Canadian Woodworking
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How a concussion led to furniture restoration

Author: Kristin Lia
Photos: Kristin Lia
Published: April 2024
Kristin-Lia-nightstands
Kristin-Lia-nightstands

I didn’t grow up being handy. While my dad bought me my first DeWalt drill when I moved out at 19, drilling holes was the extent of my knowledge. I didn’t know a pilot hole from a pigeon hole. Fast forward more than 20 years and now furniture restoration is a joyful passion that I do almost every day.

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In 2016, after an unfortunate collision between my dog Ben’s head and my face, I sustained a concussion and whiplash. This led to both post-concussion and chronic migraine syndrome. These conditions, while managed, still present symptoms in my day-to-day life. They include a constant headache, fatigue, sensitivity to light and noise and the inability to look at display screens for any significant amount of time.

To keep myself busy and to reduce the visual clutter in my home, I painted a dresser that would store DVDs previously housed in a bookcase. I was hooked from that moment. The more furniture pieces I refinished, the more I became interested in the wood restoration aspect. I’ve learned how to tell wood species apart, how to use different tools and many different finishing techniques. Now, after years of trying new things, failing at them, and learning from my mistakes, I am very proud of my skills and abilities.

This passion for restoration has given me an outlet to channel my creativity and desire to learn. I’ve continued my interest in helping others by detailing the step-by-step process of each piece I refinish on my website and through social media. I educate others in simple ways about topics such as furniture eras, differences in products like wood oils and topcoats, and tools used in the refinishing process. The storytelling I used to craft persuasive and compelling campaigns in my former profession I now use to educate my followers.

Looking back five years when I first started refinishing, I had NO idea where to start. I didn’t know that when applying wood stain you put it on and then wipe it off. Asking questions made me feel silly. As I learned, I was grateful to the Melanie of The Painted Bench in Hamilton, ON. She was patient with me as I asked question after question. It’s with this in mind that I created a space on social media that is open and accepting without judgement. I use simple terms and try to thoroughly explain every step of the process. Being able to help others who are learning is a way I feel like I can give back.

My life changed in an instant with a freak accident. My passion for restoration gives me a pursuit that is filled with excitement and pride. For that, I am truly grateful.

How I refinish a typical piece

Here are the steps that I typically follow when refinishing this nightstand. Remember that safety is important. When sanding I always use appropriate ear protection, dust mask or respirator, anti-vibration gloves and safety shoes.

  1. Remove hardware – Store in a Ziploc bag so I don’t lose any of the pieces.
  2. Disassemble as much of the piece as I can (ex. remove the base, doors) – This makes sanding SO much easier.
  3. Clean the piece (sometimes) – depending on the state of the piece, I might clean before starting to remove the original finish. But not always.
  4. Look over piece for damage & make necessary repairs –
    • Check drawer joints, missing pieces of veneer, loose central drawer slides, etc. and repair using wood glue and clamps, wood filler, Bondo
  5. Remove the original finish with a combination of methods –
  • Dewalt 5” variable speed random orbit sander: I will always try to sand first to see how easily it comes off; I’m experienced with veneer so I will start with 100-grit on medium speed and then smooth with 150-grit.
  • Stripwell QCS Finish Remover & QCS Surface Cleanser: If I start sanding and realize that the finish is thick, I will use QCS to remove as much of the finish as I can; I LOVE this product because it is environmentally friendly and I can safely use it inside my home without a respirator; when I’ve removed as much of the top layer of finish as possible, I use the QCS Surface Cleanser to remove any residue and prepare the surface for sanding.
  • Bahco carbide tipped scrapers: for the edges and curved areas, I always use the 1” with the triangle or pear-shaped blade (depending on the situation); for the larger areas, I use the 2.5”
  • Surfprep Sanding 3”x 4” Electric Ray sander: this sander with its square pad and foam pads is my go-to for all the curved and delicate areas; I typically will use a 5mm ProFoam pad in medium and then smooth with fine for the curves; for legs, I will use a ½ interface pad with a 100 grit film.

