Monday, July 23, 2012

The Depression Era Tool Chest Conversion - Continued

(Part 2 of 2)

With many years of use, love, and wear, this tool chest will need a sound refinishing before put to work as a blanket chest. This blogpost will cover my preferred method for stripping, repairing, and refinishing furniture. 

Part 1 of 2 can be found here.

 6. Polish the Hardware

With over 80 years of tarnish, hand polishing was not a viable option for the brass hardware.  I instead decided to use my electric buffer, which is nothing more than a bench grinder fitted with a $5 polishing/buffing wheel.  

When polishing hardware, I use gloves to protect my fingers from accidental contact with the buffing wheel.  After you turn on your buffer, apply some brass cleaning/polishing compound to the wheel.  Then simply push your piece against the front of the wheel slightly toward the bottom, and hold on very tightly.  Don't forget to polish the screws as well; I use a set of pliers to hold the screw in place.  

80 years of tarnish can be removed in 5 minutes
When the wheel starts clogging, I will keep the motor running and gently use a wire brush to clean the muck off.  The most important things you can do when polishing is protect your fingers and hold your pieces tight - even the slower speed grinders spin at a minimum of 1750  rpm and can send a work piece flying across the shop.

7. Match missing screws

When I write my book on how to be a world class antique restoration expert, I'll include a chapter on how it is easier to fabricate replacement hardware than it is to buy a suitable match. 
If you are fortunate enough to restore a piece of furniture with all pieces of hardware and screws intact, count your blessings.  In most cases, a piece that fits this description has been cared for so well, there is no reason to refinish it.  Too often hardware is either missing or damaged, sending you on a scavenger hunt for the exact same pieces or something close enough to match. 

Fortunately, I was only missing a few screws.  After a little searching, I found what I was looking for.  Sometimes you can find them in the big-box home improvement store, but my best success has always been the locally-owned hardware store.  When matching a screw, the following information is critical :

12 Screw Head Types - Click to Enlarge
Drive Type - Slotted and Phillips are the most common drive types
Material - Brass, Brass Plated*, Stainless, Zinc Plated, Copper
Length - total length of the screw to be submerged in the wood
Head Size -  inch increments or denoted with "#"
Head Type - Flat, Pan, Round, etc.
Screw Diameter - This is dependent on the hole size you are using
Thread Count - It's really not necessary to know the exact thread count, just remember you must choose the right screw for wood or metal.

* I always prefer solid brass over brass plated anything.  If you expect to have the piece for many years, you'll thank yourself for the extra few dollars spent with solid brass.

8. The Aromatic Cedar Insert

Cutting the aromatic cedar to size
This being my first time working with cedar, I decided to do some research.  I found it makes no difference whether you cover just the bottom of the chest or the entire inside, the aroma is pretty pungent either way.  After time, the scent will wear out, but with a light sanding you can bring back that great smell.

Sanding for a new, fresh aroma
Plain ordinary cedar will not work as well as "aromatic" cedar.  The easiest way to find this stuff is as tongue-and-groove closet lining from your local hardware store.  I decided to make an insert by cutting my to size and nailing it to two 1x4s.  This way, when the smell wears out and it comes time to sand it down, I can pull the entire insert out instead of fighting with my sander deep down in the corners.

The Finished Project

Now our restoration is finished and we can decide to keep the tool chest as is, or add a few small touches.  I decided to purchase a lid support so I could prop the chest open.  At this point, you could also add on handles, a new lock, name plates, or engravings.

 Whatever you decide to do, the important this is to make it uniquely yours.

Tool Chest before restoration

Blanket Chest after restoration

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Depression Era Tool Chest Conversion

(Part 1 of 2)

With many years of use, love, and wear, this tool chest will need a sound refinishing before put to work as a blanket chest. This blogpost will cover my preferred method for stripping, repairing, and refinishing furniture. 

 1. Determine Type of Finish

The first step before diving into this refinishing project was to determine exactly what type of finish with which you are dealing.  Most finishes from Depression Era furniture were multiple coats lacquer.  To check for this finish, I put some lacquer thinner on a rag and tried to wipe away the old finish.  With no such luck, I realized this finish is varnish or very tough to remove.  My best option at this point would be to strip and completely refinish.

2. Remove the Hardware

Before stripping, I removed the eight brass corners, three hinges, and the locking mechanism.  Keeping as much as possible of the original hardware is important for any refinish job. I put these in a small plastic zipper bag, such as these, and stored them in a safe place.

3. Replace Broken Pieces

On the side of the tool chest, a piece of trim was split near the corner.  Replacing this piece is critical in getting the finished product to look great, so I re-created the piece with some red oak.  I concluded the tool chest was white oak, but decided to use red oak since it is easier to come byand I had some lying around the shop.  It is more important to the match grain pattern of the oak rather than color, since I can always stain or dye the replacement piece.  To ensure the proper thickness of the new piece, I used my thickness planer to thin out the replacement part and cut it to size.

The original piece was split.
I made a copy to look like the original.
Here is our tool chest with the new piece added.

4. Remove Old Finish *

After replacing the damaged piece, I stripped the entire outside of the tool chest using a chemical stripper.  It is important to work the residue from the stripper onto the replacement part, matching the patina from the rest of the piece and hiding your repair from the casual observer.  A final wash of lacquer thinner or other post-stripping cleaner should be used to remove all leftover residue and give you a clean surface for staining.

* BE SAFE - Always use chemical strippers, stains, paints, and topcoats in a well-ventiallated area. Wear safety protection, as chemical burns can be a real Debbie Downer on your skin and in your eyes.  Always have a plan ready in case of skin and/or eye contact, and ingestion.

5. Apply a New Stain and Finish Coat * 

I prefer to stain with a rag instead of a brush.  Woodworkers traditionally use both methods, but I feel staining with a rag gives me better control over the amount of overlapping and results in a much better finished product.  Remember to follow all instructions and wipe away the excess stain after a few minutes, or your stain will completely dry and leave a a thin layer of unsightly scum which will not take a final finish very well.  Finish with a few sealing coats of your choice.  I chose a semi-gloss lacquer to visually bring out the depth of the scratches and dents on the surface.


Are We Done?

Now that we have this great new finish and protective coat, what next?  In Part 2 of our project, we will learn how to properly polish 80+ years of brass tarnish, finding proper replacement hardware, and adding the aromatic cedar.