Our work restoring Chester Stinky Drawers continues. Removing all the old finish from a piece of furniture is a tedious job. These are Shawn’s lovely hands peeling layer after layer of gunk away using a chemical stripper and paint scrapers. Rubbing with steel wool will also peel off the finish but for larger surfaces the scraper works best. But be careful not to gouge the wood! The smell of chemical strippers is overpowering so if you try a project make sure you have adequate ventilation. I placed the chest on a dolly so we could move it outside easily.
Stripping an old piece of furniture is a sort of treasure hunt and we never know what we will find once the old layers are gone. I wiped the wood with mineral spirits several times during this stage. That cleaned up the residual stripper and gave us a peak at the grain of the wood. Shawn loves this part and I would hate to add up all the board feet of wood she has stripped and restored and I have sanded.
We discovered a long crack in the back of the dresser and wanted to save that original wood so a solution was needed. Shawn lined the crack with wood glue then taped blocks on the front and back with duct tape. Within a couple of hours we had a stable fix. Good job, Honey! I am on my knees sanding and sanding some more using first 120 grit then moving to 220 for the final step. I made use of a random orbital sander as much as possible but the corners require old fashioned elbow grease. The chest has had a long life and was painted white at one point (Ugh! On mahogany? Really?) then stripped and covered with a varnish/stain mix. That one step stuff does a really bad job and I am very glad we were able to remove it.
Ok, Chester is coming together and the old finish is gone! An experienced wood worker explained to me that with mahogany the heart wood is dark while the wood closer to the outside of the tree is lighter. We have a beautiful 2 tone design here, the wood pieces no doubt painstaking chosen by the original craftsman. How will it look? Will the pieces accept different levels of stain? Ah, we have to wait and see. Once all the sanding was done I wiped the entire piece with mineral spirits then Shawn used a tack cloth just to make sure no dust was left behind.
After many hours of prep work we were ready to begin the finish. We chose Watco Danish Oil in Red Mahogany flavor. Danish oil is easy to apply but for pieces of furniture that may end up with water rings from coaster-less glasses, consider something in the varnish family. We have experimented with many finishes and it takes some time to get a feel for what will work in a particular application. Some of our experiments have worked and some flopped. I don’t expect I will ever use any more one step products that combine varnish and stain.
The first coat of Danish oil was applied and left to sit and soak for 15 to 20 minutes. Then any remaining oil was wiped away with a cotton cloth and we let the chest sit overnight.
The glow of the wood is obvious in the next pictures.
We applied 1 coat of oil each day for 3 days, wiping down every square inch until the mahogany finally started to look like wood again. This step is my favorite because we can finally see how the end product will stand.
Ta-da! Can you believe it?
We still had some musty odor in the unfinished wood so we added a few more steps. Shawn sprayed all unfinished wood with a heavy coat of Lysol then I used a paint stripping heat gun to go inch by inch and heat the wood to further kill any remaining bacteria. Last we sprayed the surfaces with a product called ZorbX I picked up from Lowes. For a while we will keep cedar blocks and activated charcoal in the drawers just to make sure. Shawn made little charcoal sachets in just a few minutes using her sewing shop tools. I have also been told we can get some coffee beans and grind them up to give a fresh smell.
Wood on wood drawers+slides can drag over time. I took a candle and rubbed wax on all the slides and drawer bottoms. And 4 of the 5 the drawers now slide easily. The very bottom drawer will need a little more work since it is still hard to open.
We added felt pads to the legs to protect the new floor and the finished chest is now in its location waiting for me to fill it up.
As we were working last Saturday, Shawn and I discussed why we like projects like this one. For us it is a picture of God’s work in our lives. God can take someone who was been stuffed in the storage room of life and left to rot. He strips away the old, repairs the broken, and applies a new shine from the inside out. God can bring that person into a new level of usefulness for His purposes. It is amazing the change He makes in lives trusted to Him.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” II Corinthians 5:17 (NASB)
Welcome to your new home, Chester Drawers!