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.
CATHERINE LEWIS CAPE TOWN
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