Finish Fish Eye for Refinishing Consumer
Fish Eye is a condition found during refinishing that causes problems to the process and results that the consumer should be aware of.
For Refinishing Consumer ...When the finish doesn't look right
by T. W. Rea
You just inherited your Grandmother’s dining room set and you notice that it is showing some wear and tear from the years. There are the marks at one end of the table where Grandfather always sat and a cigarette burn mark in that corner that almost got him hung by Grandmother. There’s the spot where your cousin scratched his initials on the table apron and the white ring in the top that matches the shape of Grandma’s China gravy boat. The doors on the buffet don’t close very well and there’s a water ring on the top. The chairs all show bare wood along the back rails and arms; and some are a bit wobbly. But the memories of family around this table and the meals served from that buffet make it a set to be cherished and saved.
You want to restore it to its original beauty and you’re aware that you wouldn’t know where to begin. So you ask friends and family if they know someone that can restore furniture. You look in the yellow pages, on the internet, is there someone you can trust with your family heirlooms?
You find a professional refinisher and they go over the needs of your furniture with you discussing each part of the project and walking you through your hopes, expectations, and probably more then a couple of fond memories of how this or that mark got where it is. They seem to really understand the history of the set and its importance to you and your family. An estimate is prepared, you sign the work order, make a down payment and they assure you that your Grandmother’s dining set will be beautiful again in just a few short weeks. They even advise you to come in and see everything once they get the repairs done and the old finish stripped away for a color consult where you’ll be able to discuss what you’d like to see.
A couple of weeks later you are in to see the furniture “naked” and are amazed at the beautiful wood grain that the aged darkened varnish had been hiding. A beautiful shade of Mahogany is chosen and right about now you’re feeling confident you’ve made the right choice.
A few days later you receive a call from the furniture restorer advising you that they’ve hit a snag. Something about your Grandmother’s furniture being contaminated. You think to yourself that’s impossible and you can’t imagine how that can be possible.
Stripping away that old finish revealed some truly beautiful wood grain, but it also exposed silicone that had been lying latent in the pores of the wood. It wasn’t visible when the finish was stripped away. It might not even have been discernable when the stain was applied. But now the first coats of clear finish have been applied and you can see these tiny ringlets on your Grandmother’s dining room set.
Well, here is what happened. Grandmother was always an immaculate housekeeper and I’ll bet she cleaned and dusted that dining room set thousands of times over her life. Like so many others, she used a clean and shine product in an aerosol can and kept her prized furniture looking almost like new till the day she died.
Well what she didn’t know, or anyone else for that matter, was that her dusting spray contained a chemical called silicone. Now silicone made the dust cling to the rag better and it left behind a nice soft shine. In short, it was a modern cure for an age old problem. It was worlds easier than Great Grandmother’s method, which involved paste wax and hours of buffing. Every time Grandma dusted she put a little more silicone on her furniture. Every time that dust rag was worked across the top of the table, along the doors of the buffet, over the backs of the chairs, a little more silicone was rubbed into and eventually under the finish where it was slowly absorbed by the wood.
On that cured varnish the silicone contamination was not visible but varnish eventually breaksdown with age. Life happened in, on and around these fine old pieces. The varnish exposed to, dirt from airborne particles, and other things.
Now you’re being shown a piece of furniture with what looks to you like measles across the surface. Perhaps for the first time you’re exposed to a term called “Fish Eye”.
The average consumer may not know what it is that they are seeing but they will notice something doesn’t look right. Books on finishing and articles on finish problems will discuss the problem in general but you will find no single source has tried to cover the topic in much detail especially not in layman’s terms that anyone can understand.
By definition Finish “Fish Eye” is the description for the pock marks or craters that show up on a finished surface when there is a contamination of silicone or others oils and waxes on the wood. This finish defect is most noticeable with strong back lighting viewed from a distance away from the table and the higher the sheen the worse it appears. The contamination may be localized to a particular area of a piece or be a problem all over. There are several possible sources of the contamination from grandmother’s dust and shine furniture spray to oils on hands and arms and even a few air borne sources.
