It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Other priorities had taken over, like children’s weddings and summer gardens! But life has settled down again and I’m back at work. I want to spend a bit of time outlining what makes me choose a piece to refinish… apart, of course, from price (we all like cheap, don’t we?).
I have a specific category of furniture in mind when I “shop”. It must be small enough for me to carry by myself. It must be in reasonable condition. And it must not take too much time to strip and prepare for its new look. I have broken some of these rules when I’ve fallen in love with a piece I know will take extra effort.. but that’s OK. I know what I’m in for.
Varnish is easier to remove than paint. And most old painted pieces have varnish beneath. These multiple layers may be all that makes the drawers stick – once removed, and even when the new finish is added, they slide well.
A piece can have some detailing but not too much: on the negative side, it takes a lot of time to clean but on the positive side, it lends itself to complimentary colour and interest.
So… how can you be certain you have solid wood?
Well, it’s usually fairly heavy.
And the joints are often dovetailed.
Solid wood isn’t always perfectly smooth.
Only solid wood can be joined easily in curves and details. Once stripped, the beautiful workmanship of this half-moon chest is evident.Only solid wood can be turned. Most legs are solid.Only solid wood can be routered. See how the joined strips (and by the way, only solid wood can be joined like this) are of differing widths and the pattern continues over the edging? Here’s another example of joined strips of solid wood.
Veneer is a very fine slice of decorative wood or patterned plastic – usually a top quality piece that is adhered to lower quality wood or particleboard.You can identify it by turning the piece on its side to see the line between veneer and base, or by noticing that the grain on the edges runs differently. Veneer can still be stripped, repaired and sanded but caution is necessary.
Here are some examples.
Many pieces are a combination of solid wood and veneer. The top, drawer fronts, and spindles/legs are often solid. The sides, inside drawers and shelves are usually veneer on particleboard.
Plastic laminate is easy to identify. It’s always shiny. It’s always too good to be true. On old pieces it is usually flaking a bit in the corners or on the edges, and if anything has been spilled and left, there will often be a small nubbly area in the shape of the spill. It may split, raising a small bubble that can often be pushed down with a finger. Paint stripper melts veneer and curls its edges up. Sanding simply removes the simulated picture of the grain so that it looks like blank paper beneath. Plastic laminate cannot easily be repaired.
Here’s PAPER veneer. Now this is low quality… Be prepared. Paper veneer will disintegrate if you apply stripper.It can be sanded. You’ll know it’s veneer when that lovely oak grain simply disappears! This one’s even got fake joined wood strips.
On a closing note, a bit about hardware. Virtually any hardware can be reduced to its bare bones, even with a plastic coating baked on it. Then it can be sanded and painted like anything else. I have never had to replace hardware.
Running the roads looking for prime refinishing candidates is such a big part of the fun, followed by dreaming about what can be done with them!