs ago and yard sales I have antiques bought at auctions and antique stores and new stuff that I have used throughout my house for years. I change accessories and pillow colors etc periodically to refresh and move things from room to room sometimes when I'm cleaning, and people notice the change but they can't quite figure it out,haha. good luck and just have fun with it use lots of texture and colors you love.
  • Marion Nesbitt Marion Nesbitt on Jan 14, 2016
    Oil of some type - lemon, orange glo.. There is also a combo of boiled linseed oil and paint thinner but I don't know the recipe.
    • Beth Beth on Jan 15, 2016
      @Marion Nesbitt I'll look for some and maybe I can Google the recipe for the other
  • Carol Carol on Jan 20, 2016
    That is such a beautiful piece and I am so glad that you did not paint it. It now looks better than it ever did before. It must have been a lot of work, but so worth it. Lovely!
    • Beth Beth on Jan 20, 2016
      @Thank You Carol Thanks so much, it still has a long way to go and a matching vanity that still needs work and upholstery. I had no furniture left after the fire so I furnished the rest of the house with a more mid century look. I'm going to have to mix it up a bit and make this the eclectic room:)
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