Vintage Buffet: Hand painted gem
There are many places to find new projects to work on. Thrift stores and estate sales are always great but one of my strongest go-to is craigslist. It is easy to search through tons of furniture based on proximity. A lot of people just want someone to come and carry out the piece so it is usually very reasonably priced. Everything is always negotiable!
I periodically search craigslist at night while I unwind; every now and then a must have piece pops up. This vintage buffet was one of them. There is a gorgeous inlay design all along the front cabinets that really make this piece interesting. The finish was rough and it is solid wood, that means I have to have it.
I sanded the buffet all the way down to bare wood. I started with an 80 grit sandpaper in my oscillating sander. This is by far the most time consuming part of the refinishing process but it is so important. By taking the time to sand off the old finish I am able to sand smooth a lot of the scratches and imperfections that have happened over the years as well as prep the surface for its new finish. I always wear a mask and protective eyewear. There will be a lot of dust with a project this size.
As I sanded down the piece, the beautifully carved inlay became more prominent. This is something I would definitely have to highlight. The dark green paint blended in with the dark stain and didn’t allow for this unique feature to pop. After I sanded down to bare wood with 80 grit sandpaper, I changed out for 120. I resanded over the entire surface to even it out and finally one last time with 220. This left the surface so smooth. I will admit to this day I can be caught running my hand across the top in admiration. In total I spent five continuous hours with the power sander in my hand and every minute was worth it.
Since I was going with a dark stain I was not extremely concerned with the remaining stain along the wooden turned legs. I was more concerned with preserving their shape then sanding completely down. I used hand held sand paper for the legs, removing all of the top coat and as much stain as I could. If I was going with a light stain, I would use chemical stripper on the legs. It would do a much better job of getting in all the detail work of the legs.
I always sand outside, of course, but stain inside. I want to make as little opportunity for debris as possible. I don’t want anything to stick to the drying surface. So I’m pretty impressed I was able to carry this baby back inside and prep it for stain.
Before heading to the staining process, I first condition the wood. Conditioning allows for an even stain. Since the wood is more porous in certain areas than others, the conditioner will help to balance this out before the stain is applied. I applied the conditioner with a rag. Generously coating the entire piece. After letting it sit for about 10 minutes, I whipped up all the excess with a clean rag. It is important to follow with stain within two hours otherwise the conditioner with dry out, defeating the whole purpose of it.
After the conditioner it is time for stain. It is such a satisfying time to see how the wood takes the stain. When I first applied the dark walnut stain, it showcased this tiger like grain. I was so in love with it. I brushed on and rubbed off one coat and let it dry overnight. In the morning I came through with a second coat to darken it up a bit and make sure that it was consistent all the way through. It helps to work in small sections, especially on a piece this size. So I worked each side at a time making sure that I wiped off any excess stain. By working small I can minimize the chance of missed drip marks or over saturation of an area.
After two coats of dark walnut stain, it was time to make the carved inlay really pop. I hand painted it with this slight mustard yellow. I really wanted the design to stand out so I chose a bright color. After the paint dried, I applied a light layer of stain over the yellow to antique it a bit and soften it down. I wanted it to go with the piece and not look so vibrant and newly painted.
It is a subtle change, but a noteworthy one. It adds a lot more dimension to the yellow. Instead of this flat vibrant color, in blends stylistically with the piece but is still the stand out. It really makes such a difference to this buffet.
To seal all my hard work, I applied three coats of polyurethane over the entire piece and a fourth on the buffet top, since it will experience the most traffic. I used a foam brush to apply the polyurethane to cut down on brush marks. I have tried out many high quality brushes but honestly a foam brush lends to a smoother surface. I applied the second coat within two hours then waited an entire 48 hours for these layers to cure before moving forward. It is important to let these two layers dry thoroughly. After two days, I took 220 grit sandpaper over the entire surface in order to smooth out brush marks and prepare the surface for the following coats. Once the fourth coat was applied to the top, I allowed the piece to completely cure, untouched for an entire week. It is important not to just keep piling on layers. The poly needs time to cure so it isn't advised to apply more than two coats within 24 hours.
Then it is time for waxing. This last step is probably the most forgotten but important step. No matter how careful you are, there are still going to be brush marks in your polyurethane finish. In order to combat that and leave the furniture looking flawless, I always finish with waxing.
First, I sand with a 400 grit sandpaper. This will even out the poly finish and any imperfections. Then loading 0000 steel wool with paste finishing wax, I firmly press the steel wool across the wood with the grain using a lot of my body weight. I covered the buffet with this process. Firmly pressing the steel wool in smooth motions with the grain, applying more wax as needed. Then following up with a clean piece of steel wool to pick up any excess wax. If wax is still visibly thick after a few passes of steel wool, a few drips of water can be dropped on the surface. It will bubble up on the surface. Then I whip the water and excess wax off with a clean rag.