I hope you can help me with a problem I have with a black stain on our hutch surface. We have a golden oak type finish on our oak veneered sideboard. I’m pretty sure that the finish is lacquer. My wife spilled some water on a picture that was lying on the top. The back side of the picture is held in place with a black pasteboard sheet that has the easel type leg that hinges in and out to stand the picture up. The water soaked through the picture and into the backing piece, which has then transferred the black dye onto the wooden top. Is there any way to get the black off without stripping the finish off the top? I do not know if the dye has gone through the finish and into the wood veneer or not. Do you have any suggestions on where to start? Thanks in advance for your help. – Jim Willis
Chris Marshall: Jim, I’d start with the gentlest approach possible in order to preserve the lacquer finish. If the black dye is in fact on top of the finish, try wiping it off with a damp (not soaking wet) rag. Some dyes are water soluble, as might be the case with this black picture back. The water should re-activate the dye so you can wipe it off. Other dyes are alcohol-based, so if water doesn’t work, lightly dampen a clean rag with denatured alcohol and give that a try. If neither of these solutions work, try wiping the surface with mineral spirits, which work as a solvent for oil-based dye. If nothing helps, the dye may have penetrated through the finish, which is more problematic. Sometimes water alone can find its way through small cracks or pores in the finish and discolor the wood too. Fixing that involves stripping off the finish, bleaching out the stain with oxalic acid or removing the penetrated dye, and then refinishing. Hopefully the simple fixes will work for you here, because as Tim points out, this could get more complicated if the dye has penetrated through the finish.
Tim Inman: Unfortunately, this time, you’ve probably “bought the farm.” Stains like this can be virtually impossible to remove completely. Even stripping off the finish so you can work directly on the bare wood probably will not let you totally remove the stain. Sorry to say, but dye in wood is pretty much permanent. Re-veneering is always an option. Overstaining the bare wood and glazing it to hide the damage is possible. One way or another, though, my bet is you’ll be working with a lifelong scar.