Centenarian Sisters


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….

maple dresser before

maple washstand before

But when you get up close – yuck!   Do I really want to put my (clean!) clothes in this?

maple dresser top before

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.

maple dresser during

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.

maple dresser whorl after

maple dresser birds eye

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.

maple finishing products

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.

maple handle Collage

Here is the final reveal for both pieces – I am so thrilled with how they turned out!maple dresser donemaple washstand donemaple dresser parts Collage

maple washstand sawmarks

maple dresser top after

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.

maple dresser liner

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…

maple dresser keyhole cover before

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!

18 thoughts on “Centenarian Sisters

  1. Gillianne says:

    Just wonderful. So nice to see the grain of the wood and the saw marks revealed again in their simple beauty. Paint can cover a lot of damage, but restoring wood is a labor of love. So nice to see. (the drawer inserts suit the pieces, too)

    • Thanks for the feedback! It was a lot of work and trial and error but the effort was all worth it. The pieces really glow now and I’m really happy with the results. Have a great weekend!

  2. Alice Hanson says:

    They turned out beautiful ! What a labor of love for sure. Well well well done!
    Smiles, alice

  3. Mary borgsmiller says:

    Beautiful job! The wood looks fantastic. I love the details in the maple.

    • Thanks for the comment! I had no idea the wood grain would be so pretty because it was covered under all of that “goo”! It was such a great surprise and well worth everything. Happy Holidays!

  4. I certainly enjoyed reading your post and learning from your experience. In fact, I will share this with my husband who does a lot of my furniture stripping and refinishing. Great info. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Small House / Big Sky Donna
    White Oak Studio Designs/Hand-Painted Vintage Furniture Transformations
    BLOG: http://smallhouseunderabigsky.wordpress.com
    Facebook: donnaallgaierlamberti@facebook.com

  5. Wow! You did a beautiful job! I paint old furniture and I am always in awe of those who take the time to refinish furniture to look like it would when it was first built. You must have such patience! So glad I stopped by to take a look!


    • Thank you for your feedback! This was certainly a labor of love! The wood underneath the “goo” was so pretty – I wanted to let it shine on its own. Its much more fun to stare at now than before! 🙂 Happy Holidays!

  6. Heidi says:

    Beautiful work. Thank you for sharing with us. I am going to pin this to my Pinterest board. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (or in your case “Happy RE-New” Year)!!!!

  7. Debby says:

    Great Job! Not everyone realizes the amount of work that goes into stripping and restaining! I’m also a big fan of the “rustic” modern country look. Love your attention to detail – also a real time consumer but so worth it!

  8. Rachel says:

    Normally I’m drawn to painted pieces but this is amazingly done and I LOVE the natural rustic look to it! Hey I nominated you for the One Lovely Blog Award, check it out here: http://shadesofblueinteriors.blogspot.com/2013/01/one-lovely-blog-award.html

  9. […] West Virginia with rustic made-by-me decor.  I wanted to make something mirror-like to hang over the dresser I refinished recently.   I decided to turn an old window into a […]

  10. Leonard Mroz says:

    I have the same wash stand in about the same condition, and has an enormous amount of sentimental value for me.
    The wash stand that I have is in many pieces and I cannot find where 3 of the pieces belong. Could I trouble you to take pictures of the inside with the drawers removed so that I may find where these pieces belong.
    Your help would be greatly appreciated.
    Leonard Mroz

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