Craftsman, Woodworker, Antiques Refinisher, Columnist, Author and Television Host
"Is it worth doing?"
Your time, energy, and money are all valuable, so this first question is an important one.
Choose the right project and your investment will be rewarded both financially and internally.
Choose the wrong one and your frustration may discourage you from ever starting another one again.
I learned as I so often do -- the hard way -- on a 1920s factory-painted Hoosier-style kitchen cupboard. I was young and foolish, as opposed to now when I am still sometimes just plain foolish. My first clue should have come at the small town auction, when no one else was willing to bid more than twenty dollars for the painted cupboard. I suspect the local antiques dealers were snickering to each other as I struggled to load it into the back of my Opal stationwagon.
Hours of time, sheets of sandpaper, and gallons of stripper later I learned a valuable lesson: paint does not want to come out of raw wood.
So, when evaluating any painted piece, determine the following: was the paint originally applied to raw wood, or was the paint applied over an existing clear finish?
If it was brushed onto raw wood, give up any thoughts of successfully removing all of the paint, for it has soaked so far down into the pores, cracks, and joints of the wood that it will never all come out. But if you can easily scrape away enough paint to see a shiny layer of varnish between the paint and the wood, then you have a fighting chance.
Besides factory-painted pieces, what other warning signs should you look for in any project you are considering? Here are a few more:
2. Missing parts.
Besides being expensive to have duplicated, getting new chair rungs or spindles, for example, to blend in with the old ones is extremely difficult to do.
3. Lots of upholstery.
Unless you know an experienced upholsterer, you probably don't realize how expensive it can be to have a piece reupholstered these days. And trying to refinish a piece without removing the upholstery is like giving a small child on a white sofa a dish of chocolate ice cream to eat -- with a fork.
4. Peeling or loose veneer.
Thin sheets of veneer have often been used to disguise inferior wood. If the venner has buckled or large pieces have broken off, this becomes a job for a professional with extensive experience -- even then only provided the piece is valuable or is a family heirloom.
5. Anthing made of particleboard.
Also referred to as fibre board or similar names, what appear to be boards are actually planks of glued up sawdust and wood chips. When it gets wet, it crumbles. When stress is applied, it crumbles. When dropped, it crumbles. Get the picture? It crumbles.
Three Important Rules: Always follow the manufacturer's directions, take all safety precautions and first test every product in an inconspicuous spot.