For the back story, please see my blog dated 06/18/13.
Be forewarned: this job is smelly, dirty and back-breaking. It is also hot and sweaty, depending on the season. You may get frustrated and will want to quit, but stick with it. The results are so gratifying.
In this project, I will be stripping and refinishing three pieces: a small sideboard, an end table, and a tall chest. The sideboard was my grandmother's from the 1940's; the end table belonged to my mother, bought in 1969; and the chest is mine, purchased in 1987. Three generations of furniture going to the fourth generation: my daughter. I think that's all kinds of awesome.
Part I - Stripping
YOU WILL NEED:
1) A well ventilated work space - the garage is perfect.
2) A drop cloth - we used cheap plastic from the local building supply store.
3) Stripping compound - there are many different brands out there. Some work in as little as 30 minutes, others require overnight. They come in liquid and paste formulas. Paste will cling to vertical surfaces better. They are all pretty much the same, but read the labels and the fine print to determine which one will work the best for you.
4) Lacquer thinner - this cleans the area of accumulated gunk and dust from your stripping efforts. It will also clean your brushes.
5) Small metal cans with lids - one for the stripper and one for the lacquer thinner. You can find these in the paint department.
6) An old brush - it doesn't matter what kind, and the larger the brush, the faster you can cover large areas. And it doesn't matter if the fibers are mangled and bent; the point is coverage, not perfectly aligned brush strokes.
7) Sand paper - 60 grit works well. Use this after you've scraped up as much of the old finish as you can. It's good on stubborn spots, and really brings out the bare wood.
8) Steel wool - for heavily carved surfaces. The mesh works into the crevices.
9) Rags - for use with the lacquer thinner. You can buy these in bundles in the paint department of your building supply store.
10) Scrapers - plastic is preferred for wood, but we also used metal. The corners on the metal one were great for long crevices.
11) Safety goggles - duh.
12) Chemical resistant gloves - duh-oh.
13) Patience - it comes in handy.
14) Elbow grease - think of it as a good workout for your upper arms, with a little cardio thrown in.
1) Place the piece on the drop cloth. Remove all drawers, doors, shelves and hardware. Decide which surface you want to strip first and place that upper most. When you finish that surface, turn the piece to access the next. As you work, you will be turning the piece over and over, like a chicken on a spit. Always work one small area at a time and completely strip it before working the next.
2) Pour the stripper into one of the metal containers. Pour the lacquer thinner in the other. Keep the lids on when not in use.
DOWN TO BUSINESS:
L) My horrifically mangled brush.
M) Applying the stripper. Be sure to cover every bit of the surface. You can see the stuff is already working, even as I brush it on.
R) After brushing. Now for a 30 minute break to give the stripper time to apply its chemical muscle.
L) 30 minutes later, it's time to apply MY muscle with my trusty red plastic scraper. Always scrape in the direction of the grain.
M) Voila! Maybe it's just me, but there is something immensely gratifying in seeing that ugly old finish come peeling off.
R) After scraping the entire surface.
L) Cleaning the surface with a rag dipped in lacquer thinner.
M) After a little more scraping to get the gunk out of the crevices, a good scrubbing with the steel wool and the sand paper (WITH the grain), and another cleaning with lacquer thinner, the table top is done! Compare the difference between the color of the bare wood with the finish in the photos above. My little end table is now back to her natural blonde self.
R) Here, you can see the unstripped finish lurking underneath the bare wood. The table will be turned on its side so I can tackle this surface next.
A NOTE: Stripping the first two pieces nearly did me in. Not because they are bigger, but because the old finish was EXTREMELY stubborn and did not want to let go. It took a great deal more elbow grease, and sometimes a second application of stripper, to get the job done. This little end table was a cake walk, by comparison. I'm no professional, but logic tells me that the amount of effort required to strip a piece is related to the type of wood, the kind of finish, the number of layers (if a piece has been painted over multiple times), and even the ambient temperature and humidity. If you are unlucky enough to get a stubborn piece of furniture, don't give up. Keep at it. You will eventually figure out how to beat that sucker into submission, and the remaining surfaces on the piece will surrender with nary a whimper.
Below, see the bare bones results:
Part II - Painting
YOU WILL NEED:
1) Paint - there's oceans and oceans of it out there and it comes in different sheens, from a flat (dull) finish to glossy and shiny. I used an eggshell finish. This has a little bit of gloss to it. Whatever floats your boat.
2) Brushes - get new ones.
3) Fine grit sandpaper - I used 220. (The higher the number, the finer the grit.)
4) A clean container - mine was plastic with a side handle. Use this to pour a little of your paint into as you work.
5) A tack cloth or really good dusting rag - to remove the dust from your sanding efforts. Never, ever forget to wipe down your surfaces after sanding, or you will have floofy bits mixed in with your paint.
6) Drop cloths - unless you like a Jackson Pollock styled garage floor.
7) Bricks - place these under the feet or bottom to get your piece off the floor a little bit. Otherwise, your painted feet will stick to the drop cloth, especially if it's cheap plastic. A couple of long 2 X 4's would also work. Just be sure your piece is balanced and not in danger of tipping over.
