Refinishing a pine aquarium stand (first project)

  • Advertise with us

« back to Finishing forum

Forum topic by Rostasteve posted 03-19-2012 07:45 PM 9066 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Rostasteve's profile


5 posts in 2259 days

03-19-2012 07:45 PM

This will be my first project dealing with anything wood and would like some advice so that it doesn’t become my last project. Please bear with me. I’m at the point of information overload.

I want to refinish a pine aquarium stand that has been stained red cherry about 5 years ago. Whoever finished did a terrible job…the stain is blotchy, poly is uneven, and over the years the wear and water exposure have done their damage. I want to restain it in a darker redish shade like mahogany (not particular on the exact color). Total surface area is 70 sq.ft. Final result should look like a mid-level furniture piece…not aiming for a high end or heirloom quality here.

Given my lack of experience, simplicity is key for me—water-based clean up or using disposable items would be good.

Stain: Looking to use Minwax. Very confused on the choices. I read accounts that 1. Oil-based is blotchy on pine, 2. Gel is a pain to apply, 3. Water-based looks like paint rather than stain. I’ve ruled out the minwax polyshades line. What should I use? Should I use a pre-stain over the existing stain?

Finish: Polyurethane or Polycrylic? Oil or Water?

Application: regular brush, foam brush, cloth? I want to minimize clean up with miniral spirits.

Sanding: I’m sanding down the existing layer of poly with 120 grit. I’m not removing the existing stain. Then 150 grit before staining. Then 240 grit between stain and poly coats.

The pictures don’t show most of the imperfections. And it’s quite red in person.

17 replies so far

View chrisstef's profile


17386 posts in 3006 days

#1 posted 03-19-2012 07:57 PM

Pines tricky to stain … maybe a dye stain would be the best choice. Ive used General Finishes dye stain with good reults onsoft woods like pine. Finish, id go with wipe on poly, miniwax is fine. If you want to go full strength brush on, a foam brush will do. No need to sand after stain unless it has raised the grain and feels rough. 240 should be ok after the first coat of poly … 320 may even be better, less chance of sanding through.

Good luck and remember, around here, no pics and it didnt happen ;)

Welcome to the gang.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View Kenny 's profile


260 posts in 2447 days

#2 posted 03-19-2012 08:21 PM

First, pin is a blotch prone wood, and if it blotched originally, it will again. Charles Neil makes the absolute best product on the face of the planet for blotching, you can find it HERE. Don’t ever stain or dye pine or other blotch prone woods without it if you want to avoid the blotching. Yes, there are other products, but none that work near as well.

Second, I recommend sanding through the old stain. If it has blotched and you don’t, you will never cover the blotching without painting it. Also, staining over existing stain is going to make a really dark mess of the wood. Just start with fresh wood (ie: sand away the old stain), it will be easier to get good results.

As for color, avoid Minwax. I’ve never had good results from it, ever. I’ve switched almost totally to General Finishes, as their products are worlds away better. Yes, they cost more, but you’ll likely only need a pint unless this is a really large piece.

For finish, I would avoid poly all together for your first piece. It can be harder to get good results than it may seem.

Again, General Finishes makes an awesome finish called Arm-R-Seal that is simply wiped on and then wiped back a few minutes later to remove excess. You let dry for 12-24 hours and repaet. 3-5 coats and your good. It’s an extremely tough and durable finish and doesn’t require any special tools or talents. You don’t even need a brush!

Just be sure to hang the rags and let them dry before disposal! Oily rags can spontaneously combust if disposed of improperly. So always allow the to dry thoroughly before disposal.

Sanding, go to 220 before staining, 320 or 400 after, and 400-600 between coats of finish. And just a wipe between the finish coats! And don’t sand after the first coat of oil either. Wipe the finish with 400-600grit after the second and third coat, and if it’s smooth after the fourth, don’t even sand.
If it’s got some dust, lightly sand with 600 and finish up with a good wax. Kiwi natural shoe polish is an excellent wax, it dries hard and can be buffed to a high shine.

You may even want to pick up a 600grit foam sanding pad for the between coats sanding, they work very well and don’t cost much.

If you need sources for anything I mentioned, let me know and I’ll post links. If you have questions, just ask!

Good luck

-- Kenny

View interpim's profile


1170 posts in 3458 days

#3 posted 03-19-2012 09:09 PM

I am posting the widget to one of my pine projects I stained. The key to not blotching pine is to use a pre-treating solution before staining. I don’t remember exactly what I used, but whatever it was I am sure it was something sitting on the shelf at the Home Depot where I bought the Minwax stain. The finish on the sideboard I built was 1 good coat, following the directions on the can of the pre-treater, and 1 coat of stain. I followed the stain with a couple coats of wipe-on poly from Minwax.

