Sunday, May 20, 2012

Refinishing an Old, Three-Drawer Side Table

It's just a simply-made pine "dresser" with three drawers (back in the day, it was my dad's bedside table in which he kept socks, t-shirts & undies :). When I moved into a house in college, it was given to me to use.
I never really thought about it other than the fact it was a handy little side table, and it followed me from place to place over the years.

Now, in our house in St. Paul, it's down in my "office," where it holds stationery, stamps and other crafting odds-and-ends. I looked at it one day this spring and thought, "I'd really like it if that side table were darker." And so it began.

We don't have a wide variety of tools so I ended up borrowing my friend's little mouse sander for the project. Using 80-grit sand paper, I started removing the old finish. 

The sides, top and even the drawers of the side table were easy to sand; the nooks and crannies were the hardest. While I knew this wouldn't be perfect – it was, after all, my first refinishing project – I also didn't want it to LOOK like a first-time sanding job.

Of course, in my haste to get it done, I didn't bother to sand any part of this dresser by hand; I used the Black & Decker mouse for the entire project. I ended up finessing the sander well enough that I got all the old finish off without losing too much detailing.

At this point, the neighbors were interested in what I was doing so they came over to take a look – and critique the project, no doubt :) – and offered some good advice for the next steps of the refinishing. They also gave me some important items: a piece of tack cloth to wipe down the side table before I started in with the stain, and some fine steel wool to lightly sand in between coats of the stain and/or finish.

It was amazing how much sandpaper dust I removed from that dresser with the tack cloth, even after I'd wiped it with my hands. After wiping down the entire side table, I was ready to start staining.

For this part of the project, I'd purchased a nice brush but the neighbors said to use a foam paint brush – it's a cheap option to evenly apply the stain, and this way I didn't have to worry about cleaning off my nice brush when I was done (we even had several foam brushes leftover from a previous painting job; so no extra expense there).

The foam brush worked very well to apply the stain – Moorish Teak oil-based wood stain by Zar – and I had to do very little wiping with my soft cloths to remove excess stain. Since I was staining outside in the sun, the stain dried very quickly (although I still let everything sit for three hours, per the instructions on the can).

At this point, I was a tad worried about the Moorish Teak – in the sun it looked okay, but as soon as the sun slid behind a cloud, the dresser looked purple. I was a tad apprehensive, but my saintly neighbor came over once again and said, "don't pass judgment yet – it'll change once you sand it and apply the finish."

Once the stain was dry, I used the fine steel wool to lightly sand the dresser to prep it for the polyurethane. It was amazing how much the grain "popped" once I'd sanded it. I started to feel better about the color.

For the finish I used clear antique flat polyurethane (again, by Zar). I didn't want the side table to be shiny; I merely wanted it to have a good sheen and also I wanted to be able to safely dust it.

I knew I'd be applying at least two coats of polyurethane, and since the finish is supposed to dry thoroughly I only got in one coat before nightfall, so it had a couple days' worth of drying before I applied the second coat of finish. 

During the few days of hiatus I had time to think about what I wanted to do with the hardware – I wasn't sure if the vintage brass pulls would look good once the wood was darker...but I liked the "antique-y" look of them so much I ended up deciding to keep them. 

Finally, I had time to haul the side table and its drawers back outside to apply the second – and final – coat of finish.

Before starting to apply the polyurethane, I once again used my fine steel wool to lightly sand all the surfaces – to give the finish a "tooth" to hold onto – which helped get rid of a couple imperfections I had from the first coat. This second coat of finish had to be better than the first, since it was the final step.

One thing I'll do differently on my next refinishing project: I won't apply polyurethane in the sun. I'm somewhat limited with outside space (since we live in a town home), but I'll definitely be applying finish in the shade from here on out...the sun was so strong the finish was drying even as I was painting it on.

To that end, there are a few places in which the polyurethane coat wasn't quite thick enough and dried with a slightly "cloudy" appearance, but that – in my opinion – just adds to the charm of my very first refinishing project :)

When the final coat of finish was absolutely dry (I let it sit for a day to be sure), I put the hardware back on and it was done! It's not as pretty sitting in the sun as it is in my home office – the Moorish Teak worked out VERY well and gave the wood the rich, dark pigment I'd been hoping for.

Also, I think the sanding I did after I applied the stain helped to really bring out the wood grain and make the texture "pop" – again, something I'd wanted to see.

Even though I ended up using the same hardware on the side table – brass batwing drawer pulls – I think the entire dresser has transformed into something entirely different. It's amazing what a little time and love can do to an old piece of furniture!

I'll be honest...I haven't returned my friend's little mouse sander yet – I'm thinking I might want to refinish something else soon!


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