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Friday, November 11, 2011

Refinishing Furniture – To Be or Not To Be

Refinishing furniture can be a challenging but rewarding for someone with these tips and a do-it-yourself attitude. Seeing an old piece of furniture that you deem to be a gem-in-the-rough and making it become a fine piece of furniture again is an enjoyable process. With a bit of hard work, you can transform even the most unsightly piece of furniture into a showcase item. Refinishing furniture is one way of restoring furniture and is a much more extreme option and should only be done on genuine antiques when you determine that that the pieces is too damaged or the finish too far gone to be able to be restored.  Another option for refinishing a piece of furniture, is transforming it into soemthing we call "shabby chic".  The goal of shabby chic decor is to achieve a stylish marriage of old and new. with furniture refinishing, you want a blend of vintage, slightly worn and hand-me-down pieces...and a bit of color, incorporate the distressed quality of used furnishings and you have something that is updated yet still has the appearance of old school elegance

  •  Stripping
  • Sanding
  • Stain/paint and finish coat application
For the stripping work, you will need a drop cloth or tarp to catch the debris and unwanted material. You'll also need a 3-inch putty knife, rubber gloves, a bucket of water, a regular paintbrush, steel wool, safety goggles, respirator, cotton rags, and a stripper.
For the sanding work, you will need 120 grit sandpaper, 220 grit sandpaper, wood filler, a sanding block, and, if you find stains in the wood that need to be removed, oxalic acid. For the finishing work, you will need stain colorant, possibly grain filler (depending on the natural pores of the wood you are working with), safety glasses, 400 grit sandpaper, sanding sealer, finish and a tack rag.
The choice of finish is up to you, depending on the color, durability and sheen of the  finish you would like to use. You should be able to find most, if not all, of these items at your local home improvement store.
To begin refinishing your furniture, you will need to first remove the old finish. Unfortunately, this is the most funky part of refinishing furniture, but it is also essential to completing the task correctly. You'll need to use sandpaper and chemical strippers to remove the old paint or varnish from your furniture. Sanding by hand is not advised as this would lengthen the process substantially. If you have experience operating a belt or disc sander, you'll be able to remove the old finish much more quickly and efficiently. However, you must be extremely careful not to sand into the actual wood too unevenly as this can damage and even ruin your furniture (note:  This is especially true for veneered pieces you are refinishing). In order to prevent this from happening, pay close attention while sanding and stop to touch the furniture frequently to make sure you're not sanding too deeply into the actual wood.  Some surface removal may be necessary to remove long and uneven scratches that are on the surface of the wood.  For gouges, it is best to fill with wood filler and sand the filled area to become level and match the surrounding area.
For most people, using chemical strippers may be the best alternative to removing the old finish on your furniture. Depending on the product you buy, be sure to read the instructions carefully and always avoid touching the chemicals directly or spilling them on your skin or in your eyes. Always wear rubber gloves and safety goggles when using chemical strippers. If you use a chemical stripper that says it requires no clean up after use, be sure to sand the residue left by the chemicals either way. Also, ensure that you're using a ventilated area when removing the old finish on your furniture. When applying the chemical stripper to your furniture, make sure the initial coat is thick and left undisturbed after its application. Refer to the label on your chemical stripper to determine how long to let it sit. Use your putty knife to remove the paint or varnish after letting the chemical stripper dry for the recommended amount of time. Depending on the piece of furniture you’re refinishing and the type of chemical stripper you use, you may need to repeat this procedure multiple times. Once you have reached the original wood along all areas of your furniture, follow the manufacturer's recommendation on cleaning the chemical stripper and then allow your furniture to dry for at least 24 hours.
Now you're ready to prepare the wood for the actual refinishing. Use your 120 grit sandpaper to smooth out your piece of furniture. Then use the 220 grit sandpaper to further smooth out your piece of furniture. Again, feel free to use a belt or random orbital disc sander (best option) to smooth out the wood if you're comfortable with doing so. If you feel more comfortable sanding by hand, remember this golden rule: always sand with the grain. For flat surfaces, wrap your sandpaper around a sanding block to ensure that you are sanding in a balanced manner.
Depending on the type of wood your furniture is comprised of, you may need grain filler to produce a smooth finish. Woods that most typically require grain filler include mahogany, walnut, and oak. Be sure to choose grain filler that matches the color of your wood and the color of the stain you plan to use. Follow the recommendations on the label of whatever grain filler you choose. Apply the grain filler with a rag, allow it to dry according to the manufacturer's recommendation and remove the excess material with your putty knife. Also sand the area lightly to make sure everything is smooth.
Choose the type of stain that suits your needs. The various types of stains include oil-based stain, water-based stains, gel stains and one step stains. Oil-based stains seep deep into the wood without raising the actual furniture grain. Water-based stains are more environmentally friendly but they also risk raising the grain on your furniture. Gel stains are thick and provide optimum color control because of their thickness. One step stains allow the user to apply color and finish simultaneously but may cover up some of the wood's natural characteristics. As usual, read and follow the manufacturer's recommendations when applying your chosen stain product. Remember to apply the stain with the grain. You can also apply the stain multiple times to achieve a darker finish. Allow the stain to dry per the label on the side of the can. Finally, use a top coat of your choice to apply the final finish to your piece of furniture. Options for the final finish include water-based polyurethane, polyurethane and lacquer. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's recommendation on whatever final finish you choose. 
Lastly, you'll want to apply some type of clear finish that will protect the newly stained surface and provide a nice sheen to the furniture.  There are three basic sheens you can obtain for the final finish on your furniture:
  • Matte
  • Satin
  • Gloss
Finish is built onto the surface in multiple applications, where each application of the finish is allowed to cure for a given amount of time before that coat is prepared (usually sanded smooth using wet/dry extra-fine grit sandpaper (400-600 grit).  The build or body coats are the part of a finish that provide moisture resistance, durability and longevity to the coating. Depth in clear or translucent finishes and richness of colored coatings depend on these build coats. For clear coatings, where the structure, grain and tone of the wood are visible, use only gloss for build coats. Goss body or build coats maintain clarity and eliminate the foggy, dull or milky look associated when semi-gloss or altered sheens are used to build the body of a finish.
In solid opaque lacquers or painted finishes the gloss product has all the best in hardness and durability characteristics including resistance to dents and impressions. With moisture proof or moisture resistant coatings the hardness or density and porosity of the wood substrate will dictate the required number of build coats. The best moisture proof coating cannot do its job if the coating thickness does not provide for wear and a non permeable membrane.
When moisture resistance is important, always give at least one more coat than just looks good or provides an even build. The one extra gloss build coat added to a finish consisting of one sealer, one build, & one topcoat will more than double resistance to moisture.
Almost done ...the top coat
This is the look and result that most envision when a finishing job is started. Many finishers, in a rush to this end, omit the necessary foundation work that will provide the lasting look and result in durable performance. This top coat gives the desired esthetic sheen, but the total look and character of the finish comes from the work put into the Base & Build coats.
If a matte, semi-gloss, or satin sheen is desired apply only as a last top coat. Finishes built with adjusted sheen materials lack durability and clarity. Uneven sheens and a foggy look of the final cured coat are common and symptomatic in lacquer finishes built up with a flatted or less than gloss sheen.
Careful preparation prior to this last “look coat” by sanding with fine paper, careful removal of dust from the surface, and sanitation in the work area pay off in a lot of saved labor.  If the last coat is to be rubbed to high gloss allow plenty of drying and curing time (depending on coating type and humidity - temperature conditions) prior to any polishing or rubbing operations.. Polishing or rubbing materials depend on the hardness of the cured coating to produce an even and predictable result. (Note: many finishes take much longer after “dry enough to handle” to reach the final complete cure required to polish a finish to a high gloss)
Lacquer will reach final hardness and cure in 21 days under good conditions. Traditional gloss oil based enamels should cure 30 days if a rubbed higher gloss finish is desired.
Done…what a beauty!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

