Singer Cabinet No. 40 project - part 2

>> Sunday, August 24, 2008

The first stage of the sewing cabinet refinishing was stripping off the old varnish. This is the step I dread doing, and rarely do, mainly because it came end up in a big mess. Also there's a lot of different tips and warnings when you look it up online and it can be confusing.

close-up of the flaking varnish with bare wood showing

I don't want to recommend my way because every project is different, but I thought it might be helpful to show what I did. I would have liked to see more pictures before embarking on this step.

First of all, I have to say that this was probably the easiest kind of stripping job as it was only three flat panels. They unscrewed from the table and could be laid flat. But it was still a really yucky chore and I think it's natural to have a few moments when you wonder why you're bothering and wishing you'd just been patient and found a table in better condition to begin with. I was relieved that the rest of the cabinet was in good condition once I realized how hard it would have been to strip all the legs and little details.

I also accidentally found out that mineral oil (just baby oil available at any drugstore) does a surprisingly good job of covering up tons of scratches and marks, so I was able to restore the inner top of the table to the point where refinishing no longer seemed necessary. I just rubbed some oil on with a paper towel and it suddenly looked scratch-free and glossy.

I used rubber dishwashing gloves and an old paint brush. I took the small local shop's recommendation and used Circa 1850 Heavy Body Paint & Varnish Remover. This kind has a jelly consistency and clings in place so it doesn't make a runny mess. Definitely a good thing. It has a smell but it's not that bad at all - I think you need to work outdoors though.
You brush it on quite thickly, otherwise it will quickly dry out and not work very well. I waited 15 minutes, then used a scraper - gently so as not to gouge the wood.

I used this scraper, and wiped the gunk on a paper towel in a glass bowl. I had also poured the Paint & Varnish Remover into the glass bowl as glass can be cleaned up and will not get damaged by the chemicals.
After the first scrape

There was some varnish left over so I repeated this step.
After this there was still some varnish remnants (especially around the curved edges which are hard to get at with a flat scraper), which is when I realized I really did need the steel wool recommended to remove the last of the residue.
afterwards - the scrubbie washed clean

I think the one Bradley found for me is metal, but unlike steel wool it held it's shape and didn't compress and shred. Also it rinsed nicely and could be reused.

So the man in the store recommended washing after the stripping stage with soap and water to removed the chemicals left on the wood. And that's the part I don't recommend only because there are lots of online warnings about washing wood with water being a bad idea. And in some cases it could cause damage. But I just went ahead and did it, using the scrubbie at the same time to scrape off the last of the residue under hot water. I didn't use soap but the hot water and scrubbing seemed to be enough. Afterwards I quickly dried the pieces with paper towel and laid them to fully dry.

Luckily I ended up with some nice smooth panels of stripped wood. Ready for the next step!


Gigi October 02, 2008  

Your are ambitious! My daughter has my grandmother's old
(c.1920's) sewing machine which still works! However, the cabinet badly needs refinishing. After seeing your wonderful results, I think we might try to tackle the job as well.

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