Refinishing Barrister Bookcases

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New User
I have acquired some old barrister bookcases from an old barrister who retired. They are all generally mahogany in color, but some of the sections are more of a red mahogany while a couple are the darker mahogany. I want to try to refinish them because the movers who cleared out the lawyers office were not real kind to the finish.

There must be a thousand ways of refinishing furniture, but from your experiences, what is the preferred method to strip, stain, and finish the bookcases to get a consistent color? I am leaning toward the reddish mahogany tones since it is lighter and more appealing to me than the really dark mahogany. I would prefer to stay away from sprayed finishes since I have a compressor and cheap spray gun, but don't have anything to capture moisture which I am sure would ruin a lacquer finish.

Thanks for any suggestions.


Corporate Member
For light refinishing like that (older furniture; w/o pre-cat lacquer) I mix up a batch of Mineral spirits, Lacquer thinner and denatured alcohol (no smoking!!!). ScotchBrite in one hand. Old rag in the other and go at it. Takes off all the gunk. Leaves the patina.

Matching colors - that's more art than science. A seal coat, some gel stain, seal coat, toner, oops - to dark - start over :lol::lol::lol: Really,
you just have to experiment till you get a look you can live with.



New User
No, Pete (Hope Mills). Don't think he was an advocate. I got the cast-off bookcases out of his back room. He had the most beautiful QSWO barrister bookcases I have ever seen in his office. They went to a family member. I was just grateful for what I got, but would almost have sold my soul for those QSWO.

Other Pete (Charlotte). I hate to sound really ignorant, but what do you use for a seal coat, toner, etc. Also, do you mix the finish remover in equal parts?


New User
Pete Davio
I've seen some like you are describing in former clients offices. The value of the bookcase would almost exceed the cost of my college books!


Rick, I'm in agreement with Tekkadan, Mineral spirits and or Lacquer thinner, apply with an old rag. A ScotchBrite or 2-4 ott steel wool pad should remove the gunk. If the finish just wont some off in some places, try some Acetone. Acetone evaporates very quickly so you need to work fast. Finally use some denatured alcohol to clean up the old finish residue.

When it comes to solvents Acetone is for heavy cleaning and will eat a lacquer finish and dissolve glue so be careful where you use it. Lacquer thinner is not as strong as acetone but works about the same way. Mineral spirits is even less strong than lacquer thinner. Denatured alcohol is for light cleaning.

All these 4 will eat the lacquer finsh, it's just a matter of how long you leave it on the finish and much you want to scrub. Reading the back of the cans should give you a good hint of how to use it and precautions and its proper use.

As for staining I think I've expressed my thoughts - I don't stain wood (at all). I'll use a few coats of toner in between finish coats to color match or blend the color of multiple pieces. If i need the wood to be a lighter color, I'll use some wood bleach, but I don't stain wood.

A spray lacquer finish using an air compressor and even a cheap spray gun is much faster and produces better results than a wipe on finish. Even if you have to, consider getting a cheap air filter / moisture remover combo for you compressor and a spray can or two of no blush or blush retarded, you'll be glad you did...
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