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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Refinishing Furniture

The Sludge Stage


Half Done

Finished except for top drawer pulls and new glass door.
I took on quite a job.  I started it last fall and finally finished yesterday.  My Grandma Bessie (1908-1981) had a beautiful oak secretary.  It had the curved glass door on the left and the drop down desk on the right. At the top right it had a mirror with a little shelf in front of it.  A beautiful piece of furniture!  This piece of furniture was special to my mom when she was growing up because her pet parakeet (Petey) used to sit on the little shelf and look in the mirror.  My mom asked for it when Grandma passed away and she had it in her house for years.  My youngest brother, Dave (usually the good child) broke the curved glass door.  One of the drawers is missing the handles, one shelf is out because the supports are missing, and I think the finish got damaged when Mom and Papa's house in Sterling flooded several years ago.  When my parents moved from Sterling to their new, much smaller house  in Pierce, there just wasn't room for the secretary and lots of other stuff.  I also took two end tables and refinished them.  These are older, solid wood, well-built pieces.  They had been sprayed with a thick, pecan colored, fake wood finish.  I was so shocked when I got that off and found beautiful, dark, cherry? wood underneath! 

A few years ago I removed a coat of white paint from a chest of drawers that had been Grandma's.  It was quite a messy job, but under that paint was some truly beautiful wood.  The secretary had stain and layers and layers of varnish.  What a chore!  So much more difficult than the paint.  The chemical I used to strip the old finish dissolves vinyl gloves in seconds, so thick latex gloves are a must.  The label says to use in a well-ventilated area and only work on a small area of your project at a time, to avoid excessive vapors!  Even with the garage door and window open I had to wear a mask and/or leave for fresh air every now and then.  Believe me you know when this stuff splatters on your skin, because the tiniest drop instantly begins to burn and continues to burn until you wash it off with water.

The removal process goes as follows:

Brush on stripper
Leave the area and wait
Try to scrape the finish with a putty knife (don't expect this putty knife to ever be clean again)
Wipe the thick, sticky, molasses-like goop off the putty knife onto the edge of a metal can
Repeat MANY times.
Brush on stripper and scrub with steel wool, wiping off product with a cloth (old socks work great) This step requires some serious elbow grease!  Don't follow the instructions on the can.  You cannot dip your dirty steel wool back into the clean solution.  It just turns to sludge and goes back on the furniture.  You have to wipe off the muck with a cloth.  Be prepared to use several pairs of gloves and lots of steel wool (don't use the super fine, it doesn't hold up).
Use a steel brush to get into corners.  A metal pick is very helpful too.
Wipe with mineral spirits to remove the last of everything.
Now that you think you are finished, you will notice many areas that  need more work.
Sand to remove stains and imperfections
Apply several coats of new finish of your choice.  I used Danish oil (light walnut)
Apply several coats of polyurethane to protect the finish and hopefully insure that you never have to do this job again!

The secretary and the end tables are not perfect.  There are a few bits of gunk in the corners and even though I thought I was being careful, some of the polyurethane ran down and dried, leaving bumps.  Still, they look much better than before and are protected and will last longer.  I really should have sanded the last end table down more.  The water stain can still be seen.  As difficult and time-consuming as this job was, I think I'm hooked!  I go to yard sales and see old furniture and wonder what is underneath.  The problem is Bret and Randy don't like me taking up valuable space in the garage.  A place they use for putting new engines in cars and other manly projects.  So I guess for awhile I'll just look.

Working on this project really gave me time to think.  The whole process made me think about what God does in our lives when we put our faith in Jesus and accept his gift of salvation.    I'm not sure I can put these thoughts into words that make sense, but I will try.  Like the old, worn and damaged furniture, we are dirty, broken, full of sin, and incomplete.  He scrapes away our old sinful life.    Like the stubborn gunk in the corners of the furniture, some of it is hidden, hard to see and hard to remove!   Like new drawer pulls and shelf supports and beautiful curved glass, He makes us new.  "2 Cor. 5:17...anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.  The old life is gone; a new life has begun."  He replaces our greed, selfishness, immorality, envy, pride, etc. with love, joy,peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Are we perfect?  Absolutely not!  But we are clean and forgiven!  None of us will become perfect this side of Heaven. We are a work- in -progress.  When we stick close to God, our lives show the results of His work.  When we stray, we start to get tarnished by the cares of this world again, and our sinful ways creep back in.


  1. I love the way they turned out. Beautiful.. The oak secretary really looks a lot like the one I have. Very good job Vonnie.

  2. There are several websites where you can order reproductions of of hardware. Love the shape of the mirror.

  3. Yvonne-well said and well done. I, too, love looking for old pieces of furniture, but I'm not as adept at refinishing them as you are. What a beautiful piece (the blog and the furniture). We surely are like old pieces of furniture, aren't we?

  4. Love it Vonnie! I too have special memories of that looking at those salt and pepper shakers in it like they were such treasures! You inspire me to refinish her table...OR I refinish it for me;) I agree on the finish! Loved the blog! lyp