Restore Ercol dark finish

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30 Nov 2023
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Morning, all

I’m entirely new to woodworking, so apologies in advance for any silly questions! I also see that there are a few threads dedicated to Ercol under the Finishing tab - but I couldn’t immediately see any with the intention of keeping/restoring the dark finish! Everyone seems to want to strip it off.

I attach a couple of photos of the coffee table I bought the other day - I know it’s pretty unfashionable, but I really like the dark finish! As you can see, it’s worn really irregularly - is there any way that I can infill the wear/restore it back to the original dark finish (and what product would everyone recommend?) or do I have to strip the entire table back (with sandpaper? Or some kind of chemical?) and start varnishing again? The chap I bought it from just said he’d work through three grades of sandpaper before varnishing - but I wish I’d asked him for more detail! Googling for ‘Ercol dark varnish’ hasn’t helped me much - and I guess I can’t just French polish it all back to life, since the wear is so distinct. Any advice gratefully received!

Many thanks,
That’s quite a bizzarre wear pattern and will be a challenge to natch to the original colour without it looking like a poor match. As the legs of the table look good you may be best removing all of the finish off the upper table surface to at least have a good surface to work on. In respect of matching it might be possible using a mix of various coloured danish oils to get a close match to the legs prior to finishing off with a good wax.

Others may be along who have attempted this with more precise advice.
Thanks for this. How best to strip back the upper surface - with sandpaper or with some kind of chemical?
First, stick at it. Tables of tha era have great appeal and that one looks to be sound apart from that bit of the top. When we cleared my parents house 15 years ago I let some ercol furniture go, and regret it. Ercol still does some high end stuff, but has become a bit of a brand so they have a lower price imported range as well.

It looks like you can and should leave all the underframe alone. It also looks like you may have to strip back, sand, stain and finish the top but I always start with a minimalist approach - try a stain on the 'bad bits', if it doesn't help then you will be no worse off that you are now. Hopefully someone will be along who knows about Ercol final finishes, I suspect it was lacquer when yours was put together.

An oddball idea - depending on the 'look' of your living area and what you want to achieve - could you drape a nice quality runner/cloth over the top for now? I envision something that will cover the damage, hang down maybe 10cm all round, a rich dark colour, perhaps faux-silk, perhaos patterned or with a feature in the middle, perhaps cut from something you find in a charity shop. Cover it up, think for a while, then do a proper job in spring when you can maybe go outside to do any sanding. If you search for coffee table cloth you will get zillions of ideas from places like Etsy. Its not a long term answer but at least let's you enjoy your new table straight away and you will still see the legs/underframe shelf. If you have, or know anybody with, a powered sander it will be easier to get it done.

Another thought, maybe turn it over, hand-sand a small rectangle in the middle of the underside of the top - no one will see that unless you often have drunken visitors lying on the floor - and use that as a test area for matching.

id prob start with a test using the Jacobean dark oak

Yes, a good starting point, I think Ercol might have a bit more 'red' in it but you can always blend stains as long as they are the same type - they are either spirit based or water based. Some, as suggested above, also combine a finishing oil but I struggle with those, somehow the colour never gets deep enough. maybe its my impatience. For best effect, I would stain then finish. You can't really judge on a photo, all cameras, screens and so on are a little different. You should also work in daylight of you are trying to match.

Good luck with it.
You could have a look at the furniture "flippers" on you tube, people like Transcend Furniture Gallery
Mayfield restorations, Flipping Drawers or the higher end Thomas Johnson. These people specialise in what you want to do. Personally I think you would be best just sanding the top to bare wood up to about 250 grit and then staining with a dark oak or the darker Jacobean oak, then finish with a wax or polyurethane varnish. Go easy with the sanding, if the top is veneered you run the risk of going through the veneer especially with an electrical sander particularly round the edges of the piece. Good luck.
That is I think a spray shade stain then a spray lacquer, I can't think of an easy way to replicate that finish without a spray gun. Any stain wiped or bushed on will give a total different effect. A skilled French polisher may have good chance but still be different.
My first thoughts are that is not an original Ercol finish. I know they did do some dark finishes, but it is usual for the grain to still be dominant and in your photograph this is not the case.
I think minimal intervention is the way forward so as others have said just do the top.
Chemical stripping is the correct way to go, but you may have problems due to the materials used, so it might be sanding is the route you have to take.
Unless you have access to and experience with spray finishes, which I do not, for the finish to be applied I'd be looking at experimenting with spirit based stains on scrap timber and then a satin acrylic [floor] varnish over the top.

I can't help with how to refinish, but if you want to remove the finish without hours of sanding then scraping the surface with pieces of glass will remove it easily. A local glazier should be able to supply offcuts about 150mm x 50mm which are drawn along the surface at a ~50⁰ angle. It's a quick method with less risk of going through the veneer to my mind
Thank you all so much for your kind advice - very much appreciated!! I’m going to have a think about what approach to take and, in the meantime, the covering-it-with-a-runner idea is a winner. I’ll try and take some photos when I do manage to finish it off - this is meant to be my pregnancy project to fill long winter evenings, so we’ll see how that goes…!
Not sure why people are referencing veneer, it’s all solid timber.

Sand and then stain the piece to the colour of your choice. You could look at Rubio mono coat for example stain and finish that’s fairly simple to use and apply