What does it look like? Silicone contamination “Fish Eye” is usually manifested as a series of tiny rings (usually about the size of a pencil eraser) or “pock marks” in the surface of a finish; be it lacquer, varnish, or paint. Think of those tiny beads of water on the hood of your freshly waxed car in reverse. What’s worse is that as the finish dries the ringlets are not going to disappear.
Can “Fish Eye” be detected in advance? Sometimes, but rarely and not reliably. In most cases just stripping off the old finish is not sufficient to eliminate the contamination. Silicone is the most frequently blamed culprit and has been found to be present in many of the “clean & shine” products sold to consumers as a quick easy way to take care of their fine furniture. The silicone adds a “luster” to the freshly dusted surface. Unfortunately this silicone can penetrate the finish and work its way deep into the grain of the wood. It is not noticeable under the old finish that was fully cured before the silicone was introduced. But, sooner or later finish ages and begins to break down until the piece of furniture needs to be refinished. This is when the silicone makes it presence known. It won’t matter if it’s a DIY’r brushing on polyurethane or a professional spraying on a commercial lacquer, those tiny ringlet’s indicative of silicone contamination will pop their little eyes at you from every possible viewing angle.
Is there a cure for “Fish Eye”? The answer depends upon whom you ask and many a home remedy will be heard, even from the professionals. Many of the recommendations, just like some home health remedies, do have a logical basis and do work IN SOME CIRCUMSTANCES.
The most common recommendations are:
- Wash the wood thoroughly with Mineral Spirits.
- Seal the Silicone in with a thin coat of de-waxed shellac sprayed on.
- Spray on several very light mist coats of lacquer to seal in the silicone and then a heavy coat of lacquer to create the final film.
- Add silicone to your finish. This is kind of like using a virus to create a vaccine against the virus. It works with the silicone contamination already on the surface of your project to equalize the surface tension between the wood and your new finish so that the fish eyes will flow out to the natural edges of the piece where they will be less noticeable.
There is hope. Your Grandmother’s fine furniture will be fine. The restoration professional was not making it up. Fish eye silicone contamination really does exist and once found, getting rid of it completely is nearly impossible. It does take extra work and extra steps so don’t be surprised when your refinishing professional tells you the cost will be a little bit higher than the original estimate. The contamination problem just added at least two sensitive steps to the refinishing process.
In the long run you’ll be happier with the results and Grandma’s dining room set may easily last another 80 to 100 years because you took the care and spent the money to have it done right the first time.
“…Quality lasts long after the luster of a cheap price has faded.”
TWR April 2009
10059 Hemlock Drive, Overland Park, Kansas 66212;
Off of 103rd Street, Hemlock is 1st east of Antioch or 1st west of Lowell Ave west of Metcalf; and turn north up curvy Hemlock Drive 1/2 mile.
This is a residence. Please park in driveway. Respect the neighbors.
They are shown in the left column of this and every page.
Cash, Check, or Credit Card shown
in the left column of this and every page.
Down-Payments are required on all orders.
- Disclaimer: Unless otherwise stated, this document was created and written by staff of the Wood Works, Inc. and therefore is protected by applicable copyright laws. The information presented here is based on years of industry experience in addition to information obtained from publicly available sources, including company websites, industry peers and industry publications. There may be inaccuracies and information that has become outdated since this white paper was originally written. This information is intended strictly for informational purposes.
- Reproduction of this document in whole or part may be done without written approval but must reference this document as a source and display one of the following URLs as the location to obtain the full report: http://www.thewoodworksinc.com or http://www.themovingclaims.com. Thank you!
- The Wood Works, Inc. Corporate Logo holds a national trademark. The Corporate Name of "The Wood Works, Inc." holds a national service mark. Accordingly, neither can be used by another for financial gain.
The entire website/s of www.TheWoodWorksInc.com and www.TheWWs.com and www.TheMovingClaims.com are copyrighted and should not be used by others in the trade in any form without explicit written permission.