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Refinishing Niels Moller Model 57

- 13 Sep 2016 -
24 posts / 0 new

Hi friends, last night, my partner and I came across quite literally the greatest treasure there ever was and were fortunate enough to purchase 10 Niels Moller Model 57 chairs for a steal (at the price we paid, we actually felt like thieves)!

The best case scenario would have been that we keep them in their original condition but with closer inspection, we found almost half of the chairs had some scratches, minor blemishes and tears to the upholstery that we'd ideally like to fix. With that, I think our plan is to refinish and re-upholster all the chairs with a light application of the strip, sand, oil routine.

My inquiry here is 3 parts:

1. Perhaps it was the late night lighting at fault here but when we looked at the wood, it looked too dark to be teak and appeared almost dark enough to be rosewood. Taking a look at them this morning, they do appear to be teak - can anyone else help do a sanity check on the wood type for us?

2. Feeling the chairs, they feel sort of plastic-y in that all of the surfaces are incredibly smooth. I suspect that the chairs have a layer of lacquer or polyurethane on them. Will acetone and sanding be enough to remove all of this finish off or is there something else I should explore?

3. The joint where the arms attached to the stiles are loose on quite a number of the chairs and we're considering using some wood glue and clamps to secure them again. Is this advisable or is there a better method to secure this?

I've attached photos for your reference!

Thanks in advance DA!

Refinishing Niels Moller Model 57
chairs & stools
1950 - 1959


- 13 Sep 2016

They are teak.

I would avoid dribbling glue on the armrest joint and clamping it. To get a good bond you need to disassemble the chair, remove old glue (PVA wood glue sticks great to everything except itself), and re-glue and clamp. A half measure like you propose will help the problem very, very little, and makes it harder to remove all the glue. The arm rest is attached to the stile with a dowel. It provides all the holding power, and you can't get to it with the chair assembled. The end grain back edge of the arm is worthless for a glue joint.

I would try to avoid sanding. Why don't you try Spanky's method of applying teak oil (Star brand is preferred, but I've used Watco) and 'scrubbing' with 0000 steel wool in the direction of the grain. If that does not help, you can try to 'strip' them with Murphy's oil soap, mixed super strong and applied as hot as you can stand and scrub with a rag.

- 13 Sep 2016

Are there any good guides or past examples of disassembling the chairs? This is the first time we've actually had Mollers in hand and of course we want to ensure we aren't damaging anything. It seems that using a steamer is a good method for loosening glue.

As for refinishing, I assume you mean to use Spanky's method of scrubbing with teak oil once the lacquer/topcoat has been stripped off? We were planning to use Citristrip to remove the topcoat and mineral spirits to clean off as much of the grime as possible.

- 13 Sep 2016

Here's my plan of attack:

1: Wipe off any excess grime
2: Disassembly loose joints
3: Use citristrip to remove lacquer topcoat
4: Use plastic scraper to remove stripper
5: Clean thoroughly with mineral spirits and 0000 steel wool
6: Lightly sand with 220 grit
7: Rub with fine '0000' steel wool to smooth out the surface.
8: Re-glue and clamp joints
9: Apply Watco Danish Oil (2-3 coats)
10: Re-upholster

Does anyone have experience with simply oil finishing their Mollers?

- 13 Sep 2016

Are you sure that there is a lacquer or poly layer on top? While there's only so much you can get from photos, the dull sheen on your chairs has the appearance of an oil finish to me. The Moller chairs have a secondary wood for the hidden seat rail framing. If you can pull back the upholstery a little, you should be able to see the connection. Any owner-applied lacquer or poly edge should then be easy to see.

If the posted photos are representative of the condition of the wood finish, I'd say they look fine to me as is. A little wood reconditioning never hurts.

- 13 Sep 2016

I tend to agree with cdsilva on this one. But to make sure, test the finish on an inconspicuous area with some nail polish remover (or acetone or lacquer thinner if you have any sitting around). Any of these solvents will dissolve lacquer in 10-20 seconds. Keep the test area wet, not damp, and then just wipe it off after 20 seconds with a paper towel dampened in the solvent. Look at the finish at a low angle to see how it compares to the adjacent area. If it's no longer shiny, it may be lacquer. You should also look for chipped areas and maybe just see if you can chip any off with your thumbnail or a small, sharp blade. These solvents will also remove an old hardened oil finish.