 

  1. Clean thoroughly
    • Areas of the piece that haven’t been sanded: spray Rustoleum’s Krud Kutter, let sit a minute, then scrub the surfaces clean; when done, I change the water, get a new rag and rinse to remove any remaining residue; all surfaces include the insides of the piece (sides, bottom, underside of the top) and all sides of the drawers.
    • Wood surfaces: vacuum the sanding dust using my Dewalt cordless vacuum; remove the remaining dust with a tack cloth.
  2. Decide on design.
    • I always like to keep as much wood as possible but will add paint accents to either camouflage damage or make the design more cohesive; usually the paint accents are along the front and/ or back edges.
    • If the piece is laminate, I’ll decide on a paint colour that will accent any wood parts.
  3. If using paint:
    • Mark out the areas to be painted with Mako Elite washi tape to ensure crisp edges.
    • Paint application: I use a combination of a Staalmeester microfibre roller (for the larger surfaces) and a Zibra paint brush for the edges; I love Country Chic Paint because it is porous enough to absorb a hardwax oil as a sealant; apply 2-3 coats depending on the colour; for larger painted areas, I sand in between coats with a 400-grit foam pad to ensure a smooth surface
    • Seal the paint with Osmo Polyx-Oil. Apply when treating the wood.
  4. Treating the wood
    • Depending on the design, I will either use an Osmo Wood Wax Finish (highly pigmented) followed by Osmo Polyx-Oil for extra durability; Osmo Polyx-Oil Tints for a little bit of pigment (sore of like a toner) or strictly Osmo Polyx-Oil if I want to bring out the natural colour of the wood.
    • Each has their own dry time, but I always finish by buffing in a third coat of Polyx-Oil using an Osmo Superpad; this means I drizzle a little bit of oil onto the surface and do gently circles until all the oil is absorbed – finish with long even strokes with the grain
    • In between each coat, I lightly sand with a 400-grit foam pad and remove the dust with a tack cloth.
  5. Finish the wood with Grandpa Ernie’s sanding method.
    • My Grandpa was a woodworker and he told me that sanding with 1600 grit (or higher) leaves the wood feeling “smooth like butter.”
    • Remove the dust with a microfibre cloth.
  6. Reinstall base (if applicable)
  7. Clean & install hardware (original or new)
    • If cleaning the original hardware, I create a 1:1 mixture of water to white vinegar with a couple of drops of blue Dawn dish soap.
    • I bring to a boil, add the hardware, reduce the heat, and set the timer for 10 minutes.
    • After the 10 minutes, I dump everything in the sink, wash the pot and then use a combination of #0000 steel wool and a fine wire brush to remove the grime loosen by the boiling. I always clean both front and back of the piece.
    • I give the pieces a final rinse and then dry by hand to avoid water spots.
    • I let dry on a dish towel with the screw hole facing down so that the water doesn’t collect in it.
  8. Put the drawers/ doors back in place.
  9. Piece is complete!

Art Deco nightstand

Here are the steps I followed to refinish this set of Art Deco nightstands.

