Thursday, June 23, 2011 3:11 PM EDT
Twenty years ago I inherited four Bentwood cane cafe chairs
from a long-time roommate when he moved on in style
and circumstance. Even then the chairs were in bad shape. They were used ruthlessly in impromptu workshops and photo shoots, left out in the sun, used as stepladders when we painted our apartments, all of which left them sawed, splintered and stained. Bentwood before
Ever since I’ve been telling myself I would pass them on to someone else. But the longer I lived with the Bentwood chairs, the harder they were to replace. Right arm stained; right arm after refinishing.
Even in their derelict condition, they are the perfect casual dining chair
. Their design is so efficient that you can lounge in one with the comfort of an armchair, but they only take up a fraction of the space. So when spring came I finally decided to show them the love
they deserved, and refinish
- Stripping: I didn’t want to be sanding forever, so I started with Circa 1850 Furniture Stripper. After applying the stripper, the remaining finish did not lift or peel. It simply glazed a bit, like the eyes of a person saying, “Puhleeze, did you really think it would be that easy?”
- Sanding: 40 years of dreck was not going to be removed with chemicals, it had to be dispatched with brute force. P60-grade sandpaper did the job.
- Fixing Cracks: Rather than try clamping, gluing or filling the majority of the cracks, I just took the wood down to the point where the damage simply vanished!
Right armrest cracked; right armrest after sanding and refinishing.
- Polishing: Naturally sanding away the cracks left the chairs looking like chainsaw art, so I switched to P100 paper for the second pass, and finally to steel wool. The steel wool did the trick; it left the chairs luxuriously smooth to the touch, and adapted to the curves better than sandpaper.
- Pre-staining Conditioner: After investing all this elbow grease in the preparation, I was a little worried what would happen when I put stain on my unblemished beauties. The way the pores of dried-out wood grab stain can be unpredictable, so I applied a layer of Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner to the chairs first.
- Unexpected: The pre-stain certainly added its own colour. The chairs became a shade of honey pine. I was aiming for a warmer tone, so this was not a problem, but if you want a really light final colour for your project, you probably shouldn’t use a pre-stain at all.
- More Surprises: An attempt had been made decades ago to re-stain them a darker colour. Although I couldn’t see a trace of that work when I began, dark tones emerged in some areas when I put on the pre-stain. I thought about sanding them away, but the artifacts were unobtrusive and didn’t bother me much. These chairs were never going to pass as mint examples of the design.
- Final Staining: After comparing several products, I settled on Deft Danish Oil finish, in a shade called "fruitwood". Lee Valley had some wood samples that helped me make the decision. I was worried that the shade illustrated on the label would be too dark, but Lee Valley assured me the result would look just like the wood sample.
- They were right: The stain went on easily and evenly, and the tone was just what I was hoping for. A more reddish colour came out in the grain, which seemed to compliment the vintage of the chairs. Instead of looking like bleached family skeletons, they were now rosy relatives that had mellowed by the fire.
- Sealing: I wanted to preserve the light, natural appeal of the raw stain. Apparently even satin polyurethane can drown your project under a glaze if you aren’t careful to thoroughly stir it up. After a final coat of Minwax fast-drying satin polyurethane my efforts were complete. The chairs are now easy to clean but still have the appeal of living wood. It took a week of evenings, but I no longer linger before store windows displaying tempting options for new chairs. I walk right past.
Dwight Friesen has built websites at CBC for the past ten years and enjoys new forms of storytelling...