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Refinishing lacquered oak moller 75 chairs with oil finish

- 30 Jun 2014 -
26 posts / 0 new

Hello, My name is Raúl and I am from Spain. I have just bought a pair of used moller 75 oak chairs with original lacquer finish. This is my first time restoring furniture. The finish is quite damaged, I guess because of water (see the photo) and daily use. I would like to refinish them, but instead of a lacquer finish, I would like an open-grain oil finish. I have read several internet articles and a pair of books about furniture repair and refinishing but I am still in doubt about te possibility of refinishing into open-grain oil finish coming from a lacquered finish. I understand the first step should be removing the lacquer with a chemical stripper for lacquer. The second step would be finish sanding to prepare the wood for the oil finish over open grain oak(I am thinking about tung oil). I am not sure if after striping and sanding, the surface of the oak wood will be ready to receive the oil finish. I do not know if JL Moller, before aplying the laquer finish, did any sealing and/or filling of the wood. In that case, will the stripping/sanding be able to remove that sealing/filling so that oil can effectively penetrate the wood? I would be really grateful if any one could give me some clue whether is it possible or not to refinish a lacquered oak wood into open-grain oiled oak wood. Thank you in advance for your attention and reply! Raúl


- 30 Jun 2014

Are those oak?
I've never seen that chair in anything but teak. Looks like that could be faded teak. I'm not an expert on wood species, though.

Either way, all you need to do is remove the lacquer with lacquer thinner or acetone (that's what it's called in the US, not sure about Spain). This is easy in that the lacquer will soften and dissolve right away, but difficult in that the acetone evaporates almost faster than you can wipe off the finish. When the acetone evaporates, the old lacquer immediately starts to harden again! You have to work very quickly. I find it is very helpful to have a small squeeze bottle of acetone for rewetting the area I"m working on. This minimizes waste, too. You will lose a LOT of acetone to evaporation if you're not careful.

Once the lacquer is completely removed, you should be able to just oil the wood. Acetone doesn't raise the grain so no sanding is necessary, but if you do feel any roughness and you're sure it's not lacquer residue, a very light sanding with fine grit is ok.

On the other hand, if this is teak and it's this faded, it might help to sand away the faded surface...? Do the wood experts here recommend that? I personally have dyed faded teak with aniline dyes (alcohol base to be compatible with the oil finish that I added later). You can also use wood stain, I think.

- 30 Jun 2014

Sorry, forgot--
to my knowledge, after seeing many, many Moller chairs, they never used grain filler on them.

And as far as I know, lacquer itself is a sealer and does not need another sealer prior to its application.

- 01 Jul 2014

Thank you for your detailed...
Thank you for your detailed reply Spanky

The only one thing I am sure about, is that the wood is oak (I enclose other photos). The moller 75 is actually under production in oak by JL Moller (. Searching in google there are lots of examples:

Thank you for the acetone advise for not rising the grain. I will start by just stripping the wood with acetone or lacquer thinner and see what happens.

The clear stain/decoloration, IMO, is just the real color of the oak wood because of the ausence of lacquer.

Any one else with experience in refinishing Moller oak lacquered chairs?


- 01 Jul 2014

They're oak.

If the...
They're oak.

If the finish is lacquer it will be dissolved by acetone as spanky said. If it is something else like an polyurethane then you will need to use a chemical stripper.

Anywa once you've got the old finish off you can oil them with just about any oil you would like to use. I would avoid any oil with colorant in it, though. So I would go for boiled linseed oil or tung oil. (Note that tung oil is a bit more complicated to use so read up on thinning it, etc). Don't leave oily rags balled up afterwards, or the rags will self ignite and burn. Lay them out flat outside to dry.

Note that an oil finish is likely to change the appearance of the chairs. This is for the better in my opinion. It will darken them and bring out a depth of color in the wood.

Are you aware of danish soap finishes on oak?

- 01 Jul 2014

Agreed that a Danish "soap finish" would look best... on the oak...on these sweet chairs.


