Questions and Common Sense Answers with Fred Taylor

Q Somehow I have gotten a white ring, from a glass I suppose, on my 4-year-old cherry coffee table. Over the years I have cut out and saved all the remedies I have read about to fix this problem. Which one do you recommend?

A I recommend putting all your cut-out remedies in a paper bag in a corner in the kitchen near another similar receptacle. The best way to fix your ring, called “blush” in the trade, is with a telephone book. Place it over the ring on your table and open it to the page that has furniture repair people on it. Then hire a pro. Most of the old recipes for fixing rings that feature such items as cigarette ashes, toothpaste, mayonnaise and various oils start with the assumption that the finish is shellac, which is alcohol based and is only slightly resistant to water. Your 4-year-old coffee table does not have a shellac finish. It has a lacquer or catalytic lacquer finish and that is a totally different subject from shellac. In fact, intact shellac finishes are fairly rare due to shellac’s sensitivity to water and to the fact that it has not been used on factory furniture for more than 70 years. That gives you an idea of how long those old fairy tale remedies have been circulating.

Modern lacquer, under an electron microscope, has a structure like a honeycomb and the ring is caused by water trapped in the structure at the molecular level. The water really wants to be out and sometimes, if you are patient, it will work its way out. Therefore the first remedy is to do nothing for four days. That means no lemon oil, no polish, NO NOTHING. Leave it alone. If that doesn’t work, call a competent touch-up artist who can fix it in two minutes with his spray can of butyl cellusolve, also known as “No Blush.”

Q We just installed Mexican tile in our kitchen and my mother has suggested putting wheels on our oak chairs so we don’t scratch the new tile. Will that work?

A In most situations mothers are very handy to have around. This is not one of them. Your oak kitchen chairs are not engineered to handle the stress that will be placed on them if they have wheels, especially if they roll on an uneven surface like Mexican tile. To start with, you will have to cut the legs on your chairs to compensate for the height difference caused by wheels. Then the legs will start to split where the sleeves have been installed to hold the casters. Then you throw the set away and start again. Your best bet is to go to a hardware store and buy adhesive backed, soft furniture tips to put on your chair legs. Buy enough to do your set several times because they will wear out and when you start to scratch the tile, you will have extras. That’s a lot cheaper than new chairs or new tile.

Q I want to refinish my grandmother’s antique oak china cabinet but the glass doesn’t come out. Will stripper hurt the old glass if I accidentally get some on it?

A To start with, the glass didn’t grow there. Someone put it there so it will come out. If you need help with that send $1 and a SASE for my column “Snap, Crackle and Pop — Handling Old Glass.” That will give some hints on removing and caring for your old glass. If you are still uncomfortable with removing the glass then leave it in and work around it. None of the chemicals you will be using will harm the glass at all. When you are done, just clean up with a razor blade, lacquer thinner and glass cleaner.

Your main worry is scratching or breaking the glass while working around it. Don’t use metal tools to try to clean out stripper along the edges. You may etch the glass. Give yourself every advantage by taping off the glass using masking tape and several layers of old newspaper. As you tape, try to get the tape actually inside the glass where it meets the wood. Use a butter knife to try to slide the tape inside. That way when you are done you won’t have a noticeable “tape line” where your stripper and finish piled up along the edges. Other than that, just be careful.

Contact Fred:

Questions can be addressed to Fred Taylor, Common Sense Antiques, P.O. Box 215, Crystal River, FL 34423-0215, phone (800) 387-6377, fax (352) 563-2916, visit Taylor’s book, How to be a Furniture Detective is available at $18.95, plus $2 shipping, at the above address.