How to Refinish Broyhill Brasilia

I’m pretty excited about today’s how-to. I’ve been wanting to share this process with you for awhile but wanted to get the recipe right before I did.  Perhaps you remember the Brasilia harvest table I picked up a couple weeks ago? I’ve refinished it and another Brasilia dining table and today I’m going to take you through the process of how I did it.

Inspired by architect Oscar Niemeyer’s designs for the planned Brazilian city of Brasilia, Broyhill’s Brasilia line is as popular today as it was when it was introduced in 1962. Like any furniture that’s been around 50 years, many pieces are worse for wear. This is compounded by the fact that the original finish on Brasilia is heavily tinted and isn’t extremely durable—it has a tendency to wear completely off with heavy use, exposing the much lighter natural color of the wood. This was the problem with my Brasilia tables.

Worn spots show up as bright patches in the finish.

Worn spots show up as bright patches in the finish.

So then, the issue becomes how do you refinish Brasilia to look factory fresh? It’s not as hard as it sounds. Let’s get started.

Stripper, Refinisher and Stripper Wash

Stripper, Refinisher and Stripper Wash

The first step is to remove the old finish. After stripping a few of these, I can tell you the original finish is a snotty mess to remove. I don’t recommend safety or citrus strippers here, you’ll want something that works faster. I use a methylene chloride based semi-paste stripper to get the job done. This stuff is serious though, so use it outdoors only and with proper safety equipment. I use army surplus chemical gloves that cover my forearms. Spread the stripper on with a disposable bristle paint brush and let it work for about 10 minutes. Use a putty knife to remove the stripper and wipe any excess off the surface with paper towels.

Since the color of Brasilia is actually a sprayed on lacquer instead of the wood, you’ll probably notice that some of it is left behind in streaks and blotches after the stripping. To remove those last bits I use Furniture refinisher. Dip #00 steel wool into the refinisher and rub it into the surface of the wood, removing any remaining finish or dyes. When you’re done, dip a paper towel in the refinisher and wipe down the entire surface. You may also wish to wipe down the entire piece with stripper wash to remove stripper or refinisher residue.

Quarter sheet sander.

Quarter sheet sander.

If you’re not already friends with the quarter-sheet palm sander, now is probably a good time to become acquainted. Seriously I couldn’t get half of my projects done if it wasn’t for this lifesaver. I always use mine attached to my shop vac. Not only does this reduce dust in your workspace, but it also keeps dust from gumming up on your sandpaper so it will last longer. If there are stains to remove or serious wear I will start with 150 grit, otherwise I only sand with 220 grit sandpaper.

Mineral spirits.

Mineral spirits.

After sanding, I usually wipe the surface down with a rag soaked in mineral spirits. This helps remove any dust and prepares the surface for finishing.

Ready for stain.

Ready for stain.

The most remarkable thing is just how much lighter the wood is with the finish removed. Without using the proper stain, a refinished piece of Brasilia will in no way resemble a factory finished piece.

General Finishes Antique Walnut Gel Stain.

General Finishes Antique Walnut Gel Stain.

This ingredient is the most critical in the recipe. Although alternatives may exist that will provide a satisfactory result, General Finishes Antique Walnut Gel Stain is the only product I’ve found that produces a near match to the factory finish. It does such a good job and is so easy to use that I’ve not bothered researching alternatives. Using a foam brush or rag, coat the surface the stain. Using a clean cotton rag, wipe the surface down completely in the direction of the grain, making sure there are no streaks or wipe marks. Most pieces require two or three applications to accurately match the color, allow at least six hours between coats (I generally wait 24 hours). Do not buff or sand between coats or before top coating.

General Finishes Arm-R-Seal Satin Urethane.

General Finishes Arm-R-Seal Satin Urethane.

