This midcentury modern chair — a freebie from Jake’s Grandmom — has been sitting in our living room for 7 years and it was only recently that I looked at it — I mean, really looked at it — and realized how much I love it. It’s my favorite chair. I love the design. I love the comfort. Jake loves it too.
Why do I allow it to look dumpster bound when it should look amazing? Why do I bother salivating over crazy expensive midcentury modern chairs from Design Within Reach when I can rehab my own at home?
I finally decided to give this chair a face lift befitting the way I feel about it. Check out the process after the jump…
The first thing I did was scour the Internet for how-to instructions. I’ve never refinished a piece of furniture in my life so I was afraid of screwing it up big time. After ample research, I gleaned the first thing I need to do is remove the old finish.
This stuff is super potent, so I wore latex gloves, protective eyewear and a mouth mask to protect myself and the baby. Using a paint brush, I applied an even coat of stripper all over the chair. The instructions said not to goop over sections already covered because the chemicals might not work as well.
But the stripper wasn’t appearing to be working very well. The finish bubbled and crackled in parts, but nothing was stripping. (Don’t you hate that? When you follow instructions yet it still doesn’t work?)
I defied instructions by giving it a second coat of stripper and waited an additional 30 minutes. Still nothing. Then I tried to crape the finish off with a scraper. This didn’t seem to work very well either as I started scraping off layers of the actual wood.
Jake wandered by and asked me what I was doing. I told him the stripper wasn’t working and hand scraping was a slow kind of torture. He told me to forget all the chemicals and instead use the belt sander to sand off finish down to the wood. He thought the stripper wasn’t working because so much of it had been worn away over the years.
Sounded good to me. I shudder to think what would have become of this project had Jake not been around that day. I’d probably still be in the backyard scraping finish off accompanied by large shavings of wood.
Before I broke out Jake’s belt sander, I used some odorless mineral spirits and a bristle brush to scrub off any remaining stripper and finish, otherwise there was a chance the stripper would have eaten into the pores of the wood.
Although using the belt sander seemed like it would take the least amount of time, this was actually the most time consuming part of the process. We sanded the chair something like five times. Adding to the challenge was not being able to disassemble it, so it was hard getting into all the grooves and corners. We started out using a super coarse heavy duty sand paper…something gritty enough to take off the finish down to the bare wood. It’s important when sanding to go slowly, take your time, and sand with the grain because any marks or blemishes from sanding will show up in the finished wood. For corners the belt sander couldn’t reach, we sanded by hand.
After the finish had been sufficiently sanded away, we switched to a smoother 150-grit sandpaper and went over the chair again another couple of times. Then we went over it again with an even smoother 320-grit sandpaper.
I gave it two coats with a 10 minute rest period in between. Afterward, I wiped away the excess oil with a clean cloth and allowed the chair to “cure” (sit undisturbed in a well ventilated area) overnight.
The next day, Jake applied three coats of Deft brand protective laquer spray to the chair with a light 320-grit hand sanding between each coat. The laquer spray protects the wood from damage.
Meanwhile, I bought just over 2 yards of Crypton fabric in a lovely blue. I thought about reupholstering the cushions myself but decided not to because I didn’t want them to look obviously homemade. I sent the cushions off to my insanely talented friend Sherrie of Queen City Sewing Company in Staunton, VA. She whipped them up for me for $50. Don’t they look good?
It’s like a brand new chair.
Lets look at the before again…
Crypton is impenetrable to spills, splashes, spaghetti sauce, paw prints, poop, even bleach. I thought it was a good choice given how much dirt and grime my family accumulates. And with another baby on the way, I don’t want to have to be fretting about wear and tear on fabric.
All in all, the project set me back about $276:
$130 for all the refinishing supplies (finish stripper, mineral spirits, wood oil, 2 cans of laquer, various grits of sandpaper, gloves, mouth masks…this stuff is expensive!)
$96 for the fabric (Crypton isn’t cheap because it’s so durable)
$50 to have it reupholstered
That’s a lot for a DIY project but it’s also because I bought the biggest sizes of all the refinishing supplies, thinking I’ll use this stuff again and again for future projects.
As for whether I think this project was successful or not, let’s just say I’m glad Jake was on hand to help me. He has a lot more experience with home improvement projects than I do so his advice and assistance was extremely valuable…I probably would have given up with the scraping and chucked the chair into the sink hole had he not come along.
All in all, this was probably a slightly advanced DIY project for my particular skill level, so I think the next refinishing project I tackle will be much simpler…something without so many angles, grooves and small corners.
Next up: An old dresser that’s been languishing in our basement forever…