On Antiques and Vintage Furnishings and Accessories

Most people I have met love to collect, or at the very least, appreciate fine old furnishings and accessories. What we often refer to as antiques has been evolving in the past twenty years.  In the past, if some item was designated as an antique, it meant that it was over 100 years old.  In the furnishings and accessories market, the word antique is often applied to items that were made prior to World War II.  Items made after World War II through the 1980s are referred to as Vintage. 
In our 21st century world, it is interesting to note how our antique and vintage market place has changed. Whereas in past decades, 18th century and early 19th century furniture was the mainstay of the American Antique furniture market, in recent years there has been a growing demand for furniture manufactured since the 1920s. Factory-made furniture from the 1920s and 1930s, often featuring Colonial Revival style, has seen a growing appreciation among collectors. It is considered to be well-made (by today’s manufacturing standards) and features solid wood and fine veneers rather than the cheap compressed wood materials (MDF) often used since the l960s and into today (MDF has a longevity rating of around 50 years - guess it won't make it to be an "antique").  When was the last time you heard of somebody buying something from IKEA and have it last 20 years?  We are seeing a phenomenal increase in demand these recent years for furniture in the Modernistic and Mid-century styles, ranging from 1920’s Art Deco through quality designer (and some knock-offs) from the Mid-Century 1950s and 60s through the retro-look of the l970s and 80s.
These latest trends have offered even those on a limited budget the opportunity to purchase fine furniture at most reasonable prices. Buying antique and collectible furniture is no longer the domain of the rich and museums.  Today, more and more furniture is showing up on Internet sites and sometimes good buys can be made. However, it is important to deal with honest, well-informed sellers who have a good knowledge of what you want to purchase. Personally, I still prefer to purchase furniture at antiques shows, shops and auctions where I have the opportunity to carefully examine the piece in person to make sure it is “as represented,” with no hidden surprises such as major repairs or replacements.
A persistent recommendation amongst those who know about the value and construction methods , it makes the most sense to purchase the best pieces you can find, whatever the style or era of production. Condition is still very important if you want your piece to continue to appreciate in value in the coming years. For 18th century and early 19th century pieces the original finish and hardware are especially important as it is with good furniture of the early 20th century Arts & Crafts and Deco eras. These features are not quite as important for most manufactured furniture of the Victorian era and furniture from the 1920s and later. However, it is good to be aware that a good finish and original hardware will mean a stronger market when pieces are resold.  Whatever period of furniture your purchase from, you are better off with examples that have not had major repair or replacements. On really early furniture, repairs and replacements will definitely have an impact on the sale value, but they will also be a factor on newer designs from the 20th century.
As with all types of antiques and collectibles, there is often a regional preference for certain furniture types. Although the American market is much more homogenous than it was in past decades, there still tends to be a preference for 18th century and early 19th century furniture along the Eastern Seaboard, whereas Victorian designs tend to have a larger market in the Midwest and South. In the West, country furniture and Western-styled designs definitely have the edge except in major cities along the West Coast. Even more localized markets can be found. For example, around Palm Springs, CA, Mid-century Modern furniture and accessories are in greatest demand while less than 100 miles away in the Los Angeles-San Diego corridor, a wider range of furniture is marketable and desirable.  Whatever your favorite style furniture, there are still fine examples to be found. Just study the history of your favorites and the important points of their construction before you invest heavily. A wise shopper will be a happy shopper and have a collection certain to continue to appreciate as time marches along into our 21st century.