Once you’re happy with the color, it’s time to topcoat. You can use any oil or urethane topcoat product you prefer, my personal preference is General Finishes Arm-R-Seal wipe-on satin urethane. I like this product because it has a satin finish that’s closer to the original than many other products (like Minwax or Varathane) that tend to be very shiny and plastic-like. Using a neatly folded piece of t-shirt material, quickly wipe the surface with an even coat. Once you’ve coated the entire piece, use the rag to very gently smooth the finish with the grain using long strokes the entire length of the surface. Allow to dry at least six hours and then smooth with a 320 grit sanding sponge. Avoid steel wool as it can sometimes cause subsequent coats to become shiny. Apply at least three coats.

After the final coat has dried at least 48 hours, check for any unevenness in sheen. If there are streaks or dull spots you can buff out the finish to an even sheen. For this, purchase a bottle of mineral oil from your local pharmacy. Wipe the entire surface with the mineral oil and then buff with a 320 grit sanding pad (preferably one that is used) gently in the direction of the grain. Use light pressure and keep the pad lubricated at all times, dipping into a bowl of mineral oil periodically. Wipe the surface completely dry with paper towels and buff with a cotton rag. Repeat if trouble spots remain.

Before.

Before.

During.

During.

After.

After.

After.

After.

Not bad, huh? Refinishing also helped match the removable leaves which were darker, having never been exposed to light or air.

Before.

Before.

IMG_6204

After

It’s a little harder to see the difference here, but there is literally no finish on the “before” table. Most importantly, the refinished table top is a dead match to the legs which were not refinished. This is key because I prefer to only refinish what needs refinishing—such as a table or dresser top—and leave everything else original. This process seems to get the job done.

Now if you see an embattled piece of Brasilia here or there, you can buy it with confidence knowing you can bring it back to life. And if you do, please share a photo with us! We love to hear how your projects turn out and what tips and tricks you’ve learned along the way.

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12 Comments

  1. Geena
    Posted January 27, 2015 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I just finished staining the drawers of my Brasilia dresser with the guidance of your post. I’m still uncertain if I want to use a topcoat like you did. Would you recommend it for a dresser? I don’t want the piece to look shiny by any means, but I do want some protection from dust that could possibly settle (?). Would the urethane discolor the furniture over time? Any suggestions are appreciated! Thank you.

    • Austin
      Posted January 28, 2015 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

      Hi Geena. I do recommend top coating your furniture for protection and prolonged life—especially on surfaces like drawers that might come into contact with hands more often. The General Finishes Gel Stain used in this post does contain some urethane, so it isn’t as critical to topcoat this as a piece finished with conventional stain—but using a polyurethane top coat will provide you with a harder wearing finish.

      Originally these pieces had a sprayed on lacquer finish that was fairly thin and relatively matte in appearance. It’s very difficult to achieve this look with brush or wipe-on products, but you can get close. Most people are hesitant to use polyurethanes because they don’t like the “plastic” look it often provides. That’s why I highly recommend General Finishes Arm-R-Seal versus conventional home improvement store fare such as Varathane or Minwax. Arm-R-Seal will create some sheen, but it’s far more matte than other products. It will feel as close to the original as you can hope to get. The greatest tip I can give you to avoid the plastic gloss effect is to apply very light coats of the polyurethane and lightly sand with 220 or 320 grit between them. Avoid the temptation to overdo it with steel wool or super fine sandpapers as this will actually burnish the surface and cause the next coat to look glossier.

      You were right to raise the question of urethanes changing color over time. Oil based urethanes will amber slightly over the years and this will be exaggerated with heavy sun exposure. The good news is that on dark furniture, this color shift will be imperceptible. On light or white woods where this could be noticeable, lacquers or water based finishes are recommended as they will not amber over time.

      I hope these tips help. Feel free to share photos when you’re done. We’d love to see how your piece turns out!

  2. Jennifer
    Posted March 7, 2015 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Hi Austin, thank you for this detailed post! I am currently refinishing my grandparents brasilia dining room set and have them all stripped and sanded down. I was wondering if you had any issues with sanding with the palm sander alone? I’m concerned about uneven finish or visible scratch marks once I apply the stain. Also, the wood seems to vary a lot between light and dark once I got the dulled finish off. Did you find that the gel stain helped to even out the colors, or did it simply highlight the wood grain and colors already present?