Click for details

-- San Diego, CA

View Rostasteve's profile


5 posts in 2259 days

#4 posted 03-20-2012 02:08 AM

I added pictures to the original post.

General Finish is not an option for me…there’s no good place for me to get it. The couple of stores that carry it close while I’m still at work. I’m limited to what the big box stores carry. I already bought Minwax Gel Stain and oil-based poly, but was thinking of exchanging for the water-based versions if they’re easier to work with. So foam brushes are fine for both stain and poly?

Kenny, Sanding all the stain out is not an option. Gotta be honest….I don’t have the time, patience, or desire. Plus I don’t think it’s worth it. I’d rather sink those 15 hours into building a new hardwood stand :). How bad will it look as is? Or do I have to convince the wife that the distressed look is good?

Given that it’s already stained, should I still apply the pre-stain?

Here’s what it looks like after 150 grit sanding:

View Trapshter's profile


64 posts in 2393 days

#5 posted 03-20-2012 03:56 AM

I understand time is an issue. Remember the old saying never enough time to do it right the first time but always enough time to do it right the second time. Kenny is right on with his suggestion. I would do this project in small doses. Charles Neil pre stain conditioner is great on pine. You don’t like it now you will not like it when your done if you don’t do right this time either. Listen to Kenny Oh stay away from those little yellow cans
John m

-- Smile and wave boys just smile and wave

View Woodknack's profile


11626 posts in 2379 days

#6 posted 03-20-2012 06:05 AM

I get the feeling you are dead set on using stain which is the worst way to go with pine but I would recommend you reconsider and use an aniline dye, you can mail order it. I have not used dye on pine but I have used it on poplar and maple with no blotching by spritzing it on with a hand sprayer. Very, very, easy. You can also use it to tone the poly to even out any color variations you might end up with (or have already).

-- Rick M,

View Kenny 's profile


260 posts in 2447 days

#7 posted 03-20-2012 06:43 AM

Thanks for the kind words Trapshter.


In my honest opinion, if you don’t want to buy quality product or take the time to do it right, than any time or money you do invest is a waste of time and money as the results likely will be worse than what you had to start. If you want to just slop something on it just to get it done, than prime it and spray it with paint. Otherwise it’s going to look horrible staining over red stain and just slopping a finish on.

That is the biggest misconception in finishing. That you can simply buy a can of whatever at lowes, brush it on, and it’s going to be beautiful. If only life were so easy….

There are several places that will ship finish to you if you can’t make it out to buy it. And paying for shipping is better than using a sub-par product.

As well, staining over existing stain is just going to create a mess. To cover the red with stain, you’ll need to go to such a dark brown you’ll never see wood-grain. And it still might not cover. Stain is transparent or translucent, so whatever you leave under it will be visible through the top layer. Stain isn’t like paint, it’s not going to cover another color, no way. Gel stain or not, it simply will not cover it.

Foam brushes are not recommended. Gel stain is best applied with a stain applicator pad or a cotton T-shirt material folded into a pad, which you’ll need to wipe back the stain after applying anyway. You want to rub the stain in, not just brush it on and let it sit.
You can use a “painting pad” for the poly, as they work well. Lowes sells them, you can see them HERE.=

But, like I said, poly is not the easiest to use, water base or oil. It just doesn’t matter. Both are not something I’d recommend to someone who doesn’t have patience or a proper dust-free area to apply it. Poly takes time to dry, and it is almost guaranteed that you’ll end up with dust in the finish. While oil takes time to dry, it’s not the same kind of film finish you get with poly, and any dust that sticks can be rubbed out with an ultra-fine non-woven abrasive pad.

I’ve told you what will work and the proper way to do this, just as you asked. I don’t know of a better way, or even any other way.
But I really don’t think it matters anyway.
I think you’ve got a whole plan on what you’re going to do, and you really aren’t looking for advice, but more looking for justification by someone telling you that you’ve got the right idea.

Go ahead, do as you wish. I can only tell you the right way, I cannot make you care or listen any more than I can paint the sky purple.

Good luck.

-- Kenny

View Rostasteve's profile


5 posts in 2259 days

#8 posted 03-20-2012 02:18 PM

Ok, I guess I’ll need to buy lots more sandpaper. Guessing I’ll use 80 grit to get the finish and stain off then 150 and 220 before coating. Any tips on how to get the stain around the rounded trim pieces?...120 grit and lots of elbow grease?

Is there another good brand of pre-stain, stain, poly besides General Finishes? Maybe one of the local lumber yards will carry something other than the usual minwax, cabot, and rustoleum. I know I can mail order but would rather source locally.

