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Varnish, shellac, polish or...

Is there an easy way to know what coating is on a piece of furniture? Most of the stuff we have is 2nd hand and it's not that obvious what coating it has which makes renovating it a bit tricky.

I've just touched up some fairly modern chairs with a satin varnish but it's too shiny whereas a light wax polish seems to be a better match. Is there a simple way of finding out before hand?

polish will come off with turpentine

shellac will come off or at least go sticky with meths

french polish needs both the above as it is a two stage process

varnish will come off with paint stripper or caustic soda or will flake if scraped

linseed oil needs stripper ,some oils will mostly come off with turpentine

if the item is well manky but fairly robust a good sanding is often the easy option (or even a fine set power plane for flat stuff )and then give it a surface of choice .

some stuff will have been varnished over a previous surface which confuses things a bit(see sand/plane)

what looks best or will wear best depends on the timber and the likely challenges the surface will meet

try to avoid oils over varnish and always avoid varnish over non drying oils

that is only a short list ,hope it helps a bit,wood finish is a huge subject
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