Aunt Mark

- 01 Jul 2014

Ah, ok, yes--oak.
I'd look into a soap finish for them, too. It's so easy to maintain, and also safer to do with the upholstery in place if you are not planning to redo that.

- 02 Jul 2014

Thank you for your advice...
Thank you for your advice and replies.

First of all, thank you for confirming that after stripping the lacquer, the surface of the wood will be ready for the finishing; soap or oil.

I was thinking about oiling first, but now, after reading your comments, I am considering soap finish too .

JL MOLLER give plenty of advice about manteinance of soap finish:

I will reupholster the chairs in black leather so a soap finish would add a nice contrast.

There are interesting threads in this forum about soap finish:

As soon as I refinish and reupholster the chairs I will post some photos here for any one interested in refinishing oak chairs.


- 13 Dec 2014

Hi all!

I am writing to ask about the reason why the oak wood of an moller 75 chair gets a reddish color after soap finishing it.

I enclose a pair of photos of a chair before soap finishing and the other after being soap finished. You can see the differencie in colour. I thought that soap finish was neutral and did not change the colour of the wood.

I have just used DP soap flakes and demineralised water (50/50 mix).

Anyone help? Thank you in advance.

- 13 Dec 2014

The one on the left looks slightly pinkish, is that what you're talking about?  Soap is alkaline--could it maybe have reacted with the tannins in the oak?  I don't really know anything about this.

I do know that the pine floors in Denmark are treated with lye to get rid of the natural yellow pigment in the wood, then they are soaped.  And often the soap has titanium white pigment in it to give an even paler color to the finish.  

- 13 Dec 2014

What did you use to remove the old finish?  And how completely was it removed?  

I am wondering if soap, and unknown stripper chemicals, and possibly tannin in the oak is reacting to create the color.  

- 14 Dec 2014

Thank you Spanky and Leif for replies.

The chair on the left with the pinkish colour has been soaped. The one on the right has just bean stripped and cleaned, just unfinished oak.

I have used an special wood stripper:

After stripping using 3m scotchbrite instead steel wool, I have cleaned the chair with white spirit first, and then with demineralised water and soap. The colour of the wood after this process was natural.

The soap finish process has been the following:

- Sand the wood with 3m sandblaster 220 grit.

- Apply a 50/50 mix of dri-pak soap flakes and demineralised water with a cloth. Leve it for 5 minutes.

- Retire the excess with a damp cloth.Leave it dry for 1 hour.

- Repeat the process for 3 times (with 400 grit instead of 220 grit).

Afer this, the original natural colour has turned into a pinkish one I do no like at all.

All your comments and suggestions are wellcome! Thx in advance!

- 14 Dec 2014

I would also suspect a chemical reaction causing the pinkish blush. If that is the cause, removal might be a problem for which a two-part wood bleach would be a last resort. Anyway, Raul, I think you know the steps by now; less-to-more aggressive.

I'm sorry for you that the finish didn't turn out satisfactorily after all your hard work. Believe me when I tell you that I feel your pain, brother. I find final finishing the least pleasurable part of the process, which is why oil is my default choice. It is by far the easiest.

Once you've got the chair back to a proper starting point, I'd recommend testing on the rails or other unseen areas with different brands of soap and distilled water.

Oh, quick question. The 400P 3M sandpaper that you used wasn't purple in color by any chance, was it?

- 14 Dec 2014

Hi Tktoo,

I confirm the 3M sandpaper is purple!... Now you are asking... purple and pink are similar colours... Do you think the sandpaper could be the cause of the problem? I am intrigued with your question! May be you have hit the spot!

Link to the flexible 3M finishing pads I have used:

I just chose soap finish because I thought it was the most natural, easy and safe finish, and it did not change at all the appearence of the natural wood... I have 5 more oak moller chairs to finish yet and 1 kurt ostervig oak table!

I won't touch them by now until I solve the problem with the first one...

Thank you in advance!

- 14 Dec 2014

Raul, it occurred to me suddenly that the color seems to have appeared during your sanding/soap application process. If it had appeared after stripping, I'd have suspected a reaction caused by ammonia-based alkali in the stripper, but I suppose it is possible that sandpaper residue in the pores could be to blame, however improbable. It's just another variable to consider.