View Vrtigo1's profile


434 posts in 2991 days

#9 posted 03-20-2012 05:42 PM

As a recent convert, I feel compelled to jump in here and offer up my 2 cents on general finishes. I used their stain and high performance poly on a recent product and was initially really skeptical about the price (it seemed to be about 2-3x the price of a comparable minwax product at home depot), but man was it worth it. I distinctly remember at one point in the project thinking to myself “wow, so this is how you get a finished surface to feel totally smooth”. I was building a plywood cabinet, and after about 6 coats of high performance, it felt as smooth to the touch as a granite countertop. I had a lot of frustration on previous products, but after I did one with general finishes I can tell you I won’t be going back, it’s that big of a difference.

View Trapshter's profile


64 posts in 2393 days

#10 posted 03-20-2012 11:23 PM

Rostasteve . Be carefull of other pre stain conditioners. min wax Makes two one is water based and the other is oil based. I have never used the water, but I have made the mistake of using the oil. The oil in the oil based conditioner will in it’s self blotch the wood. Big careful goes here. I would stay away from it. I have used Charles on several pine jobs. In fact I will post one tonight from striped down pine to a finished product. No blotch and it was very ez to do. And fast. You have to be carefull not to rub to hard or over brush when using water based products. You can cause migration of colors. I spray .vritgo mentioned it earlier in the post . You can control your colors a whole lot better when spraying . I relize you might not have spray capabilities . So go ez.. Look in my project page later . I ll post it. The schedule is Charles Neil BC, yellow dye , GF antique cherry and three coats of precat lacquer. Like the rest of the guys have already suggested . Call and order your products while your sanding the project down .they will be here by the time your done. Work a little each night on the sanding. You won’t be sorry.
John m

-- Smile and wave boys just smile and wave

View Trapshter's profile


64 posts in 2393 days

#11 posted 03-21-2012 01:31 AM

i decided not to post as a project because i did not make the piece. it was an old pine desk a friend wanted me to refinish for him . before the refinish it was finished with stain and was blotched all over. so as you can see no blotch .nice even color. and from start to finish without sanding it took about three hours to do. not true i forgot i had to apply the blotch control which dried overnight sorry

-- Smile and wave boys just smile and wave

View Rostasteve's profile


5 posts in 2259 days

#12 posted 03-21-2012 03:46 PM

Thanks all for sharing your experiences and advice! I ordered GF pre-stain, stain, and poly (all oil-based) from Rockler, it’ll take a week to get here but I have plenty of sanding to do. Minwax is going back to Lowes. Also picked up lots of 80 grit sandpaper and started sanding down to bare wood per Kenny’s advice…progress is slow, but not as bad as expected.

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 2369 days

#13 posted 03-21-2012 04:48 PM

Could Zinsser sanding sealer be used as a pre-stain conditioner? It is available at Lowes and HD and being a shellac should be compatible with, well, everything.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View seabiscuit's profile


95 posts in 2423 days

#14 posted 03-21-2012 05:21 PM

Why not just paint it? Why are you determined to stain it. It would look nice with a nice coat of fresh paint on there.

View Kenny 's profile


260 posts in 2447 days

#15 posted 03-21-2012 06:10 PM

Seabiscuit, paint does not give the glow of a stain, and it covers the wood.

And in my opinion, it wouldn’t look nearly as nice with paint as it would with a nice evenly colored stain.

BinghamtonEd, you are getting into sketchy territory there!
Shellac is a film finish, and while you can apply a stain over it, you will actually be glazing it and not staining the wood as one would normally think. Now here is where things get really iffy! Not all stains are in fact “stains”. Some of the lesser branded stains are really a dye, ore a combination of dye and stain, and will not work over shellac as a glaze. And again, glazing is not staining anyway, and it will not give the same coloring effect.

I use it at times over a stain to seal it down so I can lightly sand the surface smooth without pulling color. And since it is shellac, it is compatible with any top coat you choose.

I think what Zinsser intends it for, is a pretreatment for one of their other shellacs, which are colored shellacs in blonde and amber (if I recall correctly). You can much more easily sand their sanding sealer than their “shellac”, as their shellac is not dewaxed, where as their sealer is. I have found waxed shellac to clog up in the paper more readily.

I’m sure there are many other uses, and there are others who can give much more detailed answers than I. I’m not 100% positive about every use for sanding sealer (ie: 2lb cut of dewaxed shellac), but I have never heard of it being applied before stain. I have heard of it being used in a 1lb cut between applications of stain, as you can get a darker color this way, but never as a “blotch control” as you are suggesting it be used.

Charles Neil has several Youtube videos on stains, shellacs and other finishing topics, I suggest you watch those. They explain things better than I can, and he knows a LOT more than I as well.

-- Kenny

showing 1 through 15 of 17 replies

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics