Thursday, February 18, 2010

My Desk Restoration - Finished!

I finished restoration of my 1950's Mainline desk and I am so proud of it! Final product is pictured above. I'm now sitting at it as I type this! I'm amazed at how pieces can come back to life with a little (or sometimes, a lot..) of effort. Surprisingly this one wasn't too bad - I thought it would be worse.

I got so excited to start this project that I forgot to take a "before" shot. Stupid! But I did take one after it was stripped (below) The desk was covered in a brown shiny lacquer and had a lot of scratches, dents and chips. The hardware was faded and in general, the whole piece was pretty beat up.

Here was the process (if you want to try a restoration yourself):

1. Strip it:
Pieces from the 50's and 60's are very commonly covered in a lacquer or shellac. Test the finish to determine which it is. Shellac and lacquer are both clear finishes like lacquer but it's hard to tell which it is just by looking.

First apply Denatured Alcohol (available at Home Depot, Lowe's, etc.). If it liquifies it's shellac and you're good to go in wiping it off. If not, next try Lacquer Thinner (again available at any home improvement store). Let it sit for 5-10 seconds, then wipe with a clean cloth or steel wool. If the finish wipes off it's Lacquer.

Continue with the stripper you need to dissolve the finish. Fine Steel Wool works very well in removing finishes without damaging the wood. Make sure you get almost all of the finish off before moving to sanding.

2. Sand it:
Once your piece is stripped down to it's wood it's time for sanding. You can always smooth over your piece by hand but a sander makes life so much easier. There are really small, comfortable hand-held sanders for around $30 these days. If your piece has light marks in the wood use a fine sandpaper to lightly remove them. Start with a medium grade sand paper for deeper scratches and finish with a fine sandpaper.

Deep cuts might require a wood filler. There are many color options to choose from. If you plan to stain your piece dark, look for a filler that is close to the stain color or a light colored filler that takes stain. Always sand the filler down flush with the wood before staining it.

3. Prep the wood:
Once your piece is smooth you'll want to make sure there are no dust particles or pieces of dirt, etc. on the surface. Run over the wood with Tack Cloth (available at any home improvement store). Tack is a sticky cloth that will remove any surface residue.

Next, condition the wood. This is an important step that you should not skip. Apply a coat of Wood Conditioner (again, any home improvement store) prior to staining. It will sink into the wood and prepare it to absorb the stain more evenly for a beautiful color.

4. Stain and Seal:
Almost done - this is my favorite part because you see all the hard work you put into stripping and sanding pay off! Choose the stain of your choice. Apply according to directions. Always apply with the grain of the wood. I like to use staining pads for an easy, nice application. I always apply stain and then swoop off the residue with a clean cloth. You do not want extra stain sitting atop your wood. It won't absorb evenly. I like to do at least 2 coats. Apply as many coats as you like to get the desired color.

Once the color is achieved and your piece has dried completely, apply a sealer to protect the finish and give it a lovely sheen. There are many varieties of sealer to choose from. I like to use a semi gloss which gives it a very low sheen. I applied Polyurethane on my desk pictured. I did 2 coats to make sure all areas were covered and the wood was protected well. I use a very fine brush to apply my sealer and spend a lot of time to do it right. The last thing you want is to make it all the way to this last step then rush it and have streaks.

Voila - your piece is done! If you have hardware that needs cleaning use Brass-O or Silver Cleaners to buff them.

Last piece of advice: Wear gloves during any stripping and staining. While sanding wear a mask and goggles!

Feel free to write me with any questions about this process. I love to refinish and inspire others to try it!

Pictured below is the desk after I stripped it (and did one test run of sanding).

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