How to Stain and Finish an Antique Dresser

Video Transcript

Video Transcript

RON HAZELTON:
[MUSIC]

Now that rounded arch project is a good example of how adding something new to a house can make it a lot more enjoyable. My next project is about taking something old and making it good as new. I'm headed to Rochester, New York and I'm going to pay a visit to Phyllis Mackenzie.

Hi, Phyllis, how are you.
PHYLLIS:
Hi Ron.
RON HAZELTON:
Very nice to meet you.
PHYLLIS:
It's nice to meet you and welcome to Rochester.
RON HAZELTON:
Well thank you. Thank you very much. What a gorgeous neighborhood this is. All these trees and flowers. Oh, I love your garden. Oh, there's color everywhere. Oh, this is beautiful. So you've got a couple passions: you've got gardening and antiques.
PHYLLIS:
[Affirmative].
RON HAZELTON:
Tell me about today's project.
PHYLLIS:
It's a wonderful old dresser that I stripped. It was painted white or I would have never stripped it. Stripped it about ten years ago and I just then put it aside because I'm not real good at refinishing. And I was afraid of it. I was afraid I'd ruin it completely. And then I heard about you and I thought golly, maybe this guy can really help me make it look like it should.
RON HAZELTON:
So we have an opportunity today to finish a project that you started a decade ago.
PHYLLIS:
That's right.
RON HAZELTON:
I love it. Let's do it. [     ?     ].
PHYLLIS:
Well, we're ready for you, Ron. I have the drop cloth down, the piece that needs attention.
RON HAZELTON:
Okay. I'd say what, about mid 1800s, something like this?
PHYLLIS:
I think so.
RON HAZELTON:
Well, let me show you what I, what I see here. This is some of the old finish that you didn't get off right here. So you need to strip that off. Over here, we've got some watermarks. You want to get rid of those. And what is this?
PHYLLIS:
Some oil I believe.
RON HAZELTON:
Oil, okay. So let's try to clean this up, get rid of all of that and then I want to talk to you about putting some stain on here. And then ultimately a finish.
PHYLLIS:
Okay. Sounds good to me.
RON HAZELTON:
Now Phyllis, this is a semi paste stripper. It's kind of thick, that's good because a few of these surfaces are vertical. This will -won't run off as quickly.
PHYLLIS:
I see.
RON HAZELTON:
Now the key about putting - putting stripper on, I've found and you've done, you've done a fair amount of refinishing yourself, I like to just put this on with a minimal amount of brushing. Just lay it on like that.

Over brushing causes the stripper's active ingredients to evaporate before they can do their job.
PHYLLIS:
How am I doing?
RON HAZELTON:
Doing very good. Yeah, that's good. Now we're going to stop here in a second because we want to catch this before it dries out. As a matter of fact, let's come back over here where we started, and do a little test, okay. It's only been about two, three minutes.

You see, this is not releasing yet. See, that's the finish right there. That white. So we just want to let this sit now and let the chemicals do all the work for us. So I'll just give this a few more minutes.

After another several minutes, it's obvious to us that the putty knife's not going to get the old finish off. So we switch to steel wool. Now this is a little bit more stubborn than I thought it would be. But the steel wool here is taking it off.

This is a medium coarse steel wool. And I'm going with the grain of course. Well, you know, you know, that. And you can see right here, we're getting that finish off. This brown stuff right here, that is the old finish.

Now this is lacquer thinner, it's a solvent. I like to use it for a couple of reasons -
[SOUND CUT]
It tends to neutralize the stripper and some strippers have wax in them. So this helps kind of remove the residual wax from the stripper before you do any finishing.

While Phyllis cleans up the top of the dresser with lacquer thinner and we make sure there's plenty of cross ventilation for this, I begin to apply fresh stripper to the next level. We're working on small areas at a time so the stripper won't dry out.