I think spanky and Leif may both be on a more likely track with the tannin-reaction theory, so changing the soap and water would make sense, too. Here in the US soap flakes are not common, so, from what I gather, people use Ivory brand bar soap and a cheese grater when soap finishing.

My opinion is that for all its minimal beauty, ease of application and repair, a soap finish provides the least protection and is about the least durable of all your choices. If it's the look of bare wood that you like, you might consider a wax instead of soap. A microcrystalline like Renaissance Wax is relatively hard, water-white, and would provide a half-step better protection and durability. Just a thought.

Of course, with either soap, wax, or oil, freshly-sanded oak will eventually darken steadily toward a rich nut brown anyway. It can't be prevented, only delayed.

- 14 Dec 2014

When does the color change?  If it is the sandpaper, I would imagine you could notice it turning pinkish as you sand. 

If it is a chemical reaction, it will develop slowly. Perhaps you might notice it after 10 minutes, perhaps an hour. When I ebonize red oak with tea and iron acetate it takes about 20 minutes for the color to fly realize (maybe longer; I just walk away and by the time I get back it is black)

You should be able to get the soap to release staining material by wetting it perhaps with boiling water. If it is sandpaper residue or some other small foreign particle, I would think this would be a good test. 

My experience with ebonizing would suggest that if it is a water facilitated chemical reaction with the tannins and some unknown chemical, the color will not reach deep into the wood, and a moderate sanding will suffice to remove it. 

- 14 Dec 2014

I stripped and cleaned both chairs too weeks ago, and the colour has been the original one in these two weeks. Hence the stripping and cleaning looks like not being the cause.

It was yesterday, after I sanded and soap finished the first chair when the colour of the wood has changed. I thought it would return to the natural oak colour after fully dry, but it has not.

Following your recommendations, I will try to remove the pinkish color, from less to more aggresive:

- 1st I will try to remove it cleaning it with boiling demineralised water and, when dry, sanding it with 220 sandpaper (not the 3M purple sand paper, a different one)

- 2nd, in case the 1st test doesn't work, I will try with a wood blecher (

I will keep you informed about the results. Thanks for your time!

- 14 Dec 2014

Good approach, Raul. Liberon Wood Bleacher is simply a pre-mixed oxalic acid solution and may well work to remove the pink-ish blush without altering the natural color of the wood. If, after three applications, the stain persists, a two-part catalized wood bleach is your final alternative. These, however, are particularly nasty and hazardous to use and can remove natural color from the wood.

You don't want to hear this, but I'd also recommend sanding up through the grades to 600P before applying a final finish. Especially on areas that will receive the most handling. It will make a difference.

Bon chance!

- 15 Dec 2014

Wish I had caught this thread at the beginning.

My advice would have been to restore the lacquer finish.  As it turned out, perhaps the owner would now agree with that assessment ?

Without being able from my own expreriece to have predicted the outcome in all its troublesome detail, it nevertheless would have occurred  to me to caution that changing horses in midstream can't be counted on to provide satisfaction.  That is, once the original finish had been applied to the oak, the fate of these chairs was (literally) sealed. I can't imagine that any amount of stripping, sanding, wire brushing, etc, would remove all the lacquer from the pores of the wood -- and those open pores were apparently the appeal to the owner when he sought to achieve an oiled or soaped finish.

I'm impressed with the amount of trouble that dedicated collectors will go to, to achieve their aims.  Perhaps it is the aims that need to be assessed ?  My own experience tells me that no two different methods -- much less an almost unpredictable mix-and-match of means and materials -- can ever reproduce exactly a given result achieved originally otherwise.  That said, there's no saying that a result which pleases the owner can't be achieved, sooner or later ? It may, however, have little to do with an original factory finish !

I'm a "less is more" kind of guy;  easier and simpler is best.  Maybe I'm just lazy ?  In any event, my position appears at the end of a long career during which I often feared to dive in "where angels fear to tread" -- though I've done my share of inventing on the fly . . .


