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