Getting the old finish out of turnings, carvings and intricate moldings requires a special tool. This is a brass bristle brush like a toothbrush. It will make short work of that. This takes it right off.
PHYLLIS:
Yeah. It really works.
RON HAZELTON:
Section by section, we apply stripper, work the old finish off with steel wool and neutralize the surface with lacquer thinner.
ANNOUNCER:
Ron Hazelton's HouseCalls is being brought to you by the Home Depot.
[SOUND CUT]
RON HAZELTON:
I'm visiting Phyllis Mackenzie in Rochester, New York. She has a treasured old dresser that she began stripping a while ago, but she stopped and put it aside because she wasn't sure how to refinish it. Well, today, we've done some more cleaning and stripping and things are beginning to look pretty good.

Well this came out surprisingly well. You know, even that oil spot down there -
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
PHYLLIS:
It certainly did.
RON HAZELTON:
- but we still have some very stubborn spots right here and right here. These are, these are probably watermarks.
[SOUND CUT]
What we're going to get of these is with something called oxalic acid. You'll find this in a hardware or paint store under wood bleach. We want to add this to some hot water. As hot as you can get it out of the tap. The hotter the better.

I'm just going to dribble a little bit there. And we'll just put in a couple of - couple of tablespoons. That should be good. Then we'll just take a brush and mix this up. And then we'll paint this right down here on these water marks.

Now I could just put this on the - on the area that's got the ring. But there is some discoloration all over the top of this. So I'm just going to apply it to the entire surface here.  Okay, Phyllis, would you mind doing the bottom shelf down there?
PHYLLIS:
Not at all.
RON HAZELTON:
Okay. Now unlike the stripper, we can keep brushing this as we want to kind of work it into the wood. So until it, until it really soaks in. As soon as the oxalic acid dries leaving a powdery residue, you rinse it off using a sponge in warm water.

Now this mark down here came out quite well with the oxalic acid.
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
PHYLLIS:
It really did.
RON HAZELTON:
Yeah, it really did. But this one up here is still there. So I want to try a little bit of, this is just household bleach diluted in water. I've got about one part bleach to five parts water.

Remember, there are no hard rules to furniture stripping. If something's not working, well then experiment. Now the bleach removed just about everything. There were some very faint marks left, so we're sanding these out now with some 100 paper.

And then I'll move up to a 150 grit for a final sanding before we stain. Okay Phyllis, why don't you finish this up? I've got something to take care of.
PHYLLIS:
Oh all right, I will.
RON HAZELTON:
I'll be right back.
PHYLLIS:
Sure will.
RON HAZELTON:
This is going very well. Very well, very nice.
PHYLLIS:
Right, well, I wondered where you went.
RON HAZELTON:
I had a planning meeting.
PHYLLIS:
Oh, did you? Oh all right.
RON HAZELTON:
Okay, well, we'll dust this off now and we're just about ready to stain. Nice work.
PHYLLIS:
All right.
RON HAZELTON:
Very nice work. A good wipe down with a tack cloth will remove any dust or gritty residue that may have been left over from the sanding.
Okay, well, it's time to stain.
PHYLLIS:
All right.
RON HAZELTON:
I'm going to suggest that we use this gel stain. So let's apply this with a brush starting up here at the top. A little drop there.

I like gel type stains because they're easy to control. They minimize drips, runs and splashes and they can be applied with a cloth or a brush. I make sure to thoroughly work them into crevices, details and carvings.

The instructions for this stain say to stop after about three minutes and wipe off all the excess. So we'll do this in sections.
[SOUND CUT]
Let us wipe, okay. Just a - just a cloth. So you just want to wipe this pretty - with the grain. Long strokes like this all the way down.

All stains should be wiped off after they've had a chance to penetrate the wood. The more pressure you apply and the longer you wipe, the more stain is removed. Here too, experiment to find out what works best. Just some stripper, stain and elbow grease has transformed this once ordinary piece into something very special. The stain has to dry for 24 hours. Then it will need some kind of a topcoat.
PHYLLIS:
Yes.
RON HAZELTON:
What do you have in mind?
PHYLLIS:
I think tongue oil.
RON HAZELTON:
Okay, two, three coats.
PHYLLIS:
Yes, absolutely.
RON HAZELTON:
It will look gorgeous. And then after a decade -
PHYLLIS:
A decade.
RON HAZELTON:
Finished, huh?
PHYLLIS:
Oh yes.

