Fisheyed varnish after refinish, obvious contamination... best methods the 2nd go round'?

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Forum topic by 240sxguy posted 01-27-2014 12:45 PM 1907 views 0 times favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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9 posts in 1582 days

01-27-2014 12:45 PM

Hey everybody! First post here. I’ve read this forum as a lurker for a long time and finally decided to join after my latest debacle. I am refinishing an Ethan Allen kitchen table that was pretty banged up from years of use and a chandelier falling on it at my folks house.

I stripped it using citristrip without a problem, I think it may have had a lacquer finish. If you put anything wet on it the finish was ring city. That aside, it was pretty beaten up with chips and scratches all the way through the finish. I stained it using a custom mixed stain from Sherwin Williams (wiping stain) which in hindsight is the wrong thing to use since I’d like to wipe on my varnish coats.

I got a bunch of fisheying during the varnish stage. I was using minwax poly (which I know seems to be universally hated). The stain didn’t appear to have fisheying in it, but my wife did the actual stain job and it looked great when I got home.

Order of operations was;

1) citristrip + very fine scotchbrite to get the old finish off

2) Clean up residue with thinner as per the instructions on the can of citristrip

3) Let dry for 1+ day

4) Tack cloth

5) Stain

6) Tack cloth

7) Varnish (fisheye city) and let dry for 2 days
7a) Sand

8) Tack cloth

9) Varnish (which looked terrible so I stripped it back off immediately)

I suspect I have a contamination issue with the scratches that were on the table. Use of pledge and all that jazz.

Word on the street is that I really should be stripping with an MEK based stripper. That’s my last choice because my garage is too cold to let an MEK based stripper work worth a darn and I don’t want the fumes in the house. Is there an alternative?

Thanks guys, I sincerely appreciate it.


19 replies so far

View hydro's profile


208 posts in 1752 days

#1 posted 01-27-2014 01:19 PM

I do not think that your problem is related to the type of stripper that you used. It is most likely caused by the furniture polishes containing silicone that have been applied to the table over the years.

“Fisheyes” are caused by silicone that has embedded itself into the wood. It raises the surface tension of the finish causing it to migrate away from the contaminant. Most likely you cannot scrub, wash, or otherwise remove the silicone. This contaminant is so persistent that nothing containing even small amounts of silicones are allowed in automotive plants where finishing takes place. It’s a big problem.

Fortunately there is an easy fix. Do a search for “Fisheye Killer” and add a drop or so to each quart of finish. this eliminates the problem. I have been using this for years and have not had any issue with fisheyes since beginning to treat my finishes.

-- Minnesota Woodworkers Guild, Past President, Lifetime member.

View a1Jim's profile


117095 posts in 3578 days

#2 posted 01-27-2014 02:15 PM

I agree it probably is silicone your dealing with,I would suggest washing it down a couple times with Naptha after you striped it and then applying a 1LB cut of shellac followed by a 3lb cut,of course you want to use dewaxed shellac. Shellac adheres to almost any finish and does a great job of sealing off contaminates.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View 240sxguy's profile


9 posts in 1582 days

#3 posted 01-27-2014 02:20 PM

I agree with you guys too, the scratches were deep enough where it makes perfect sense to me that the top would have had spots of silicone contamination. I know what that stuff can do in a body shop, varnish isn’t much different.

I’ll have to do some homework on the suggestions you guys offered, I sincerely appreciate it.


View Finisherman's profile


227 posts in 1850 days

#4 posted 01-27-2014 10:33 PM

I’d say that a1Jim is giving you A-1 advice. I was going to recommend exactly that course of action.

View Hammerthumb's profile


2844 posts in 1976 days

#5 posted 01-27-2014 11:28 PM

+1 to A1Jim’s suggestion. Also, another word of advise, Make sure to wear long sleeved shirts when finishing. Have seen where anti-perspirant was the culprit causing fisheyes. I do this for any project that is large enough that I have to reach across it when finishing (like dining room tables).

-- Paul, Las Vegas

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2362 days

#6 posted 01-28-2014 12:20 AM

MEK ( methyl ethyl ketone) is the wrong stuff; it’s for welding acrylic. Use a MEC (methylene chloride) based stripper. After the stain cures for a week, top with a waterborne poly floor finish.

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

View 240sxguy's profile


9 posts in 1582 days

#7 posted 01-28-2014 02:06 AM

Thanks everybody! I’m going to get this stripped this week.

View 240sxguy's profile


9 posts in 1582 days

#8 posted 01-28-2014 03:19 PM

Hey Guys, I have another question. What if the stain doesn’t want to lay down well this time? I now see that the stain looks messed up too, it looked good before varnish went down. I do know this wiping stain from SW is supposed to have finish sprayed over it as opposed to brushed. I’m thinking the varnish reacted while it had “loosened” the stain and moved the stain away from the area too.

