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I have a table made around 1905 and its base was apparently stained with natural walnut, which was a common stain at the time.

Most of the stain has been sanded off, but unfortunately there are few spots, like the inside of coves where the stain seems to have settled in more deeply and has not been sanding off.

I am afraid if I use a modern stain, it will become blotching where the old walnut stain remains.

If I sand more, I am afraid I might start to distort the shape of the cove.

I do happen to have natural walnut stain because walnut trees grow in my area, however, I am not sure I can match the exact color of the existing stain, so I might still get blotches.

What should I do in this situation?

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"Antique Furniture refinisher" from someone like Minwax or Formby's (not an endorsement) is intended for just this sort of thing. It is basically a mild solvent that blends into the existing finish and redistributes it.

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Use a liquid (preferably the thick stuff, sometimes called "semi-paste") methylene chloride based wood stripper in the cracks and crevices. Use steel wool (or synthetic abrasive pad if finishing with water-based varnish) to work the cracks, crevices, and coves. Then rinse with mineral spirits (paint thinner).

Disclaimers (to preempt hand-wringing):

NO- this type of stripper is not specifically designed for this type of problem and NO it will not always work because wood fibers are porous and wood stains penetrate. But I have had some success because sometimes the discoloration is actually old finish and/or polish that will come off and it looks way better after doing this.

YES- sometimes the only option is to stain it and live with it, or stain it a darker color to hide it, or sand it out and risk losing contour detail.

YES- methylene chloride is powerful and is a suspected carcinogen; so what? I presume it will be used as directed by the manufacturer.

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  • The choice to use or not use the methlene choride is a calculated risk. Either you decide that the likely results are worth the possible risk or you decide they're not. Excellent suggestion. Sad you have to make so many disclaimers.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 23 '20 at 23:30

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