Before and After: A Buffet of Sadness

Winter is literally pounding against the side of my house as I write this. Knowing this was inevitable, I’ve been tearing through refinishing projects like a mad man, hoping to squeeze just one more thing in before being plunged into freezing temps. As it turns out, today’s little buffet might just be the one project that squeaked in under the wire. A few weeks ago I picked up this faded, battered little buffet at an estate sale a friend was having.

photo

Before.

The pictures might make it look better than it really was. The finish on the top was water damaged and beginning to flake off. The doors and drawers were faded, hazed and splotchy. The hardware was tarnished and green in spots. It had seen better days. Initially I was hoping just to refinish the top and polish up the rest. So I stripped the top and applied poly—it was looking great. While the poly dried, I decided to use Howard’s Feed-N-Wax on the rest. I looked on in horror as the wood suddenly became three shades darker and even splotchier than ever as the oils soaked through the cloudy finish and into the walnut beneath. Sigh. My only choice was to sand off all my newly applied poly, strip down the doors and drawers, apply stain to everything and then apply poly. I’m actually pretty glad I did, the results are so much better than I expected.

After

After.

Who knew all that dark, gorgeous grain was hiding under there? Not me. I truly didn’t think it would look this nice.

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A big part of freshening up any piece is to polish up the hardware. I don’t normally do this unless I’m sure the hardware is solid brass or that the plating is fully intact, otherwise you’re likely to polish it down to the base metal. Luckily these were solid brass and after stripping off the protective lacquer, they polished right up. I reapplied gloss lacquer afterward to keep them looking new.

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Looking at the before, it’s easy to see why some people grab for their paint brushes when confronted with a tired piece of furniture. But in reality, this project took two days to complete and was super easy. I consider this a pretty solid win, so if winter has to start now, at least I can end the project season on a happy note.

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7 Comments

  1. linda
    Posted November 11, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    It’s so cute! I was just wondering if this piece was veneered? And if so you just sanded it down, no stripping or anything? I’ve got a cool mid century dresser by royal Sweden but it veneered and the drawers have faded different colors. I’m not quite sure what to do next, any help is greatly appreciated :)

    • Austin
      Posted November 11, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Hi Linda! Yes, this piece is veneered and you’re right to be concerned about sanding veneer. To be clear, I used a powerful (methylene chloride) chemical stripper on the top and that is my preferred method. Since chemical strippers work very fast and don’t affect the wood much, it only needs minimal sanding with light grades of sandpaper—there’s not much chance you’ll do any harm that way.

      But, when it came to the drawers and doors, I sanded them down. I did this for a couple reasons: 1. I had already applied a wax-based polish and waxes are often impervious to strippers but will resist varnishes if they remain in the wood, and 2. I was working indoors by that point and chemical stripper was not an option. Sanding worked, but because you have to use coarser sandpapers for finish removal it’s harder on the wood, has the greatest chance of changing the color and grain texture and carries a high risk of sanding through the veneer, particularly at edges and corners.

      My advice is to strip when you can, but if you choose to strip-sand, do it with care and caution.

      Since you mentioned your dresser was made by Royal Sweden, I’d bet there’s a good chance it’s teak. Teak furniture, especially that of Scandinavian origin, often isn’t finished with a film-forming finish like lacquer or varnish. If your dresser is teak, rather than stripping, I might just recommend lightly sanding the entire piece with 220 grit sandpaper, working up to 320 or 400. Wipe the entire surface with mineral spirits. When it dries apply H. Behlen teak oil (there are other brands, but I love this one if you can find it) according to the instructions on the can. It should look like new.

      Feel free to email a picture of your piece to austin@snag-blog.com if you’re unsure of the wood.

      • Linda
        Posted November 12, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

        Thanks so much for the info! It’s interesting to know that the stripping doesn’t hurt the wood, I always worry about that with stripping. I’ll email over a pic, it might be teak, but its very shiny. I couldn’t really find much info on Royal Sweden, I didn’t even know it was until I got it home, but for $30 it was worth it anyway.

        I am seriously impressed with your refinishing job, it looks so beautiful! And thanks for the advice :)

        Kind Regards,
        Linda

        • Austin
          Posted November 12, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

          Thanks Linda. I do usually prefer to strip wood rather than sand because I’ve found it’s safest for the wood. That being said, I wouldn’t recommend using solvent free strippers (CitriStrip, Safest Stripper, etc.) on veneer or delicate woods. Because these are often water based and usually take a long time to work (in some cases hours), they can seep into wood, raising the grain and loosening glues. I recommend using fast acting strippers like Zinsser Power Stripper or Zinsser Furniture Refinisher (which basically just wipes off the old varnish with steel wool). Any of these need to be used with adequate ventilation though.

  2. Posted November 11, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    This is gorgeous. I always think of you when I look at a piece that needs “work.” Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Austin
      Posted November 11, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Laura! Spread the word. It’s fun and rewarding to restore furniture and I always hope my work can inspire people to take a more conservational and restorative approach to vintage pieces rather than easier, but more disposable alternatives.

  3. Posted November 12, 2014 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Austin – that piece looks amazing. The contrasting grain patterns on the front is really stunning! Incredible what a hidden gem that was. Thanks for sharing!

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