Would the shellac situation help with this too? Sorry for the rookie questions. Finishing has never been my strong suit and I’d like to get better at it!

Thanks for the help everyone.

View 240sxguy's profile


9 posts in 1582 days

#9 posted 01-28-2014 06:11 PM

Anyone have any problem with the spray cans of shellac? Looking online it appears as if this stuff may be a little tricky for the beginner to apply.

View JAAune's profile


1799 posts in 2317 days

#10 posted 01-28-2014 11:22 PM

Be careful with the fisheye killers. I’ve been informed that many of them are actually silicone. They work by breaking the surface tension of the entire coating so the individual fisheyes won’t show up. There’s a risk of contaminating your finishing tools with silicone which could cause more problems down the road.

The shellac trick works great but some application methods seem to work better than others. I’ve found that spraying on three super light coats of shellac works better brushing, wiping or trying to spray one heavy coat.

The spray cans of shellac aren’t bad but they aren’t as good as the Sealcoat product. Sealcoat is dewaxed whereas I’ve not yet seen dewaxed shellac in aerosol cans yet. The dewaxed stuff is compatible with just about any other finish but the other shellacs can cause adhesion issues with other products.

If you can find Sealcoat in a spray can go for it.

-- See my work at and

View Finisherman's profile


227 posts in 1850 days

#11 posted 01-28-2014 11:36 PM

The shellac in the aerosol can is dewaxed. The reason for this has to do with the fact that the wax will clog the nozzle. I’ve had good luck with those aerosol cans of shellac. You do need to apply light coats, though. I’ve found that trying to apply a heavy coat will sometimes result in unsightly ridges. The good news is that any ridges can be leveled easily by either scraping or sanding.

View OggieOglethorpe's profile


1276 posts in 2111 days

#12 posted 01-28-2014 11:39 PM

Zinnser Clear Spray Shellac = Sealcoat

The spray version is dewaxed, just like Sealcoat, as the wax will clog a spray can nozzle. It will seal just as well as a 1LB wiping, but it may orange peel a bit, requiring smoothing with 400 grit before applying the varnish. I find the washcoat easier to use than the spray cans on any thing of size, after just a little practice.

JAA is correct… Fisheye elminator IS simply more silicone. It basically turns your fisheyes into one giant fisheye. Once you use the product, you need to continue using it with all tools that contacted the fisheye eliminator.

View 240sxguy's profile


9 posts in 1582 days

#13 posted 01-28-2014 11:45 PM

You know, I did a little reading. I do have an inexpensive HVLP gun I could shoot the Shellac with. Any thoughts on this method? Heck I’d do it in my garage if it’s really the superior method. This table isn’t very large at all. I had no idea fisheye eliminator was silicone, I guess if you can’t beat em’ join em’!

Thanks for all the help guys. Sounds like either way I need a quart of Zinnser shellac. How do you guys feel about me shooting multiple coats and skipping the varnish altogether? I do have a gallon of denatured alcohol to thin the shellac with.

Who knew bug secretions would be so useful? :)


View OggieOglethorpe's profile


1276 posts in 2111 days

#14 posted 01-28-2014 11:53 PM

Thin shellac sprays GREAT! Remember, Zinnser clear and amber brush-on contains wax. Zinnser clear, in a spray can, and Sealcoat in any form, do not.

Shellac is a great, traditional, finish, as long as you understand a few things…
- It is not as durable as varnish. Wet glasses, etc… will leave white rings
- It dries REALLY SHINY! You’ll need to rub it down in sheen, a skill in itself, or add a flatting agent, if you don’t want show car shiny.
- It will always redissolve in alcohol. Spill your whiskey, strip the finish.

It is super easy to repair… White rings can be drawn out with alcohol and more shellac, and scratches, strips, etc… are easily matched with fresh product. Outside of true reproduction stuff, I prefer to use shellac as a problem solver, like your contamination problem, with something a bit more durable on top.

If you’re going 100% shellac, wax in the finish is not an issue. If you’re covering it with varnish, the wax may or may not be an issue, but to be sure, you should stick with dewaxed shellac.

View pintodeluxe's profile


5664 posts in 2814 days

#15 posted 01-28-2014 11:53 PM

Just curious, why did you use a chemical stripper rather than just sand the finish off with a random orbit sander?
Is it a veneer table, or solid wood? If you have solid wood to work with, I would sand to 100, 120, 150. Then you can have a fresh start to stain and finish the project.

I have had great luck with spraying pre-catalyzed lacquer.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

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