Refinishing an antique sewing machine table

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Forum topic by Glenn Huovinen posted 11-30-2012 11:28 PM 24799 views 1 time favorited 2 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Glenn Huovinen

66 posts in 2935 days

11-30-2012 11:28 PM

My wife bought an antique sewing machine built in a table that looks like oak. You know the kind that has a peddle.
She wants me to restore the cabinet. What should I use to first clean off the years of collecting dust and grime? I don’t want to lose the aged look just get it back to a beautiful finish. After I remove the grime what should I use as a finish?
I would appreciate suggestions.
Glenn Huovinen

-- Glenn Huovinen

2 replies so far

View JAAune's profile


1797 posts in 2311 days

#1 posted 12-01-2012 12:27 AM

I just finished working on one of those last month but it was a complete repair and refinishing operation due to extensive damage.

If the veneer and finish on yours are still completely intact you can get away with less work. I’d suggest starting by cleaning everything with a dilute detergent solution. Blue Dawn dish soap, Simple Green and Murphy’s oilsoap are the three products I tend to use. Any one of them will usually do a good job of cleaning.

Don’t go overboard and soak everything with water while doing this. Go slowly and gently with dampened rags and/or a soft toothbrush. If using the toothbrush wipe the wood frequently with a dry rag to remove the loosened grime and prevent too much water from having a chance to soak into the wood. The last thing you want is to create problems with loose joints and curling veneers.

If more aggressive cleaning is needed denatured alcohol is often effective. Scrubbing the wood with alcohol and either green or grey ScotchBrite will usually remove the top layer of finish and leave the surface very clean. This technique is trickier though and can end up removing the finish completely or unevenly if done wrong. Practice in a safe place first.

For refinished work I prefer using shellac as the first coat of finish in case there is silicone contamination on the wood. I usually topcoat with precat lacquer but practically any finish will adhere to the shellac.

Here are the pictures of the one I did. It was stripped to bare wood (no sanding) before the veneer was either replaced or repaired (lots of minute curling and chipped edges). A number of loose joints needed repair too. The metal parts were spruced up with a combination of fresh paint, buffing with Simichrome and cleaning with Simple Green.

The new wood was stained to match the old and everything was topcoated with precat lacquer. The customer was not interested in authenticity and specified that it just look as good as possible.

-- See my work at and

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2356 days

#2 posted 12-01-2012 12:36 AM

1. Strip it with either MEC or citrus based stripper. The citrus is more user friendly.
2. Scrub it down with naptha and maroon scotchbrite.
3. Finish with solvent lacquer or waterborne poly or oil poly.
4. Rub out with 0000 steel wool and paste wax.
5. Polish with a piece of old towel.
6. Admire the result.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

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