    If you have any othe tips or tricks, I’m all ears!

    Thank you,

    Jennifer

    • Austin
      Posted April 7, 2015 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Jennifer, I’m sorry I didn’t see your comment sooner! Hopefully you’ve had success, but in the event you’re still awaiting answers, here goes: The palm sander can leave little swirly marks, so I usually never sand with grit lower than 180. The finer the grit the finer (and less apparent) the scratches. Following up with hand sanding in the direction of the grain is a good idea too. Brasilia is made of mahogany veneer which does have natural variation in the wood color. The gel stain will help even this out. If you’re particularly worried, however, you can use General Finishes aniline dye stain in Medium Brown before using the gel stain. This will flatten the wood tone even more. Follow the directions on the can (tip: flood the surface evenly, it dries fast and it’s easy to leave lap marks from brushing. A rag works best) and let it dry completely before using the gel stain. I hope that helps!

  3. McKinney
    Posted March 26, 2016 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    I bought a pair of Lane end tables that the moron seller had painted in a white antiquing effect. The stripping was the worst project I have ever taken on. Once they were stripped and sanded (and I never use orbital sanders due to unavoidable circular artifacts) I noticed some of the grain still had white paint so deeply embedded I could not sand it out.

    I resorted to a copper wire stripping brush with stripper, but even that only got 80% of it out. When I eventually topcoated it the grain appeared to have been worn thru, with uneven thin areas of the softer striations of grain that the brush must have scooped out.

    I have not tried to address this yet. Would you use a grain filler mixed with stain to fix this? Thanks!

  4. McKinney
    Posted March 26, 2016 at 3:02 am | Permalink

    PS: I did not go thru the veneer, I did not push it. Just the top when seen in certain light shows rough looking grain.

  5. Tricia
    Posted May 8, 2016 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Do you think the color of the Sculptra by Broyhill is the same as the Brasilia? I’ve got a piece that needs some love but I am worried about the color not being close enough.
    thanks!
    Tricia

  6. Sharon Rodriguez-Bur
    Posted February 7, 2017 at 1:05 am | Permalink

    What stain color for Brasillia credenza, how many coats?
    The credenza was found painted entirely black…i know i have a large project ahead of me.
    How do i remove the decorative arches on the drawers or should i leave them on…will need to get all that black paint out of those nooks n crannies. Thanks looking forward to your help.

    • Austin
      Posted May 10, 2017 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Hi Sharon, sorry for the slow response. I would recommend the stain that I’ve listed in the blog post—General Finishes Antique Walnut Gel Stain. You can also use General Finishes light or medium brown dye stain first to achieve the right color with fewer coats. I’m not sure how to remove the arches, I suspect they screw on from the back. Be careful and good luck!

  7. Julie Martin
    Posted May 3, 2017 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    I recently found a couple Brasilia pieces that need to be refinished, a commode and cathedral table. I’m going to follow your directions for refinishing.

    The top of the cathedral table has a few tiny spots where a scratch went down to the base wood, what do you recommend if I need to fill in a few spots? Also, the finish on the legs have worn off in a few areas. Would you recommend just refinishing the legs too?

    The Commode: there are issues with one leg and it looks like using a wood filler could help.

    What product do you recommend if a wood filler needs to be used?

    Thank you.

    • Austin
      Posted May 10, 2017 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      Hi Julie, for filling holes I recommend using an epoxy resin stick by Mohawk. It comes in lots of colors, walnut will work the best. For refinishing legs, I would definitely recommend using General Finishes dye stain in light or medium brown before applying the gel stain. It will allow you to achieve a darker, more uniform color faster. Good luck! http://test.mohawk-finishing.com/catalog_browse.asp?ictnbr=113

  8. Janet
    Posted October 2, 2017 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    I have a question after smoothing with a 320 grit sanding sponge when applying the Arm-R-Seal topcoat. I assume you have to clean what you sanded before applying the next layer of topcoat? What would be the best way to do this?

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