And we all learn from the experieces of others.  Have we all learned something with this project ?

- 15 Dec 2014

SDR, is there a way to restore a lacquer finish?  From my experience with it and everything I've read about it, it chips off as it wears.  As opposed to just wearing down evenly, I mean.  So if you spray lacquer over the old finish, the chipped areas will show up as unevenness in the new finish...I think?  I haven't done it so I don't know.  Maybe sanding works but then you have to get all that dust off because even the tiniest specks will mar a lacquer finish.  

I can say that in my experience it is pretty easy to remove 100% of a clear lacquer finish with lacquer thinner or acetone.  The lacquer absorbs the solvent and turns to gel and then to liquid once it's saturated.  Then you wipe it off with clean paper towels saturated with the solvent until the wood is free of traces of lacquer.  

I've done this on pieces that I've ebonized with India ink, which only adheres to bare wood.  The ink went on perfectly.  I've done it with oak with no problem.  

It's a pain in the butt to do because the solvent evaporates so quickly, but it does work.


- 16 Dec 2014

Yes, finish removers destroy lacquer and other finishes quickly -- I'm not aware of a professional finisher who uses just thinner to remove lacquer.  But perhaps the chemicals are an issue for some. Fixing a worn and chipped lacquer finish shouldn't necessarily require the removal of all the finish, it seems to me;  wouldn't it be enough to remove damaged finish where necessary and sand the whole piece, then spray new lacquer -- assuming we're talking about a clear finish ?

I wouldn't attempt finishing without the availability of compressed air.  But a tack cloth works well (I made my own, last time, by wetting a clean rag with paint thinner.) Oak is a special case, wherein the open pores fill with finish which I suspect remains after even the most throrough stripping . . .

I really shouldn't be speaking to finish procedures, as it's the thing I know least about.  But I'm learning to get a good finish with clear poly.  I re-did some café tops last year;  I stripped the old ffinish, sanded with an orbital sander to 150, then rolled and brushed out three coats of poly, sanding with the orbital after every layer with 220 paper -- because I was finishing outdoors and couldn't control the air-borne specks.  The result was a super-flat flawless finish . . .

Flat surfaces are easy !

- 16 Dec 2014

Points taken!

Using chemical strippers may be more efficient than acetone or lacquer thinner for stripping lacquer, in some respects.  For me, not so much---I just go outside on the concrete driveway and go at it with a respirator, paper towels and maybe some foil to wrap around the soaked paper towels that are wrapped around the furniture parts (it retards evaporation).  No sanding, no compressed air, no tack cloths.  

I have a set of Swedish dining chairs with paper cord seats and frames of beech and teak.  The original lacquer finish is scratched and chipping and looks awful.  Someday I will get around to stripping them all and then I'm going to do rub-on polyurethane.  I used it on my wenge coffee table top and really liked how it turned out.  

- 16 Dec 2014

Cool. Everyone needs to use techniques that work for them.  There's more than one way to strip a cat. (What ?)

I tried rub-on on a table top -- but without enough experiece I wasn't pleased:  I couldn't get the edges of my patches to blend. It would make more sense for a chair, as a starter ?  I like the patina . . .

- 18 Dec 2014

Isn't that a characteristic of polyurethane--that you can't blend the edges of it at all?  It's hard to touch up.  I put it on a new wood top so I didn't have that issue.  

I also used it on new jatoba once and had to do a LOT of coats before it had an even sheen.  Like 8, I think?  Only had to do 2-3 on the new wenge table top.  It looks like a good oil finish but I don't have to worry much about spills and drips.  Not that I don't have coasters on it all the time but with a 6-year-old grandson, it's nice not to have to play Drip Police.

- 18 Dec 2014

I only tried it once, on a raw piece of walnut made for a table cover.  I followed the directions, which called for doing a patch at a time. I was experimenting with a scrap of the same material.  Maybe if I'd tried to do the whole surface, by wetting it first with thinner to get it to spread ?  

I think I'd do better with regular poly, and steel wooling it down to a matte ?

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