Thursday, August 7, 2008

Your Weekly Moment of Sven


Howdy, fellow netizens! The time has come to flex our fix-it muscle again!

First, I'd like to thank everyone for their warm welcome. Secondly, it seems that most people were interested in furniture restoration as our next topic of interest. To wrap it up, I'll also try to help my new friend with the discolored porcelain tub.

Before we go into it too far, let me just say that I'm not going to try to teach you to refinish a piece of furniture. There are thousands of books on the subject and they all go into the required depth of furniture restoration. Instead, I'm going to go over three levels of repair, from minor to major, explaining each one briefly and giving you enough information to get you into trouble.

Before beginning, let me say that true antiques are often valuable because of the history attached to them by the finish. Before you strip, sand or repair, think about what you're doing. I've seen a lot of historical pieces destroyed by someone with a can of Formby's Finish-In-A-Can.

1) Minor scuffs, scrapes and abrasions: Carnuba wax is the king of hiding minor imperfections. I like it so much in fact, it will be the last step in every level of our refinishing. I'm not talking about that almost-wax in a bottle that everyone is so fond of now. I'm talking about hard carnuba wax that your dad used to let dry on the car too long and took hours to remove. If you have a piece that has some wear marks on it, then you want to make this your first stop on the road to redemption. Sometimes nothing more than a good wax will make the piece take on a whole new look. Apply it and let it dry, only not for as long as your dad did in the blazing sun and polish with cheesecloth.

2) Major scrapes, scratches and marring: For pieces that are beyond a wax job but still have some form of finish over the wood, you'll need to get your hands a little dirty. We're going to do this with sandpaper. Before the instructions though, we're going to have a few warnings:

WARNING! Sandpaper is abrasive! I know that on the face of it, that's a stupid statement to make, but I'm serious. You have to be able to control how much you remove because if you burn through the finish, you buy yourself a ticket to stage 3 of the list, which is a full refinishing, so be careful! You have to be even more careful around edges. Don't sand them. just sand up to them and leave them alone. any sanding at all over a sharp edge will remove the finish quick and in a hurry.

Before you begin sanding, use a mild cleaner to try to take off the years of grime from the surface you're going to try to repair. Dirt clogs sandpaper and sandpaper gets expensive, so clean it up as best you can.Once it's clean, you want to start sanding.

You will want to start with at the very least a 400 grit paper.On flat surfaces, you want to use a sanding block. Keep in mind that the newer the furniture is, the thinner the finish and you can burn through the coating on a 50 year old piece of furniture in no time flat, so be careful! You want to sand gently in a circular motion, never pushing down but allowing the weight of the block to push the paper against the piece for you. Check your paper often as it will get little balls of grime on it that can scratch the piece more than it already is. Also use an old paintbrush to whisk the dust from the piece so it won't clog the paper. Once the finish is uniformly sanded, hit it with 600, 800 then 1,000 grit. A lot of work, I know, but worth it if you can save yourself the hassle of refinishing the piece. Normally, you would continue with finer grits and then rotten stone or pumice, but you probably don't have a thick enough finish to do that, so I'll leave it to you to decide when you've taken as much as you're willing to take off of it.

Got that done? Then head to step one and wax that baby!

3) Complete refinish(or "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here"): Ok, your child(or your husband maybe?) has run their toy cars and tractors across the top of your coffee table and there's not enough finish to fix? The first thing you want to do is impress upon your child(husband) how much work you're going to have to go through to fix the piece. After that, it's time to get started.

If you're only going to be doing the top of a piece, trying to save the finish on other parts of the piece then you're going to want to stop sanding before you begin affecting any stain that's on the wood because you're going to have a tough time matching it. Also, tape off the edge of the area so you don't over-sand accidentally. You'll want to stop your refinish effort along a hard edge, since you'll not be able to blend the two finishes. If you're refinishing the top of a piece, then run tape along the bottom edge and attempt to make the transition from new to old at the lower edge of the table. This gives you a better chance of hiding the repair. If you're refinishing the whole piece, go to town and use whatever stain your heart desires and stop sanding when the piece no longer has any finish on it. When sanding wood, ALWAYS sand along the grain and not across it. The only exception is end-grain which you'll come across at either end of most single-plank topped tables. Sand end grain in whatever direction is most comfortable for you. If you're removing a finish completely, you start with about 180 grit paper and begin working your way up to at least 400 grit. The smoother the wood, the better the finish will look.

Once you've prepared the piece, it's time to decide on a finish. If you're working with an older piece(70 years or older) and it's not been refinished, you're almost certainly dealing with either a shellac or varnish. It doesn't keep you from using a polyurethane, but if you want the finish to look the same, you'll want to try to stick with the same finish. Some notes on the differences between them:

Varnish: Widely used on furniture, varnish is a durable finish that has some give, moving with the wood if it's used in an environment that causes the wood to swell, twist or flex. Although it comes in different tints and flavors, if you're matching an old finish, chances are that you just want a clear gloss finish.

