Ask Snag: Reviving Mid-century Legs

Snag reader Susie scored this fantastic mid-century sewing desk with a matching footstool. As seen in this picture, the desk is in remarkable condition.

Sewing Machine

Unfortunately, the footstool’s accompanying legs are a little rougher.

Sewing Machine FootstoolSewing Machine Legs

Here’s what Susie writes:

I thought maybe the snag team could give me some ideas on how to refinish or fix the the brass hardware and restoring the stools wood finish.

In the pictures you will see how the brass plating is scratched and showing the brown base. It’s like the flaws are there for good. Is there any way of restoring them back to the pretty brassy finish? If not, do you have any other suggestions? 

The second issue is the finish of the wood is dinged and scratched. If I want a nice smooth finish, do I need to strip the whole thing and start fresh, ugh? It’s more the legs that are pretty rough, the actual seat wood is ok. 

Also, as you can see one of the feet is bent and missing a tack on bottom, I assume I can pick up something similar at a hardware store.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! 

So, with those three things in mind, let’s get started!

1. Brass Plating on the Toe Caps

Honestly we’ve never had much luck cleaning these up, and polishing any kind of mid-century brass hardware is a total crapshoot. Most often these caps are thin sheet metal with a microscopically thin layer of brass plating protected by a layer of clear lacquer. With age and use, the lacquer scratches and cracks, allowing air and moisture to seep in and tarnish the brass. Since the plating layer is so thin, the tarnish often goes all the way through to the base metal.

If it was one of our pieces, we would just accept their battle scars.You can attempt polishing by first removing the clear lacquer with acetone or lacquer thinner and then polishing the metal with a polish like Weiman’s metal cleaner, but the plating easily polishes off. You can protect them from getting worse by applying car wax or spraying a new coat of clear lacquer over them. If the toe caps are badly damaged or rusted, you can clean them smooth with a wire wheel and steel wool and then paint them a similar color to the original. Metal-looking spray paint is getting better and better.

2. Scratched Legs

Most manufacturers used white woods like pine and birch for legs of walnut finished pieces. The factory applied finish is a semi-opaque and sprayed-on to ensure that it covers the wood evenly and matches the tone of the expensive veneers used elsewhere. That’s why when you see even a shallow scratch, it’s bright white. Unfortunately, these woods don’t take stains or conventional finishes predictably and repairing or refinishing them can be tricky.

For larger scratches, try Danish oil in the scratch to see if it becomes less noticeable. Try this in an inconspicuous area first, as the wood might not take the oil or it may become quite a bit darker than the original finish.

For small scuffs that feel worse than they look, polishes such as Formby’s Almond Lustre can make a pretty dramatic impact. For greater polishing you can also use H. Behlen’s Buffer’s Polish. This stuff can perform amazing feats with finishes dulled by fine scratches.

For smaller nicks and scratches, try fill sticks such as Guardsman that can be found at most big box stores. These crayon-like sticks fill-in scratches and can even be mixed to get the color right. Usually I rub them into the scratch and then lightly burnish with a cloth or paper towel.

Usually with these steps, completely refinishing the legs will not be necessary. Phew!

3. Missing Glide

Remove all of the glides and yes, you’re right: take one to a hardware store to see if you can find something that will work. Replace all four to account for any height discrepancies in the new and old glides. It looks like there is a large hole bored for the glide to insert into, so it’s important to find the same kind of insert to make sure it works correctly. If you can’t find what you need at the store, these guys probably have it. Worst case scenario, if you can’t find a suitable replacement, remove the remaining glides and replace with adhesive felt or nylon glides.

Susie, we hope these tips help with the restoration of your foot stool. Thank you so much for sending us your project.

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  1. Susie
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the great suggestions!! I will definitely try the Danish oil and almond lustre. I already have these on hand from my former broyhill saga hutch project. I remember Austin had recommended these. I think I’m leaning toward leaving the brass part as is now that you described the process of the construction of the brass/metal. I did check out some spray paint however I am a little scared to try it. I’ll also check out the other things you mentioned. It usually takes me a while to get around to completeting a project (I have 4 kids). I will let you guys know how it turns out. Thanks again Snag!!!

  2. Critifur
    Posted June 25, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    I recently found the same desk, though the top is in terrible shape. I want to refinish just the top, at some point.

  3. Posted October 26, 2020 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Thankfulness to my father who shared with me concerning this weblog, this website is actually awesome.

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