I would never bother with Citrus-strip on a lacquer finish, btw. It costs more than lacquer thinner and you have to use some kind of solvent to remove the stripper residue when you have gotten all the lacquer off. Lacquer comes off almost immediately with lacquer thinner or acetone, which currently runs about $16/gallon where I live. The only tricky part is having to keep applying it as you work because it evaporates so quickly, which generally means you have to work fast and over small areas at a time. (Same with alcohol and stripping shellac but you don't see much shellac on Danish furniture. At least, I haven't.) Acetone in particular will make your hands feel really, really cold after awhile because of the evaporation rate. This happens even with heavy duty neoprene stripping gloves and even in a warm environment. I finally resorted to wearing a pair of thin but fuzzy regular gloves under the rubber gloves but even with those I have to take a break now and then to warm my fingers up.

I use Star-Brite teak oil (Ace Hardware stores carry it) most of the time--with #0000 steel wool--- for just cleaning off grime and oiling in one step. Works great.

- 13 Sep 2016

@cdsilva & @spanky,

Thanks guys!
The reason I think it's a lacquer/poly finish is because of how smooth and plastic-y all of the surfaces feel. Perhaps its my lack of experience with Moller chairs but I just found the surface almost "too perfect" if you get my meaning.

In any case, I'm going to try to use some acetone (we've got some lying around from past danish pieces I've refinished" and test a small area to see how it looks. I'll likely try to do a spot tonight and will keep you guys posted on the results!

- 14 Sep 2016

I agree with previous opinions, just clean them well, and add a few applications of oil. They look to be in amazing shape from the photos (as best as can be told from the pictures). I suspect the smoothness may be from good maintenance. If they were regularly oiled over their entire lifetime with OOOO steel wool application, or the like, you would get a smoothness like that. You can also get that type of finish if you sand really well to 320or 400, and then oil w/ OOOOSW 8+ times over a few week/month period.

If you are going to go for a disassembly, and strip, I would re-glue somewhere before step 5. Even under best conditions, you will have a little squeeze out, and joint misalignment that will need to be sanded out. But it seems like overkill for the condition they appear to be in...

I really think you should post some more close-up, well-lit photos though. That is a nice haul, that you dont want to be too hasty with.

- 14 Sep 2016

Hey guys,

An update here!

I used the acteone/paper towel method on the inside of one of the legs and I'm glad to say that its not lacquered! You guys were right :)

Now thinking ahead, there are a couple things I wonder ... I think I'm going to forgo the whole "and the kitchen sink" plan and plan to just condition and clean all of the chairs. They've been building up grime for the better part of 20 years (according to the previous owner). Will it suffice to just use Spanky's method of Danish Oil + OOOO steel wool or is there a preliminary cleaning step that I'm missing? I typically like to acetone strip before oiling because I know not all oils are equal and I use Watco Danish Oil (Natural).

Finally, a number of the chairs have some fairly noticeable scuffs and scratches, particularly on the legs and armrests. I'll post more photos of this later when I get a chance but to describe them, they aren't overly deep gouges but they are noticeable. Should I bother with sanding these or will I be able to mask them with multiple applications of oil/steel wool?

- 14 Sep 2016

I don't think you need to clean them before you used the Spanky Method®. If you do want to clean them I would use Murphy's Oil Soap. Mixed strong and scrubbed with a rag and as hot as you can stand. It will turn old oil into a grey goo, which scrubs off.

From what I see I would just go straight to the oil and steel wool and assess the situation after the oil dries.

- 14 Sep 2016

As i said above, I use only Star-Brite oil to both clean and oil. (See photos of before & after above using this method.)

Watco Danish oil contains varnish and it's not something I'd use for cleaning for that reason. Go with a varnish-free oil like Star-Brite. I have used it for cleaning and then done a finish coat of an oil with varnish in it, with great results! It was on a seat of chairs where I wanted more of a sheen than just oil would impart.

I've cleaned a lot of Danish teak with Murphy's, though I use it full strength and at room temp on the wood. It's amazing how quickly it breaks down the grime and old oil. But then you have to be sure to rinse it off completely because traces of it can turn a subsequent oil finish kind of murky. It also dries the wood out a lot and I know I had to do a couple of coats of oil to restore the wood after the soap cleaning. I still use it for certain things, like a set of chairs that were covered in fuzzy mold from being stored in a damp basement. (Cleaning with oil seemed like it would be more likely to leave mold spores behind where they might bloom again later.)