Shellac: Normally sold in the form of flakes that you have to mix with alcohol, shellac is the finish that provides unsurpassed depth and glow to a piece of a wood. It dries incredibly hard and for that reason, you don't want to use it on a piece that might be in the elements or humidity. Although it's the hardest finish to work with, when applied with care, it's results can make a grown man cry, and not because his toy tractor got taken away.

Polyurethane: A late arrival to the world of furniture restoration, it is, as it's name suggests, made up of plastics and other man-made chemicals. For that reason, if no other, some furniture restoration experts cringe when approached with it. I'll leave it to you to decide if you want to use it, but will only say this. If God wanted you to put plastic on your wood, he would have issued a roll of seran wrap with every tree.

Alright, you have a sanded surface and are ready to put a finish on it. How nice it looks completely depends on how much work you're willing to go to. You know those gorgeous pieces that you see with a finish so deep, you feel like you can reach into it? Those often have as many as 20 coats applied. Before you decide that's not too bad, keep in mind that you must sand between at least every other coating. For a piece that gets used daily, four to five coats should suffice in making a protective and beautiful finish. You'll want to apply two coats then let it cure completely(follow the instructions on the finish you selected), sand with 400, then 600 grit then apply another two coats. The sanding is done to level the finish, getting rid of brush strokes, orange peel and fish eyes. Sound nasty? Don't worry, they're just certain mottling that occurs to an applied finish. Point being, sanding gets rid of these. Sand carefully as you don't want to remove everything you worked so hard to get on the piece.

Once you have applied the finish, you want to move on to step two, then step one.

Piece of cake, right?

Now, let's take a look at porcelain cleaning. It's not as easy as it sounds as porcelain is touchy. First off, as my new friend has found out, porcelain is somewhat porous. Secondly, you can't use any real abrasive on it because once you've marred the glazing on the porcelain, you can't really get it back without the assistance of a professional and at great cost. for that reason, you want to use a ridiculously mild abrasive to clean surface grime. I like toothpaste applied to a tennis ball to rub onto the surface. Not only does it clean(just look at the tennis ball when you're done!), it also polishes!

Unfortunately, we're not dealing with a surface problem. She's got something that went past the glazing, which is really tough to get to. I have one suggestion that holds some promise.

Go to your local hardware store and pick up some PVC cleaner in the plumbing section. You're doing a tub, so buy the big container. Be sure to buy the clear cleaner and not the purple. WHATEVER YOU DO, DON'T BUY THE PURPLE! Unless, of course, you want a purple tub. Before applying it to the center of an area, be sure to try it on a hidden surface. This makes sure there's no repair coating or finish on the tub that will be affected by what you're about to do. This is some serious stuff and you want to make very sure that you're not going to make matters worse where it's visible. Apply it with the dauber attached to the lid and rub it in well. Immediately wipe it clean with a paper towel. It flashes incredibly fast and if you don't wipe it quickly, it will simply dry, leaving the contaminates on the porcelain. Once you're sure that you're not going to affect the tub's finish in a negative manner, start on the problem area. Use either the dauber or a towel wrapped around your finger applying a liberal amount. You don't want it to dry while you're working, so apply in small areas, wiping clean often. For incredibly hard discolorations, you'll have to apply over an area repeatedly.

That's it for this installment, my friends. I wish you well in your furniture and tub renewal endeavors and until next time,

Happy Trails,
Sven

10 comments:

Tine said...

Hmmm....so would it dye the tub purple? I'm thinking it might make bathtime more fun at our house :-)

Well, atleast for Viola, there's no telling how it might traumatize Ask, if he had to take baths in a purple tub. LOL!

Everyone should be safe as long as we live where we do now, though, as we only have a shower :-)

Do you have any advice on how to clean a vinyl-floor? I can get it clean now, but not without using some really horrible cleaningproducts! I mean, I will only do it when the kids are not here, they are that bad :-(

The Mommy said...

Thank you Sven! I think a purple tub would definately traumatize everyone in my house though. My daughter would call it "freaky" and my son would all out refuse to bath. My husband would cry and complain on a regular basis about it. The other day his mom gave him a pink shirt. He wor it ONCE and kept crying out "OMG I saw my shirt again! I can't stand it, get this girly thing off me!!!"

The Homely Animal said...

I thought that #2 said, "Major scrapes, scratches and marriage" I had to look again at 'marring'! Interestin post Sven

http://www.thehomelyanimal.blogspot.com

Jaimee said...

Thanks again Sven!

Amylouwho said...

Good advice I'm about to tackle painting an old chair. NOT an antique - just needs some color.

dana, I left you a little something on my blog - you'll have to go check it out!

Amy @ Park City Girl said...

Now I wish I did have furniture to restore! Thanks for all the great info :)

Lene said...

The toothpaste on a tennis ball - who knew?!?

tipper said...

Sven-great 2nd installement!

sara said...

Any good tips for getting stains out of grout? The previous owners of our house did not believe in sealing the white bathroom grout & I'm looking for a "green" way to clean it. Thanks! Lovin' all the good info!

whitestone said...

Sven, how do I remove silicone grout where my ceramic tile meets the top edge of the tub? I applied according to the label but mildew has set in! The tile and grout appears healthy in the wall above the tub! I Need Help!!!!!