African Pygmy door Table

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Project by JamesRyan posted 09-26-2008 12:50 AM 3780 views 1 time favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
African Pygmy door Table
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I am looking for assistance on refinishing a Door:
Recently I returned from Africa with a pygmy door that I plan to turn into a coffee table (yes they are that small). The door is stunning in some areas you can still see the original coloring, unfortunately somebody along the life of the door added a varnish top coat (I can only assume) without cleaning the door thus trapping all the dirt, mud etc on and hiding the coloring.

I would like some recommendations for a very simple (mild) stripper to remove the top coats and clean the wood. I do not want to sand the door due to its delicate carving as well as I might remove to coloring.

Any recommendations will be great.
PS – I know the photo is not the best and the color is most hidden but for those of you interested I have attached it.
James Ryan

7 comments so far

View trifern's profile


8135 posts in 3970 days

#1 posted 09-26-2008 01:09 AM

You might try a mixture of denatured alcohol and brush cleaner.

-- My favorite piece is my last one, my best piece is my next one.

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4530 days

#2 posted 09-26-2008 04:52 AM

wow! what a find. I’d approach that as carefully as I could – if I dared. might be worth looking up some museum cleaning/preservation methods? any chemical stripper (and I’ve had lots of luck with the green ones) still would need a bit of scraping – even if you resorted to dental tools and small scrapers, chisels or even pallet knives to get into the nooks and crannies.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14179 posts in 4186 days

#3 posted 09-26-2008 05:56 AM

go to and send a email to Laura Reutter. She is founder of Ravenstone tile. She has worked in a museum as a antique restorer. She may give you sound advice or poit you to the right person or website.

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4502 days

#4 posted 09-26-2008 01:00 PM

I think I’d just try rubbing it with linseed oil, & mineral spirits, or mineral oil.

I’d hate to lose any of the patina,

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View SPHinTampa's profile


567 posts in 3888 days

#5 posted 09-27-2008 05:44 PM

One of my other hobbies is collecting ethnic art, including african. Based on my experience , I would be careful removing any of the “dirt” as it was likely added during the initial finishing process and you will expose bare, unfinished wood when you remove it.

This looks like a Dogon trade piece – a granary door – and, in order to simulate age, the craftsman may have mixed in sand during the dye process.

-- Shawn, I ask in order to learn

View JamesRyan's profile


9 posts in 3909 days

#6 posted 09-27-2008 07:27 PM

Very close, live in the same – so maybe they share artisans. I am no expert.
My only counter point is when looking really closely you can see that the dark “dirt” layer is above a color layer – I see Red / Orange and some yellow areas. At first I thought maybe clay coloring but is definitely some form of pigmentation / stain.

I came from a guest house the “Marriage house” (look closely at the carvings), maybe it was a granary at some point.


View pedrorc's profile


72 posts in 4160 days

#7 posted 10-02-2008 09:05 PM

Hi James,very nice old peace. You can use a moisture in equal parts of terebentine, alcohol 96º and ammonia, for cleaning, use steel wool (nº 0000), after clean the rest with a mop with alcohol. For finishing, use shellac and wax. I was use this methode to cleaning this peace from India. Enjoy the work.


-- Pedro Rodrigues da Costa, Sintra, Portugal

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