Anyway, that's the how and why of what I do.

- 14 Sep 2016

@Spanky, thanks for the tip!

I did a quick search online and the only thing Starbrite product we have available in Canada seems to be StarBrite Premium Teak Oil. Is this the right one?

- 19 Sep 2016

Hi guys,

Just wanted to send an update your way!
Since knowing that the chairs weren't lacquered and likely just oil finished, I used Spanky's method to clean a handful of the chairs and they look fantastic!

Took some photos in good light so you can see what I'm getting at. Call me crazy but these look like they might be rosewood. I'm sort of thrown off by the deep red. Maybe it was all the crud and grime or that they were dried out but what do you guys think?

We're planning to reupholster the chairs (debating as to whether we do vinyl again or something more luxurious like Kvadrat) because the staples are rusted/breaking and there's just a bunch of stains we don't care for.

- 20 Sep 2016

Wow, if I hadn't seen the close ups of the timber at the top of the thread I would have thought the chairs were made of Indian rosewood.

If they were my chairs I would reupholster in leather.

- 20 Sep 2016

Do you know the production year? I too have recently acquired a set of Niels Moller chairs (Model 78). I know they are Brazilian rosewood, because the veining is distinctly black, and the chairs were produced in 1962/3. From what I know, Brazilian rosewood was only used in Denmark until 1970, when it became rare and too expensive. Post-1970 rosewood used in Danish furniture would be Indian, and not have the distinctive black veins of its Brazilian counterpart. Your chairs look beautiful and in excellent condition, especially since they've been cleaned and oiled. The colour certainly looks more rosewood (and probably Indian) than teak to me. What a glorious purchase.

- 20 Sep 2016

Actually, on second inspection, they look like they may well be Brazilian rosewood! How magnificent. The colour is gorgeous, and uniform too.

- 20 Sep 2016

Hey @KatieBH,

I'm not entirely certain about the production year but I can say that the manufacturer mark and danish control are are medallions that have been indented into the seat (photo attached for reference). As far as I know from my research, seems like this is indicative of the chairs being of the 1960s production years? Please correct me if I'm wrong!

- 20 Sep 2016

Hello again. I have the identical stickers on my chairs too. I know the production period of my grandparent's chairs because they were purchased to go into a brand new apartment they moved to in the early 60s in London, and were supplied by my great-uncle, who was a furniture dealer. I googled the Model 78 years ago, and all the information confirmed that they were indeed of that period, and made of Brazilian rosewood. I also know that this model was produced in teak, but probably only from the late 60s.

I would suggest you persist with your internet research into your model of chair. You will eventually be able to date them. In terms of the wood, look closely at the veining. If it is truly black, then I would hazard a guess that they're also Brazilian rosewood, and hence that would mean that they're pre-1970. Have a look at the photos on my own post on this forum from 4 days ago.

- 21 Sep 2016

I think it was actually another thread on this forum where someone mentioned this:

"The earlier mark (roughly during the 1960s) is a medallion, and sometimes a JLM ink stamp also. And even earlier than that (roughtly during the 1950s) Møller pieces tended not to be marked at all."

So I'm inclined to believe that these are circa 1960s.

The grain is definitely black and when I compare against yours, they appear to be very similar. I mean the simple test we conducted was to put them next to a set of teak Kai Kristiansens (that we are fortunate enough to own) and the difference is significant.

Anywho, I'm off to search more about this but welcome any other comments!

- 21 Sep 2016

That medallion is from the 1960s, not to put to fine a point on it. I've owned Møller chairs and a table from 1963 with the same mark. The Danish Furniture Control mark did not exist before 1958.

The chairs are teak. Some teak is darker than other teak. I have a lot of very dark teak. The color of the wood is not a very reliable way of distinguishing woods. The side grain and end grain is very determinate.

Take some well lit, sharp close up photos of the side grain and end grain, and I will point out to you which features to look for in teak.

- 21 Sep 2016

This site has hundreds of photos of each species of wood, mostly unfinished planks and veneers, but you can get a really good idea of what the grain in all its variations look like in any given species. There are lots of photos of the end grain of wood, which has characteristics that are just as distinctive as the grain.

He also includes a lot of very helpful text---including a description of all the colors that finished teak can be.,%20brazilian.htm

have fun!

- 01 Feb 2017

Finally got around to finishing these up.

Oiled up, re-upholstered, and a sight to behold :)

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