nightstands
The nightstands in their original condition.
art deco hardware
Hardware before being cleaned
  1. Remove the hardware.
  2. Check over the piece for any damage.
    • In this case, the base had some loose veneer and after peeking at the wood underneath, I decided to remove it using a steel putty knife.
    • For the hard-to-reach spot, I used a Mozart precision knife to get a clean line.
    • If your piece has damage, determine the next steps to fixing it.
  3. Remove the original finish.
  • Carbide tipped scraper
    1. I used a Bahco 1” carbide tipped pocket scraper with the pear-shaped blade to remove the finish from the grooved area.
    2. Next, used my Bahco 2.5” carbide tipped scraper to remove the finish from the top edges and corners.
    3. During this process, I noticed that the front wood piece was wiggly and could be removed quite easily. I used a tack lifter to carefully take it off. This will make sanding of the front edges much easier.
    4. I used a Dewalt cordless vacuum to remove all the shavings.
  • Sand flat surfaces with Dewalt 5” variable speed random orbit sander.
    1. I am experienced with veneer, so I started sanding all the flat surfaces with a 100-grit sanding disc on medium speed. If you are new to sanding, I recommend starting with 120-150 grit to ensure you don’t burn through (or sand through) that layer of veneer.
  • Sand curved front edges with Surfprep Sanding 3”x 4” Electric Ray sander.
    1. This Surfprep sander has foam pads which hug and protect the curved areas instead of flattening them. I used a 5mm ProFoam pad in medium (120-150 grit) to remove the finish.
  1. Secure veneer made loose from sanding using wood glue and tape.
  2. Fill damaged areas with walnut wood filler; let dry.
  3. Sand with 150 grit to smooth surfaces.
  4. Clean all non-sanded areas with Krud Kutter. Rinsed with clean water and new rag.
  5. Use a tack cloth to remove the dust from the sanded areas.
  6. Check for inconsistencies; make necessary adjustments (resand certain areas if needed – I used my Surfprep sander with a lower grit on an interface pad to ensure those stubborn bits were removed)
  7. Remove dust again with a tack cloth.
  8. Apply wood finish.
    • To apply Osmo Wood Wax Finish, stir the product and pour into a paint tray
    • Use a combination of a small ring brush (for the edges and details) and a microfibre roller (for the larger flat areas) to apply; let dry for 12 hours.
    • When dry, sand with a 400-grit foam pad to remove any dust (and in my case, dog hair!); remove the sanding dust with a tack cloth.
  9. Apply wood sealant.
    • While Osmo Wood Wax Finish is durable on its own, Osmo Polyx-Oil adds extra protection.
    • To apply Osmo Polyx-Oil, stir the product and pour into a paint tray.
    • Use a combination of a small ring brush (for the edges and details) and a microfibre roller (for the larger flat areas) to apply; let dry for 8-10 hours.
    • When using the microfibre roller, it’s important to completely saturate the roller and then, using the ridges on the tray, squeeze out most of the product; this ensures a thin coat is being applied.
    • When dry, sand with a 400-grit foam pad to remove any dust (and in my case, dog hair!); remove the sanding dust with a tack cloth.
  10. Buff in final coat of the wood sealant.
    • Finish by buffing in the final coat of Polyx-Oil using an Osmo Superpad. This means drizzle a little bit of oil onto the surface and do gently circles until all the oil is absorbed. Finish with long even strokes with the grain.
  11. Clean original hardware
    • If cleaning the original hardware, I create a 1:1 mixture of water to white vinegar with a couple of drops of blue Dawn dish soap.
    • I bring to a boil, add the hardware, reduce the heat, and set the timer for 10 minutes.
    • After the 10 minutes, I dump everything in the sink, wash the pot and then use a combination of #0000 steel wool and a fine wire brush to remove the grime loosen by the boiling. Clean both front and back of each piece.
    • I give the pieces a final rinse and then dry by hand to avoid water spots.
    • I let dry on a dish towel with the screw hole facing down so that the water doesn’t collect in it.
  12. Finish the wood with Grandpa Ernie’s sanding method.
    • My Grandpa was a woodworker and he told me that sanding with 1600 grit (or higher) leaves the wood feeling “smooth like butter.”
    • Remove the dust with a microfibre cloth.
  13. Install the hardware, reinstall the doors.
  14. Check over the piece.
    • During this time, I noticed that there was a noticeable imperfection on the front edge of one of the nightstands. This was where the glue was so in the grain that the wood wax finish couldn’t be absorbed. To remedy this, I used Coconix Furniture Repair Paint. I haven’t yet invested in Mohawk Blendal sticks – but these will be my next purchase!
  15. Stage
Kristin-Lia-nightstands
Refinished nightstands


Kristin Lia - [email protected]

I’m a Canadian dog-mom of three rescues who light up every one of my days. I love tea, books, true crime shows and flowers.

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