Real estate


Tips to make that rubberwood table bounce back

When varnishing, avoid the temptation to chase the bubbles; you’ll sand them off later.

Q. I have a kitchen table with a top I believe is Asian hardwood. The original finish (I think it was polyurethane) wore off, and plates and glasses left marks. I sanded the table and applied a very light stain (the same color as the old one) and then two coats of shellac. I think the shellac was the wrong product to use; now dinnerware leaves even more marks. I read something about not refinishing Asian hardwood because the dust can cause health problems. Can I resand to take the shellac off and then use polyurethane?


A. Asian hardwood is native to tropical areas, and it is also referred to as rubberwood. If you think the table is worth your time and effort, I recommend stripping the finish and then sanding the wood completely clean and smooth before applying stain and a quality varnish. Make sure to wipe off the dust with a tack rag before applying the finish. A durable oil varnish will help the wood stand up to moisture.


Varnish dries super slowly and attracts airborne particles like crazy, so make sure your work area is clean. Use a foam brush lightly dampened with mineral spirits or paint thinner, and dip the brush into the varnish 1 inch or less.

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Do your table edges first and then the tabletop. Avoid pulling your brush from the edge. Use long, light, continuous brush strokes, and apply a thin coat. Avoid the temptation to chase the bubbles; you’ll sand them off later.

If your goal is a smooth finish, sand between coats to remove the small “nibs” that inevitably occur. Let the finish dry for two days between sandings. You can sand dry finishes with No. 220-grit, self-lubricating aluminum oxide paper, or wet-sand with No. 400-grit wet/dry sandpaper. You can use water with a few drops of dish detergent for wet sanding. Wet or dry, just be careful not to sand through the film, especially if you have stained the tabletop.

After applying your coats, let the finish cure for two weeks. Then you can polish or “rub out the finish” for a mirrored, glossy look. Assuming you’ve sanded with 400- to 600-grit paper, you’re ready to move on to No. 0000 steel wool used along with some type of lubricant. The lubricant helps to float away grit and reduces the size of the scratches made by the steel wool.

As far as sanding and creating wood dust: All inhaled wood dust can be hazardous to your health. Individuals with latex or rubber allergies might have reactions to it, so make sure you wear a mask and that your work space is well ventilated.


Q. I need help matching 25-year-old cabinetry above a built-in refrigerator that we replaced with a different size. The cabinetmaker is no longer in business. I don’t want to leave an empty space above the refrigerator; it would just collect dust. Do you have any suggestions?

ANN HURLEY, Scituate

A. Have a local cabinetmaker or mill shop make your cabinet. Be sure to give them an existing door to match the color and finish. If they do not want to finish the doors, then find a local painter skilled in matching finishes. It won’t be exact, but I bet you can get it close enough to pass the old carpenter’s inspection: “Can’t see it from a galloping horse.” Just kidding!

Alternatively, you can have wood-framed glass doors made and installed.

Rob Robillard is a general contractor, carpenter, editor of, and principal of a carpentry and renovation business. Send your questions to or tweet them to @globeaddress or @robertrobillard.