Once I got the refinishing itch, I wanted to revamp some stuff for my house and I went hunting, all the time…even when I didn’t realize I was hunting! And one rainy Saturday afternoon I was heading down to my consignment booth to unload some trinkets I had come across and I stopped in at the local Salvation Army to peruse all the furniture and kitchen ware. My eye immediately fell upon a cute little white dresser looking thing that had an open space on the bottom. Because of the configuration I was thinking it would be a cute TV stand for my living room. There was an older gentleman standing there looking at the same piece and he mumbled something about how tragic it was that this wonderful oak piece was sabotaged by a bad paint job. Upon closer inspection I realized he was right, there were a few areas where the paint had been gouged off to reveal an interesting oak pattern underneath. I immediately grabbed a sales person and convinced I needed it, I gave him that “how much is the doggy in the window look?” He discounted the piece for me and we hauled it out to my truck, in the pouring rain! Lucky for me I just happened to have a tarp to cover it up. However, he placed it back side down and the whole time I was driving I just knew it was going to get ruined by all of the rain collecting in that open space. So I pulled over under some trees and in the torrential rain I managed to upright it and recover it for the rest of the journey home. By the time I got to my antique mall I was soaked to the bone but quite happy with my new treasure.
Now typically the b.friend knows I have an eye for certain finds but he took one look at this pitiful little dresser and asked me “HOW MUCH did you spend on that thing?!?” (I think it was $40-something but I don’t recall now). As I began to reallly look at it I realized it was an old buffet that was missing the bottom doors and that whoever had the piece previously had painted the whole thing white. And when I say they painted the whole thing, I mean the W H O L E thing. Inside, outside, back, bottom, front, top, inside the drawers, under the drawers, behind the drawers, etc. Every inch was covered in paint. In some areas it had been spray painted black and THEN painted white. I had no idea what I was in for with this little guy. I did know that this would be a strip job for sure! So out came the gloves and chemicals…I think this is when I realized how truly important it is to have good ventilation, gloves and a mask!
I started with the easy parts, the top and the sides. Then I proceeded to the drawer fronts. There was so much paint everywhere though I got overwhelmed and I would have to take many breaks during this project. I kinda felt like I needed to finish a project, ANY project – so there were several others pieces worked around this one. And once I had used the chemical stripper to get most of the top layers of paint off I had to begin the sanding process…it seemed nothing would take it all off! I sanded, and sanded, and sanded, and sanded…and I sanded this thing for months! And I hadn’t even touched the inside yet! You’ll notice in the early pictures a gray sludge look on the wood, that was a friend “helping” me remove the paint by thinning it out with paint thinner – one word of advice – NO! This is incredibly difficult to clean up and it sucks the life out of the wood. Not to mention it set me back a bit. Lesson learned and I moved on.
I did literally work on this piece for nearly three months intermittently. I had to pick wood filler out of the keyholes and all the ridges along the platter and in a few other places too. I had a drawer in need of repair but it cleaned up so well you’d never know it was there. Finding hardware was again a challenge but this time because I had no idea what I wanted! Once I got it stain ready I pretty much just grabbed what I could find that would fit the holes and ran it home as fast as my little truck would go! I am very pleased with the finish although I got so tired of looking at it sitting in the workshop, I never put a polycoat on it and I have yet to order the key escutcheon. But I will … eventually …
Most professional refinishers and antique restorers will tell you that if someone ever wants to take a sander to your antique furniture, RUN for the hills and find a “real” refinishing service! I, on the other hand believe it’s all relative. Some people love antiques because of their history, the rich patina and more importantly, the name behind the finish. But what about when you have a nice piece of furniture that’s trapped behind an aging yellowing crackled disgusting stain and top coat? What if someone down the line was too lazy to refinish it and they slapped some cherry or mahogany stain over oak, maple or pine? What if you just want a nice piece of older well made furniture to grace your décor and you don’t care about the maker or the patina, for now?
Let me tell you a little secret, the patina will return with time. And unless it’s a Stickley or some other high-end piece or an heirloom of some type that’s worthy of a small fortune, the “refinish” is entirely up to you. Personally I like to take it back to its original splendor without all the notches and stains. I prefer to sand it down to the raw wood and bring out the grain again. Smooth out the nicks and grooves and give it a whole new luster. I have spent many hours chemically stripping furniture and if necessary I will spend many more, but for the most part…my 3-in-1 sander is my bestest friend!
