Beech veneer dining table

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20 Feb 2015
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I have a "family heirloom" beech-veneer dining table. The table top was starting to look somewhat shabby. The varnish had multiple minor cracks circa 1cm to 2cm long along the grain. In addition there were some long cracks across the whole width of the table which were cracks in the veneer, not just the varnish. These had a black appearance. On top of that, two slivers of veneer were detached and lost from one end of the table, which also had flakes of veneer missing on one side. So I used a scalpel to remove dirt and loose veneer from the cracks, sanded down along the grain by hand, and filled carefully using a combination of Polycell medium woodfiller and Brummer Yellow Label Interior Stopping Small Beech. The latter is water-soluble, and wipes away if wetted. I found I also had to apply some filler where the veneer had been totally sanded away near one corner - this table has been refinished before. I've sanded further with finer-grade sandpaper, and the table looks absolutely excellent.

However I'm a bit fearful about the next step. Last year I spent many hours sanding down our oak front door and the deal frame which also surrounds two side panels. It looked really good when it was sanded down, but when I gave it a coat of polyurethane varnish, it looked awful. All the minor colour-variations were accentuated. Where I'd used filler on a doorbell-wire hole, there was now a round orange spot. Ditto where I drilled out a dark knot in the deal and filled. And so on. I ended up painting the whole thing white, frame and all.

What I'd like to do with the table is seal/varnish/lacquer it such that the pale uniform colours of the sanded wood and filler are preserved as much as possible rather than accentuated. Please can you advise? I'd like a robust gloss finish that's hard-wearing. For example I don't want a French-polish-type shellac finish that might acquire white rings from hot careless cup. I'm thinking of the Ronseal water-based diamond hard floor varnish that I used on the oak parquet floors.

Thanks in advance for your expertise. I'll maybe get some pictures if that will help.
NB: I've taken some pictures with what's supposed to be a good camera, but they really aren't very good, and I can't post URLs here yet.

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