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How to repair water damaged oak finish?

Hi All,

I originally posted this in the kitchen forum, but I think it fits here better.

I have some otherwise very nice oak kitchen cabinets that are showing some signs of use. Near the sink, the finish has been damaged by water exposure, i.e. the finish is flaking, the stain is gone and bare wood remains. On other areas near door pulls, repeated fingernail gouging has removed the finish down to bare wood.

I'd like to touch up just these areas, but need some guidance before beginning. I believe the previous finish is polyurethane or perhaps catalyzed lacquer. Since the finish on undamaged areas is very smooth, I'm guessing the pores were filled prior to staining. I'd like to just restain, but doing so would give darker stain on the open pores of the grain versus the undamaged, untouched areas.

Should I lightly sand (to remove flaking film finish) then rub in pore filler then stain?
For a finish coat, I was planning to use aerosol satin poly. Does that sound right?

Any input would be greatly appreciated.



Re: How to repair water damaged oak finish?


It sounds like you have cabinets which were sprayed with a one step lacquer which contained the stain pigments. These type finishes do not penetrate into the wood as would a separate oil or lacquer based wiping stain. The cabinet manufacturers liked these finishes because they were fast. The down side to them is that when the finish fails( usually in front of the sink first) the wood is bared and is glaringly obvious. Further, the wood remains somewhat sealed and does not like to accept touch-up stain.

You don't have alot of options. You can try using a heavy bodied brushing stain of suitable color and blend it in with a fine, soft artist brush. The alternative is a more general stripping and re-finishing of the doors. As to around the handles: you might consider finding new hardware which have back plates which would cover and protect the damaged areas.

As to revarnishing: most of these one step stain/varnishes were lacquer based because lacquer is extremely fast drying. Lacquer and polyurethane are generally not compatible. That they were lacquered is actually part of the problem in that lacquer is not nearly as water resistive as polyurethane. As you have seen, it lifted and the color left with it!

At this point, I would probably stick with a spray lacquer which is available in spray cans. I would test whatever you use first on the back of one of the smaller doors.

Also, if you do decide to touch up with an oil brushing stain, I would let it dry thoroughly and they spritz it with a little BIN spray shellac to seal it in. The aggressive solvents in lacquer might attack and lift the oil stain otherwise. BIN clear shellac has been "de-waxed" and is compatible with both lacquers and polyurethanes.

Re: How to repair water damaged oak finish?

All very useful to us newbies, thanks for the info.

Re: How to repair water damaged oak finish?

Ordjen, you have described exactly the type of water damage to my builder's grade kit cabs. You refer to using a "heavy bodied brushing stain." Pls excuse my ignorance - what is brushing stain? Thank you.

Re: How to repair water damaged oak finish?


Brushing stains were heavy bodied products designed to be brushed on evenly and left without wiping. They actually just sit on the surface without penetrating. Benjamin Moore used to make a line of them. I am not sure if they still do. In this instance, you are just trying to mask the peeled areas and then put a finish coat on top.

A thinned down oil paint in a matching woodtone might also give good results. You would have to go to a paint store that does a commercial trade. Oil paints have just about disappeared at the big box stores.

This is obviously not as good as stripping the whole door, but it is a whole lot less work.

Re: How to repair water damaged oak finish?

Ordjen, thank you for the additional info. I'll be searching out the product and get out my artist's skills. I'll post the results.

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