Science! Part 2 or Why I Will Never Refinish Furniture Again

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May 19, 2013 by drandmrso

Waaaay back in July of last year I wrote about the science experiment I conducted on a set of second-hand chairs to ensure they weren’t covered in lead-based paint. Turns out, they weren’t. Phew! Little did I know, however, that was only the beginning of my battle with those chairs.

The whole ordeal was intended to be a semi-quick and hopefully fun DIY project. When I bought the chairs, they looked like this:

One of the five chairs for refinishing

One of a set of five

First step: strip the old paint. This was complicated by the fact that you aren’t supposed to use paint stripper when the temperature is above 90 degrees. So then, of course, we had a week of solid 90+ temperatures. Of course.

Finally the heat broke and I got down to the business of strippin’ those chairs. Next hurdle: I chose the environmentally friendly paint stripper because I like the earth and having clean drinking water and such. What they don’t tell you (or I guess what I should have assumed) is that the “green” paint stripper doesn’t work nearly as well as the good old fashioned chemical-laden stuff. Plus, as I started scraping away the top layer of paint, TWO MORE layers were exposed. Ugh. Given the fact that I listened to the entire unabridged version of Ken Follet’s Fall of Giants while I worked on the paint removal, it took almost 31 hours to get the chairs to this state:

This photo does the real thing too much justice. They were not as shabby chic in real life.

This photo does the real thing too much justice. They were not as shabby chic in real life…they were just plain shabby.

That 31 hours was spread out over the course of (ahem) three months. Embarrassing, I know. But this was during a low period for me so give me a break. Much to Dr. O’s dismay, I was also taking up the entire two-car garage for that time. What really motivated me to get the chairs finished once and for all was Dr. O’s threat that he was going to drive into the garage the first time it snowed whether the chairs were in the way or not (!).

Dr. O helped the project along in other ways, too. After stripping all the chairs the next step was to make any necessary repairs. Unfortunately, of the five I purchased only four were salvagable—I knew that going in; the lady that sold them to me actually mentioned that the fifth was meant to be a “parts” chair. So Dr. O kindly performed some transplant surgery (a couple spindles here, a replaced back there) and the chairs were ready to sand, prime, and paint.

In a whirlwind of productivity spurred by dipping temperatures, I sanded and spray-primed all four chairs in one weekend in October. Spray primer may not be perfect if you are going for a completely professional finished product, but if you just need to get it done and move on with your life (as I did) it worked like a charm. Plus: painting the spindles? Huge hassle—definitely did not want to do it more times than necessary.

Coated with white primer. You can also see the little painting station I rigged up in the garage in the background.

Coated with white primer. You can also see the little spray station I rigged up in the garage in the background.

And finally, after two coats of Olympic paint in a shade adorably named Wicker Basket the chairs were looking close to finished. I decided to add a bit more color by stenciling a Moroccan tile motif on the top of the back of each chair. I used a different color on each: off-white, yellow, dark orange, and dark green. With that, the chairs were done! I started them in July and finished in November, just in time before the first snowfall of the year.

Finally done!

Finally done!

The four refinished chairs look right at home with the two we already owned.

The four refinished chairs look right at home with the two we already owned.

One more thing to note: I used 1″ diameter copper pipe connectors from a hardware store on the back two legs of each chair as decoration. When I bought the chairs they had these horrendous plastic feet that must have been super-glued on (seriously—I ended up using a hack saw to split each one open and pry it off!). Even after sanding off as much of the residue as I could the back feet just looked rough and unpolished. So I came up with this easy solution. What do you think?

Pretty, no?

Pretty, no?

Chairs: it’s a wrap. Were they worth the time and effort? Hard to say. But I can tell you that after all of the hassle with these bad boys I don’t plan to be refinishing any more furniture any time soon.

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Dr. O is an otorhinolaryngology resident. Mrs. O was an English major and is easily grossed out by blood and guts. This is the blog where Mrs. O documents their adventures in (not bloody) detail. Enjoy!

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