Here is a prime example of a diamond in the rough. I found this great big oak dresser online for $75 (Craigslist is my favorite hunting grounds). I thought it was a good deal when I read the ad and upon inspection it was much larger than any other I had seen. I could sort of see the tiger oak pattern underneath the gray dull varnish…but it would require some elbow grease to make it shine again. It was a solid piece that was only missing one bail pull, which again in my naivety, I figured would be easy to find and replace. So I paid the lady and left wondering “what have I done spending that kind of money on a dresser that needed so much stripping?!?”
The boyfriend and I both looked it over when I got it back to the shop and we both agreed it needed to be stripped and sanded if I was going to make it look at all attractive. That dense gray finish was not very complimentary until it was sanded entirely down to the bare raw gorgeous tiger oak. Once the layers of old (and probably original) finish came off it began to take on a new life and had an altogether different feel about it. The lovely grain that was hidden underneath popped off the wood all the way down to its sexy curvy queen anne legs. I was amazed at how beautiful the piece was and could hardly wait to put some stain on it!
Once again I used a 60 or 80-grit paper to bring it down and then 220 to smooth it out. The wood used to build this particular piece was sO amazing it was smooth as silk and took the stain so well. I don’t think I’ve ever had another piece that was so easy to process. We put 2 or 3 coats of Minwax Golden Oak (my favorite) and then topped it off with Minwax Gloss Polyurethane. There were a couple of areas on the platter (the ridge along the top edge) that didn’t take the stain and the poly coat very well because I hadn’t stripped enough of the old finish from the grooves, so I had to hand sand a few spots and fix it. It was a little frustrating because I had to do it 2 or 3 times in the same area.
*Be certain before you stain or poly coat anything that you have completely stripped, cleaned and tack clothed the entire piece ESPECIALLY the in-between spots and grooves that might be hard to get to. The polycoat will sometimes “bubble” and not hold in these spots. The extra work up front is worth it so you’re not cussing at it later! *
The final step was to find a bail pull that would match the others. I really liked the ones that it came with so I was determined not to change them. After searching at every architectural, antique, and hardware store in San Diego I finally decided to use a pull someone gave me and modify it to look the rest. It was longer than the others but still had the nice swan like shape. So I had to get the ol’ dremel out and clamp it down to saw off the extra length. Then I had to “clip” and smooth out the fat ends so they would fit in the round dealys that hold it on the drawers. I was successful but learned that it was a lot of work to find an original piece and should be a little more suspect in the future!
In the end we decided the dresser was a keeper and just too rare of a piece to sell and I swapped it out the very next week. What you see is a lot of hard labor and lots of footwork looking for hardware! But it’s a majestic addition to my bedroom and I’m glad I dropped that $75 to take a chance!
Once I decided to take the plunge and open a consignment booth at the all new Antique Village mall, I figured I’d better start treasure hunting. I drug my boyfriend down to the Santee swapmeet one weekend and as we were cruising through I saw this cute little black dresser. It had three drawers, ugly handles, and one drawer that was badly cracked in the front along the bottom.
It sure didn’t look like much and my b.friend took one look at it and one look at me, shook his head and said “it looks like a lot of work to me”. But I was sold on the piece with its super cute size and detail…I just knew that if I “updated” the shabby chic paint it would be fabulous. So I bargained with the seller for a mere $7 and loaded it up!
I got the treasure back to the workshop and started stripping it right away. This was my first real refinishing project so the whole idea of using chemical solvents to remove alllll that black paint, was a bit daunting! Once I got a small area cleared though I realized there was some mighty purdy oak underneath! This was too good to repaint! I decided I must strip it down and restain it!
After only a couple of days and LOTs of sanding … I had it all stripped down to the raw wood.
The fish scales and fluted side columns lent to its endearing charm…
After using the chemical stripper to remove the top layers of old paint I chose to use a 60 grit sandpaper to bring it down the rest of the way. Then I used an 80 grit and finally 220 grit. I filled in the cracked/broken piece with some wood filler several times and continued to sand it down to blend the filler with the surface.
Once I had it all polished out and smooth I put the first coat of Minwax Golden Oak stain on it…wooohooooo!
The stain was the perfect shade and it brought out the grain. I did the standard 2 coats of stain and then finished it off with 2 coats of Minwax Semi-Gloss Polyurethane.
After all that hard work, the hardest part was actually finding new hardware! I hadn’t ventured out yet to find original antique hardware yet so it was back to Home Depot to look for something simple and understated (and cheap). I found some nice burnished black copper handles that fit the piece nicely.
Got the whole piece finished in about 4 days and took it down at the shop. It sat there for several weeks before I finally decided to put it on sale. After marking it down to $99, it sold right away!
Once my b.friend saw how nice it was all refinished, he’s hardly questioned my opinion on the “lotta work” pieces since!