Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Contents -

In De­cem­ber, my hus­band and I came across a piece of fur­ni­ture a mem­ber of his fam­ily was giv­ing away: a thirty-year-old van­ity ta­ble that had be­longed to his mother. It had cer­tainly seen bet­ter days – the larger sur­faces were per­ished and stained – but the wood was still solid. It seemed a shame to let go of the piece, so we de­cided to re­store it. Given its rel­a­tively small size, we fig­ured the restora­tion wouldn’t be too dif­fi­cult and we’d get it done in the last few days of our hol­i­day… Oh, how wrong we were!

First we dis­as­sem­bled it, sep­a­rat­ing mir­ror pan­els, up­rights and draw­ers from the main struc­ture. Then the real work be­gan! We stripped the per­ished var­nish from each of the com­po­nents us­ing a chem­i­cal strip­per, which we later re­moved with paint scrap­ers and rough dish­wash­ing sponges. For those read­ers who don’t know, do­ing this thor­oughly takes a lot longer than you might ex­pect. We then sanded all the com­po­nents, us­ing a belt san­der and or­bital san­der to get a nice, even fin­ish. At this point, we dis­cov­ered the wood wasn’t any­thing too special – the grain lacked char­ac­ter. Not quite what we’d hoped for, but we’d come this far. We ap­plied a coat of stain, let it dry, but noth­ing much changed. We sanded it, re­peated the process, and then re­alised we’d grossly un­der­es­ti­mated the scale of this project.

The work is on­go­ing, but we’ll get there – it’s now a great way to spend a few hours over week­ends to­gether at the end of our busy weeks. We look for­ward to see­ing our fully re­stored van­ity – we’ve al­ready iden­ti­fied where it’ll go in our bed­room. We’ve also learnt that restor­ing old wooden fur­ni­ture takes longer and is a lot harder that you might ex­pect! Per­haps our story might serve as a word of cau­tion to other unini­ti­ated read­ers.


What an ex­cit­ing DIY project to tackle to­gether, Cather­ine. I, too, love old fur­ni­ture and mak­ing things out of wood for my home. I’m no ex­pert car­pen­ter, but there’s some­thing quite re­ward­ing about work­ing with wood, and see­ing the raw wooden el­e­ments turn into some­thing use­ful. Your con­tri­bu­tion has won you this month’s Makita prize! I hope you put it to good use on many fur­ni­ture-restora­tion pro­jects in the fu­ture.

– Mark, Ed­i­tor

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