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Refinishing a sideboard!

Refinishing a sideboard

I’ve been thinking about furniture for the open living/dining area, in particular the dining section, seeing as we have nothing for it right now. Our apartment didn’t have room for a whole separate dining table and chairs, so everyone who came over got to be a slob and eat their dinner on the couch just like us. It’ll be nice to have a table there when we have people over, or when I’m commandeering the table as a workspace but I still want to watch TV. Whichever.

But besides having a table and chairs, I knew that a sideboard would be useful for storage over here, and just under the corner window would be a perfect spot. It’d be out of the way, and its surface location would also be ideal for sun-loving indoor plants and solar-powered black cats.

A table and chairs would be more useful right now, for sure, but I stumbled across the sideboard first. So yeah. Looks like I’m refinishing a sideboard.

cabinet before

While we worked on the insides of the house, this poor shell of a cabinet sat in our carport and waited for me, for weeks. That’s not our carport, or even our property, but I’ll get to that.

Most of our furniture is secondhand. Anything free-standing in our house that’s made of wood probably got there from the tip shop or Gumtree. (For my family and other USians: tip = landfill, and a tip shop is an attached store and salvage yard that sells all the offloaded stuff in resellable condition.) There’s a few reasons why I like it: you can save a bomb on solid timber furniture; there’s more variety, especially in a small market like Tasmania; and fixing up old junk can be meditative.

Despite the rough top and missing doors, I liked its size and simple, Shaker profile. I really didn’t want something too ornate or visually heavy, and the legs help. The material is veneered chipboard, so yes, it is actually even more junky than it looks. For $18, though, I figured I could take a crack at carefully cleaning up the veneer and making it pretty.

cabinet before top

So I began to work on the cabinet… after I took it with me on a visit to Jamie’s dad’s property. Sorry for the crappy phone pics.

I don’t do this with every project, but very occasionally I bring a piece of furniture down here to work on and no one minds. The country is a great place to turn on your mega-loud power tools and really focus on a project. I also get to ask people for their advice along the way, which has been an excellent resource.


I sanded the top with our random orbital sander, and that thing means business! It goes by so much quicker than using our old square sander. It took maybe 10 minutes of using a 100 grit pad to strip the top, which was just enough grit to take off the remaining varnish, but not enough to eat through the thin veneer. After I turned off the power sander, I gave the top and every other surface a brief hand sanding with 240 pads, which smoothed it out and got it ready for stain.

The sides and legs were only lightly scuffed, with only a few scratches. After I gave them a light sand, I coated them in stain, diluted to half-strength. The dilute stain evened out the tone and ensured a better match with the top, which got two full coats of the stain. For extra protection, I gave it all a coat of poly.

bench cutting

The poly hadn’t dried in time to take it back with us on the same day, so we came back for it a week later. Which was just as well; the cabinet was missing a door, so we made new ones altogether, using 19mm marine-grade plywood. Cost more than the cabinet itself did, but worth it.

NB: A bushfire tore through this property back in January, and while the house itself was (thankfully) spared and the grass has grown back, a lot of the structures and workshop materials belonging to Jamie’s dad were lost. How do you like this workbench? It did the job!

saw cutting

We clamped the wood to the bench, and Jamie and his brother took turns cutting pieces with the circular saw. Taping along the penciled line helped reduce splintering on the top layer of plywood.

cut boards

The finished piece peeking out on the left with the busted handle is the original door. The squarish piece on the right with the grain is one of the new doors, cut to size.

stained shell

I was feeling pretty happy with my progress.

ralph in grass

And in fact, this old-timer seemed pretty into it, too.


So did these ponies. After we put away all the loud stuff, I got to say hi to everybody.


Nature moments.


So yeah. Once everything was fully dry, we brought it back to our place and I got my doors ready to fit in with the existing cabinet tracking. I sanded and stained them to match and attached the knobs. The knobs aren’t original to this cabinet, but I saw them at the tip shop and they match nicely.

I kept the plastic tracks at the bottom of the cabinet, so I had to notch out the doors in order to get them to stay put and glide over the tracks. No access to a router, so I carefully used a multi-tool to saw out a small notch. The plywood layers were my guide; there were six of them, so I took out the middle two. After I took out as much as I could with the multi-tool, going about ¼” deep, I ran a drill bit along the notch in order to gouge it out more smoothly.

I should have done this before staining, but hey. Live and learn.

Along the top, I installed guides using pieces of pine. A few screws and they were solid.

Refinishing a sideboard

And we’re back to the finished result. Feeling pretty good about my handiwork on this! It fits under the window and everything.

(I’m not feeling the bookcase on the left in its current spot, but it’s got a seedling tray on it right now, so it stays until the lil’ tomato and pepper plants on it are bigger. Priorities.)

Refinishing a sideboard

Those aren’t sander marks, the top has a slightly different grain that came out looking pretty. I’m relieved I didn’t ruin the veneer.

finished cabinet sill

There it is. Confirmed: a good place for storage, window plants, and bird-watching cats.

2 thoughts on “Refinishing a sideboard!”

  1. Love the work you’re doing. Don’t know that I’d call that piece a sideboard, though. It’s a little short for that. I remember my parents had a similar piece that they used for storing record albums. Whatever. It looks great and fits perfectly in the spot under the window.

    1. Thanks mom. I’m reading about the definitions now and really, I don’t know what I’d call this? Everyone has their own definition for ‘buffet’ or ‘credenza’ or ‘sideboard’ it seems. Sideboard feels like the broadest one.

      Just calling it a ‘cabinet’ makes it seem a bit plain. 🙂

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