Salvage a Painted Antique by Removing Grease and Water Marks and Restoring the Stained and Varnished Beauty of Its Wood

Restore the charm and beauty of antique furniture whose antique value and patina have been compromised by paint, stains, and a deteriorated finish. This antique dresser has already been stripped of paint during an earlier attempt at restoration, but removing grease, stains, and water marks prior to refinishing it reclaims the charm and beauty of its earlier life.

Examine the Antique Furniture Finish and Protect the Work Area
Step 1

Examine the Antique Furniture Finish and Protect the Work Area

Examine antique furniture damage areas and obtain stain removers and finishing products to correct them. Prepare a well-ventilated work area. Cover the floor and surrounding objects with drop cloths and newspapers and wear gloves and safety glasses.

Apply the Stripping Solution to the Antique Furniture
Step 2

Apply the Stripping Solution to the Antique Furniture

Apply semi-paste stripping solution with a paint brush to the antique furniture one surface at a time. Brush carvings or crevices with a brass brush. Work with the grain of the wood and give it several minutes for effect.

Scrape Loosened Finish from Antique Furniture with a Putty Knife
Step 3

Scrape Loosened Finish from Antique Furniture with a Putty Knife

Lift the old finish gently with a putty knife, cleaning off the blade frequently. Recoat the antique furniture if necessary and use medium-coarse steel wool in stubborn or detailed areas where the putty knife is ineffective.

Use Lacquer Thinner to remove Stripper and Other Residue
Step 4

Use Lacquer Thinner to remove Stripper and Other Residue

Dip fine steel wool in lacquer thinner and apply to the antique furniture to neutralize the stripper and remove residue. Strippers may leave a waxy residue and particles of the old finish may cling to the surface during restoration.

Brush Oxalic Acid onto Marked Areas of the Antique Furniture
Step 5

Brush Oxalic Acid onto Marked Areas of the Antique Furniture

Dissolve oxalic acid in hot tap water. Brush it on marred surfaces of the antique furniture to remove watermarks, grease or oil. Let it dry and sponge the powdery residue off with warm water. Household bleach may be used as well.

Smooth Surfaces of the Antique Furniture with Fine Sandpaper
Step 6

Smooth Surfaces of the Antique Furniture with Fine Sandpaper

Use 100-grit sandpaper to lightly smooth the antique furniture's surface, then switch to 150-grit for a final pass. Work with the wood grain as you sand, never across the grain during the restoration.

Clean the Antique Furniture with a Tack Cloth
Step 7

Clean the Antique Furniture with a Tack Cloth

Remove all dust and grit from the antique furniture with a tack cloth, wiping the sticky cloth across the entire surface to remove dust and lint. Fold the tack cloth periodically to expose a fresh sticky area.

Stain the Antique Furniture with Gel Stain
Step 8

Stain the Antique Furniture with Gel Stain

Apply gel stain to the antique furniture with a brush or cloth. Work with the grain, paying special attention to ornate carved areas or crevices to ensure coverage. Work on individual surfaces that can be coated in a few minutes.

Wipe off Excess Stain from Antique Furniture and Let It Dry
Step 9

Wipe off Excess Stain from Antique Furniture and Let It Dry

Allow several minutes for stain penetration on the antique furniture and wipe off the excess with a lint-free rag. Greater pressure on the cloth removes more stain to produce a lighter color. Recoat if necessary to reach a deeper color depth.

Top Coat Antique Furniture with Tung Oil
Step 10

Top Coat Antique Furniture with Tung Oil

Apply one to three top coats of Tung oil to waterproof and protect the new finish while retaining the antique furniture's character. Check and follow the manufacturer's application instructions to obtain the desired finish.