The best way to strip and refinish that old furniture piece
No doubt, there are garages, attics, and basements all across America chock full of what was once useful furniture. A baby bed, grandpa’s heirloom rocker, a distressed chest of drawers and perhaps even an antique or two.
How did they end up in the storage heap in the first place? As children grow a baby bed becomes unimportant, but as with the other items, it’s not something easily parted with. Grandpa’s rocker is often replaced by a reclining easy chair which is easier on his old bones. And while the chest of drawers can be quite useful it may be the wrong color or is chipped relegating it to the land beyond. Remember, old furniture never dies, it just ends up in the attic or basement.
What many folks are discovering is that these storage areas are a treasure trove filled with useful, sentimental and often valuable items. The sad fact is damp and dusty conditions cause further deterioration often to the point where a piece is beyond repair.
Recently, the trend has become to renovate older or plain furniture, and building one’s own, rather than buying replacements. The best part is that you don’t need to be an expert furniture refinisher to restore the beauty of an old oak rocker. With tools no harder to handle than an electric razor, anyone can fix up a piece that isn’t broken and give that piece a second life. What’s more, the refinishing experience can be enjoyable and quite rewarding.
Where to start.
- Removing the old finish may seem like an overwhelming task, but can be relatively simple when using a chemical stripper. Sanding and scraping can literally take days in contrast to using a stripper, the job can be accomplished in a matter of a few hours.
- Aside from convenience, a chemical stripper is less likely to damage the wood. Moreover, the paint used on old furniture may contain lead which when sanded becomes airborne creating potential health hazards.
- The two most common methods of applying a stripper are with a paint brush or a small pump sprayer.
- After the stripper has soaked in, the wrinkled paint can be scraped away with a putty knife or scraper. A toothbrush-sized brass brush, a nylon brush, a nylon scouring pad, a nylon brush and a putty knife will help make the stripping process successful.
- Because most paint and varnish removers contain a variety of strong solvent mixtures it’s important to have plenty ventilation, wear rubber gloves, a long sleeve shirt and eye protection.
Once the piece is stripped it may still contain wax, silicone or other oils that may impede the finishing process. These can be removed with a series of washes using lacquer thinner and a clean abrasive pad. Repeat the scrub using alcohol and a third and final wash using mineral spirits. Allow the piece to dry overnight before beginning repairs and the finishing process.
Old screws should be replaced with new slightly larger ones. Loose joints should be glued using a white PVC wood glue or a yellow glue. Yellow glue tends to be stronger and is often the professional’s choice. Now would be the time to remove unsightly dents. Simply place a drop of water in the depression, then cover the spot with a damp cloth and apply a hot iron. This creates steam which expands rapidly, pushing out crushed wood-fibers.
To make the stripping and finishing process easier it’s useful to have a tool that can get into all the nooks and crannies, ease rough edges and restore worn design work.
One of the most important aspects of the finishing process is sanding. The wood should be thorough sanded before the finish is applied and sanded again between coats of finish. For most woods, it is not necessary to sand finer than 180 grit. After sanding is complete, sanding dust should be removed using a vacuum with an upholstery brush attachment and wiped down with a tack cloth.
Although the sky’s the limit when it comes to finish, one of the most popular methods of finishing a piece is with a penetrating oil stain. Stains are available in various colors and shades. Too, the final result can be influenced by the amount of time the stain is allowed to sit and the number of coats applied. A soft cloth is one of the most effective means of applying stain. Simply dip the cloth into the stain and flood the surface of the wood working in a circular motion. Wipe off all the excess before it dries.
Some stains are “self-sealing” and don’t require an additional coat of varnish or lacquer. A period coat of fine furniture was is all that’s needed to keep the piece looking good and protect it from the elements. Oil varnishes (polyurethane) is one of the most popular top coats for furniture. They offer a more abrasion-resistant finish. Two to three coats of varnish will offer the piece significant lasting quality. Varnishes are best applied using a china bristle brush. Be sure to lightly buff each coat with 0000 steel wool followed by a tack cloth before applying the next coat.
If a painted finish is the desired result, prime the piece with a high-quality oil base primer. Tint the primer to match the finish coat for superior coverage. Finish the job with a coat or two of high-quality oil base enamel. Paint for the finish coat is available in a variety of lusters;, satin, egg shell, gloss and high gloss. Make sure that you get choose the one which best suits your needs.
You’ll have so much fun unearthing this buried treasure that you’ll need to find other things to clutter your attic or basement.
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