8) Primer - I add this mainly as an after-thought. Since I completely stripped the old finish away, a primer was not necessary, but you can certainly use one if you prefer.
1) Place the furniture on your drop cloth. If you have a small, short piece, put that on a sturdy covered workbench to help save your back. I did this with the end table. The other two pieces were too tall and heavy.
2) Wipe down all surfaces well with the tack cloth.
3) Pour some paint into your handy-dandy container, take a deep breath and......GO!
DOWN TO BUSINESS (no work-in-progress photos here, sorry!):
1) Brush with the grain. For best results, brush in the same direction. If you use a back-and-forth sweeping motion, the back stroke will "lift" the paint already laid down by the forward stroke, and the result won't be as smooth and flat.
2) Don't use a heavy hand with the paint. The idea is to build up coverage with two or three coats, so keep it light and even each time. If your first coat dries to a patchy, streaky looking finish, DON'T PANIC!
3) Be on the watch for drips and brush them down as soon as you spot one. Once a drip dries, you are stuck with it. Sometimes a little bit of lint or a hair will stick to the paint. While still wet, deftly dab it out with a finger, and then lightly brush over the spot.
4) Let the piece dry the recommended time before applying the second coat. The brand I used said to wait two hours between coats.
5) Using your 220 grit sandpaper, lightly sand all the painted surfaces. The idea here is to rough up the paint so that the second coat will stick better. If you sand down to the wood in some places, that's okay. In fact, you WILL sand down to the wood, especially on edges, corners and the upper parts of carved surfaces.
6) Remove all the dust with your tack cloth.
7) Apply your second coat, just like you did the first one, lightly and evenly. Rejoice as you watch the streaky looking spots disappear under the second layer.
8) If you decide to go for a third coat, follow the above steps again. I only required two coats to get beautiful coverage.
A NOTE: My original intention was to paint the pieces white and then "distress" them with a glaze tinted dark grey. It looked gorgeous in my mind, but the reality was anything but. Fortunately, I had the smarts to test this out on a drawer. When I decided that the results weren't going to meet expectations, the drawer was easily re-stripped and re-painted.
If you are interested in this technique, you will need: a glazing compound, paint in the color you want your glaze to be, a small brush, quick reflexes, and lots and lots of rags. You can buy bundles of rags in the paint department.
Tint your glazing compound. The ratio is typically 1 part paint to 3 or 4 parts glazing. Read the instructions on the can, it will tell you. Stir well.
Now for the scary part: WORK IN SMALL SECTIONS, really small sections. Brush on the tinted glaze and very quickly wipe the excess off using a clean rag. This stuff dries in seconds, I swear, so be fast, or work in tandem with a partner: one brushes while the other is right behind doing the wiping. The glaze will settle into cracks, crevices, on and around carved areas, highlighting details, while giving the piece a distressed look at the same time. My problem was that I had never done this before and didn't realize how quickly the glaze would set up. The result was a drawer that looked dirty. There is nothing wrong with the technique --- if you know what you are doing --- but I didn't and I was too scared to keep trying. Sometimes it pays to know when to stop, before what's perfect suddenly becomes a mess, you hate it, and days or weeks of work go down the toilet. If my experience doesn't scare you off and you are determined to try, buy some cheap wood, paint it like you did your furniture, and then practice until you get the technique down.
Part III - Sealant
YOU WILL NEED:
1) A water-based protective finish - as with paint, these come in different sheens. I used a satin finish that has just a little bit of gloss when it dries. If your paint is light colored, make sure what you get isn't going to yellow on you. The last thing you want is your beautiful bright white paint job looking dingy and old.
2) Brush - a new one.
3) Tack cloth - to remove dust
4) Fine grit sandpaper - I used 220 again, but follow manufacturer's instructions.
PREPPING: It's the same as the painting section, but I didn't pour the sealant into a separate container, preferring to apply it straight out of the can.
DOWN TO BUSINESS: Again, follow the painting instructions above. I used two coats of sealant. When everything has dried, apply your hardware, replace shelving, drawers and doors.
Part IV - Enjoy!
It's so true when they say hard work is its own reward. This project took me just shy of three weeks, working off and on throughout each day. Richard contributed a little bit of the labor, but he was mostly excused because he has a job and somebody has to pay the bills. He did, however, get the knobs screwed on, a chore that took some brute strength, and the doors to hang straight on the old sideboard. He's handy like that.
I originally wanted the clear acrylic knobs you see in the photo above. However, after pricing them at several places, including on-line, the cheapest I could find was going to run me $3.99 a pop. That doesn't seem so bad at first, but multiply $3.99 by 31, and the hardware alone was going to come close to what the other supplies had cost me.
My semi-homemade version was one-third the cost and took me about 1-1/2 hours to assemble. The plastic knobs were less than $1.00 each, and the clear rhinestones came packaged in bags of 10 for $2.99. I grumbled at having to purchase a fourth bag in order to get 31 rhinestones, but it turned out to be a good thing to have some extras; Richard popped off a few while screwing the knobs into place.
Stick a fork in me, I'm DONE!
grew a beard after our kids left the house. He decided a mid-life hirsute pursuit was cheaper than a new car, and certainly less hazardous to his health than an affair. If he can have a mid-life crisis, then so can I.