I like old, discarded objects. I like them for the same reason lots of other people do. The thrill of the hunt, the potential lurking under a nasty exterior, the pride in turning trash into gold.
There’s plenty of reasons why most of our furniture is secondhand. There’s better variety in a small market, it’s not hard to find decent quality materials and construction, and of course, it’s cheaper than buying new. I like the sense of history in old things; even when I’m looking through old ephemera, I’m learning a bit about this part of the world I now live in. The major downside, however, is that you can’t go into it looking for a specific item. You either take what’s on offer or you check back again later, which takes time.
I hadn’t looked on Gumtree on months (it’s like Craigslist, but without the serial killers) because the signal-to-noise ratio isn’t great, but then this interesting table with a star inlay turned up. “Retro” and “60s” were in the item listing, so you know that suckered me right in.
I collected this table when we were on the way to visit Jamie’s dad, so we stopped at a hardware store for supplies and brought it with us. It cost me $50 for the table, plus another $10 for a 250ml bottle of paint stripper and a cheap scraper.
The table was in good shape. Nothing wrong structurally, just one of the leg fasteners popping loose (an easy fix with wood glue). The finish on the legs was okay, but could use a polish. The top though…. yeah. Failing lacquer everywhere. I had a close look at the top to check the thickness of its veneer. It’s a couple of mm thick, just thicker than a US dime. Fragile, but not so paper-thin that I can’t work with it. Good.
My plan of action: paint stripper and then a light sand.
I’ve tried to sand through lacquer before. It doesn’t end well. Even with a power sander, it quickly gums up the paper and it takes a long time to actually chew through the stuff. Paint stripper is worth it when you’re removing a heavy coating on timber.
I just used the cheapest brand of standard paint stripper. I do like using the non-toxic citrus stripper when I have to use it indoors, but otherwise I’m happy to harness the power of caustic chemicals and get stuff done fast. Wear gloves!
I started scraping it off about five minutes after I applied it – you don’t want it to dry on the timber. Here’s what the finish looked like after the first round of paint stripper. Not bad, but there’s still a few lacquered patches.
So I went a second round on the paint stripper. Much better. You can see that now it’s properly stripped of all coatings.
And after I gave it a light sand with 120 grit paper, I couldn’t believe how new and clean it looked. You can actually see the grain of the pieces now. Someone went to a lot of trouble to align the grain just so.
So that was Saturday afternoon. The next day, back at our place, I gave the top another sand at 240 and applied one coat of stain in Cabots “acorn”, a lighter version of walnut, in order to lessen the contrast between the top and the already-stained legs. After that was the varnish. I’m still a fan of the method that Jamie’s dad recommended for coating timber: one coat matte poly for protection, one coat fine buffing oil for shine. The oil topcoat can be touched up without having to strip it all over again.
I’m pleased with how this little table turned out. It’s going to live in our living room, but at the moment it’s keeping some succulents company on the deck. Haworthia, echeveria x2, aeonium, and whatever the red one is.
Seriously, that star inlay. So cool.
You know what they say about trash and treasure.
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