Today I have quite a makeover for you.
Earlier last year my Aunt Sharon called and asked if I had time to work on a secretary that my Uncle Paul had had in his family for a long time. The finish was in pretty bad shape and frankly had turned a nice shade of orange as oil finishes tend to do over time.
I’m not sure if I was just in a good mood when I said yes or if I felt some kind of family obligation. Or if I just figured it couldn’t be that bad since the lines of the piece were straight and simple. I’m not sure what kind of crazy overcame me when I said yes. Like I said, I agreed to this early last year and this just got finished two weeks ago. She said I could work on it when I had the time and to put other paying customers first. I’m sure she now regrets that.
Here is where we started. A basic desk with little character.
You can see how the finish was just chipping off.
And here is the time consuming bit. Look at all of those cubbies. At first I thought I could take the back off and take the cubby framework out. No. Everything is finished nailed together. I would have damaged way too much getting everything apart to ever put it nicely back together. There is a space between the cubby framework and the body of the desk on all sides, it’s only nailed into the top, which meant that if I put paint stripper on it, It would be impossible to get in there to get it out.
So I hand sanded. Literally for days. The funny thing is I have small hands and could barely fit inside most of the cubbies. As I sanded I would slam my knuckles a ton. There may or may not have been a lot of cursing. I was surprised I didn’t have blood all over. It’s a good thing I really like my aunt.
My first indication that this project was going to be interesting was when I started sanding the side.
On the left you can see the old yucky orange finish that looks pretty boring. On the right you can see that under that is beautiful bird’s eye maple. I mean, it’s gorgeous. And that’s not veneer. It’s a thick board of maple with dovetail joints to connect all the cross pieces that support the drawers. Back in the day bird’s eye maple was a pain in the ass to use because the “eyes” made cutting it cleanly very hard. From what I read, it was used as fire wood. Now with with better tools this is a very sought after wood. The wood alone to make this desk would be so expensive, forget actually making the desk.
The finish for such beautiful grain? Pure tung oil. We do not want to hide anything. We want to make that grain pop and pure tung oil is the way to go. I get mine from the Real Milk Paint Co. because theirs is a high quality and it’s food grade. So yes, you can eat a sandwich off this desk while you are working. It also won’t ever flake off and can be reapplied without stripping, solving two of our original problems. I’ll put together a post with more tung oil info shortly.
And here is this beauty all finished.
The top part of the desk that folds down has this beautiful swirling grain and and is made up of joined wood. Before you would have thought it was just one dull piece of wood.
And here are all those cubbies, every last one of them, completely refinished.
And that bird’s eye maple we first saw when sanding? It’s like something you would see in Jupiter’s clouds. All of that hiding under some old stain.
Here you can see the dovetails holding those thick maple boards together. Today things would be nailed or screwed together but this is craftsmanship. You may also have noticed that the hardware is looking pretty snazzy as well. That is the old hardware cleaned with lemon juice and a little steel wool. That’s it. Solid brass. A coated it with a little wax and buffed to finish it off.
I find so much furniture that people just want to get rid of because they want something new. It often has this orange chipping finish, is banged up and looks dated. Let this be a lesson in what could be hiding underneath. This is some of the most beautiful wood I have ever worked with. And this combo of hard maple and tung oil will last forever. It takes work to get these beauties back but it’s worth it. Even if my knuckles will never be the same.