Thursday, December 29, 2011


While rummaging in the basement for holiday decorations, I came across an old cupboard – a “toy chest” my Grandfather made years ago.  Its stained and the paint is peeling so it looks a sorry mess, but the cupboard itself remains sound. With a little loving care it could, once again, be cute and functional.

So, I’ve begun gathering information, making price comparisons, and perusing décor ideas (finishes, appliqués, hardware, etc.)  During these preparations I came across some startling statistics on furniture disposal versus renewal (from the US and UK) as well as cautionary articles on testing for and removing lead-based paints.   These paints were banned a few decades ago, but when in doubt about the age of the furniture (or its finish) its best to test the item before work begins.  Test kits are available online and in hardware stores.  Armed with this knowledge, I’ve made a list of essential supplies and am preparing the work area.

To refinish most furniture usually requires only basic supplies:
  • Paint, varnish, or stain
  • Paint brushes of varying sizes for broad coverage and finer detail work
  • Sand-paper of different grades (from coarse for stripping, to fine for finishing work)
  • Standard safety equipment:  goggles, a particle mask, and gloves
  • Tarp(s) to protect the work area and help contain mess and waste
  • Optional equipment:  power sander and/or spray painter
  • Sometimes required:  primer, to seal old stain which resists removal and could bleed through new paint

For projects involving the removal of lead-based paints, sanding is strongly discouraged.  In fact, most articles I read on the subject recommend these jobs be done by professional refinishers to avoid poisoning family, home, and the environment.  If deciding to take on these projects at home, then heightened precautions should be taken, and other supplies will be needed:
  • Gel or liquid paint-stripper and a putty knife
  • Painters respirator
  • Disposable, full-coverage, painters coveralls and gauntlet-length rubber gloves
  • Heavy-gauge plastic, to seal the work area (including ventilation ducts)
  • Before beginning, locate a safe disposal site for all hazardous waste and contaminated supplies

Refinishing furniture can be thrifty or extravagant, depending on the products used.  Designer hardware and appliqués may elevate the furniture’s appearance, but will raise the project’s overall cost.  If budget is a concern, assorted painting techniques can also achieve visual interest.  Paint prices vary, but a regular latex indoor paint is all that’s needed.  There is also the expense of time, but I balance this and other costs against professional refinishing rates.  Besides, I enjoy having something crafty to do during these dark days of winter.

I’d like to share images of my project but I’m still awaiting information on a safe disposal site before beginning work – yes, the paint I’ll be removing is lead-based.  Fortunately, the cupboard is small and I’ll have the necessary protective gear to do the job with the utmost caution.  In the end, the chest my Grandfather made will be restored to service, saved from the landfill, and may even find its way to future generations.  For me, this renewal project of will be a very gratifying start to the New Year.