December 13, 2012 by twinoaksstudio
Happy Holidays everyone!
It seems like my last couple of projects have been very involved, and this one is no different. I purchased a pair of maple pieces, one “washstand” and one dresser, from a local auction. They date to approx. 1900+/-. These pieces were obviously from the same set, and kept together all of these years, which is why I’m nicknaming them “Centenarian Sisters” 🙂 They are solid maple, pieced construction with really cute lines and structurally sturdy for their age. Only problem – the finish was horrible! They don’t look too bad from a distance….
But when you get up close – yuck! Do I really want to put my (clean!) clothes in this?
Nooooooo…….. I knew that I wanted to put these pieces in a cabin in West Virginia, so my goal was to keep a wood finish on them. If I could clean them up they would fit the rustic/primitive look that I am trying to achieve perfectly. That left me with the decision to strip, sand and refinish. What a learning experience that was! Please read my earlier post about an amazing varnish stripper I discovered, Formby’s, if you are interested. It was such a huge help in this process.
As I started removing the layers of built up varnish I began to uncover the beauty of the wood grain. These pieces have many iridescent swirls and whorls, and one drawer front on the dresser is full of small birds eye markings. Soooo pretty! They glow when you look at them from certain angles.
My next search was to find the perfect finish to showcase these natural features. It took some searching around, some experimenting and yes, a failed application that resulted in me sanding everything down and starting over (no fun!) BUT this was my winning formula: I only sanded down the sections of the piece that really needed it badly, which were the tops and drawer fronts. The rest I left with the original stain, revealed by Formby’s. The stain that I applied to the areas I sanded was a mixture of 4 parts mineral spirits, 2 parts boiled linseed oil and 1 part General Finishes Prairie Wheat stain. It is a gel stain but the color match was perfect and the liquids in the mixture thinned it down enough so it didn’t smother the surface, but soaked in to wood beautifully. The boiled linseed oil was the agent that made the grain “pop”. I let it sit and “cure” for a week – which was torture! But worth it. Then I topcoated it with Waterlox original finish, then their Satin.
For hardware I pretty much lucked out. I had enough pulls for the dresser, and for the washstand I ordered reproductions from a store online (Kennedy hardware – great prices, amazingly fast delivery even during the holidays). I made little backplates for the dresser’s bails using finishing washers and spray painting them to match.
I’m patting myself on the back big time 🙂 A couple of other things I did – I replaced with towel bar on the washstand with a new dowel, cut to size and stained to match. The original bar had rotted out. I also decoupaged ticking stripe fabric onto foam-core posterboard and put them in the dresser drawers as they were starting to wear thin and were cracking in some spots.
I did make a small “design decision” to not keep the very sweet original escutcheon (keyhole) plates on the dresser. I still have them but thought they looked more rustic without. I’m on the fence about putting them back on. Or maybe I’ll let one of my daughters turn them into pendants for a necklace…
Something else I found useful was a great book I checked out from my local library. Its Understanding Wood Finishing by Bob Flexner. It explains penetrating finishes and finishes that create a film on the wood and was very helpful in my selection of finishes for these pieces.
This post was very long if you are still reading a big Thank you! I hope something in this post will be useful to your future projects.
I wish everyone a very happy holiday season!
PS – I did not receive any compensation for any products mentioned in this post.
PPS – I will be linking this post up with Miss Mustardseed’s Furniture Feature Friday. Thanks for hosting!