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


  1. Great ideas , Thanks for your post. I’ve been thinking about writing a very comparable post over the last couple of weeks, I’ll probably keep it short and sweet and link to this instead if thats cool. Thanks

  2. There are many ideas and tips. The Blanket Chest is looking good. It's a nice useful piece to have at home.

  3. Great idea! I will repair my house according to your ideas. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Excellent!
    I love the final result! It is like the miracle, from a old chest into a entire new one. Thank your DIY project1 It is great!

  5. I have read your part 1. It's a great post, and part 2 too.

  6. This is a great DIY project. I love it !

  7. this is a lovely post. the final result is the best miracle