Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Silverware Chest - Refinished


A couple of years ago, I was going through the linen closet in my grandmother's old apartment, and I found a silverware chest. It had an incomplete set of silver plate inside, including a few serving pieces. I liked the silverware, but the box was in awful shape.

It had been stored on a shelf along with a number of table cloths. The one resting directly on top of it was a vinyl table cloth, with that gauzy cotton backing. It was STUCK completely to the surface of the chest. Total disaster. There was even some sort of paper label seemingly glued on. But I took the chest anyway, figuring I could salvage it. Last weekend I finally dove in.

My plan was to first clean, then refinish the chest, so I could display it on my sideboard and have a safe home for my new set of "good" stainless cutlery. I thought a good dose of Goo Be Gone would do the trick, but this mess was too old and intractable. Total waste of time. Although the box smelled lovely.

Because I have a thing for power tools, I tried to lightly sand the mess away. Nope. I just managed to gouge the surface in a couple places. Sanding would have  done the trick eventually, but it would have taken away too much of the wood.

So, I turned to paint remover. This wasn't my first choice, as it's messy and smelly and the fumes were quite overwhelmng since I was doing this project inside, but it did a great job. I used a gel-style paint stripper, applying it on all sides. Only the top needed to be stripped, but if I didn't do the whole piece, the stain would not have applied evenly. Required: paint stripper, scraper, gloves, drop cloth to protect the floor, and a big rag or rags to continually wipe the scraper of collected ick. Finish up by wiping the whole piece with a clean rag and paint thinner to ensure the surface is clean.


I was so eager to keep moving on this project, I forgot to get pictures of the paint stripping process. Essentially, once you let the gel sit for a few minutes, you simply push the paint scraper across the surface (gently but firmly) and slide off a big, gooey mess. Scrape, wipe the scraper, scrape again until it's done.

After the scraping and then cleaning with paint thinner, let the piece dry before applying stain. For this small project I decided to try MinWax Wood Finishing Cloths. They are like baby wipes, just soaked in stain instead of distilled water and cleaning things. Super easy. 


Required: drop cloth to protect the work surface, MinWax Wood Finishing Cloths, gloves. That's it. Put on your gloves, open the package to remove a wipe, close the package to avoid remaining wipes drying out, and then wipe the cloth across the wood, going with the direction of the grain.

The stain dries in about an hour, and then you can take another cloth and add a second coat, if you wish. Best thing? No brushes to clean! I slipped the glove off over the wipe and tossed them in the trash. No clean up required.

I'm pleased with how this has turned out, although I still need to replace the hinges, once I find something suitable. Once I got the guck off the top of the chest, the rest was easy. This isn't what I'd call an heirloom piece; none of us can remember Nan actually ever using this silverware or chest. It may have come from some other relative and made its way to her closet. We'll likely never know, and that's ok. I'll still think of her when I see it, and I'll know that I gave it a new lease on life.

The inside wasn't hurt, just a bit dusty.

Displayed with my late mother-in-law's crystal bowl.
I didn't do a perfect job of staining, but I'm happy with it.

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