Sunday, March 15, 2009

Restoring the look of a 1950's bathroom cabinet

Even just a few years ago, this would be the before picture of a bathroom cabinet. But, in the early 50's, Ranch style houses often had "Ranch" fixtures and cabinets - varnished or shellacked, with exposed hammered-look hardware. For many years this dual sink base cabinet (and hinges & pulls) were painted, to make the bathroom more modern. During a minor bathroom renovation, the paint was stripped and we did the following to restore the look:
1) Sanded out the raised grain, and tried to eliminate (as much as possible) the white paint in the ends / edges of the birch plywood & even penetrated into the surface. Then applied several coats of clear Varathane over the natural wood. In this flash picture, you can see some of the white that was left in the wood. It looks a lot better / is less noticeable in person! Where the white paint was the hardest to touch was the plywood edges of the drawers and doors. If I was doing this project again, I would have edge-sanded longer, or used a permanent brown marker to color the traces of white before Varathaning.
2) Cleaned and restored the hardware. This was the most interesting part of the project. We cooked the pulls, hinges and screws in water in a crockpot for an hour, which completely loosened the remodel latex paint - most of it flaked off in large wet patches. But, as the hardware was mechanically rolled or pressed to give a hammered look, there were plenty of nooks and crannies that the paint wouldn't come out of. A wire wheel on a stationary grinder was used to remove the remaining paint. Instead of repainting, the hardware looked so good that we dipped each piece 3x in Varathane and suspended them by the screw holes to dry, reversing top and bottom each time to give a good coating & avoiding any bubbles or drips. The brushed-aged-steel look is still pretty dark & I think better looking than the original black.
3) Re-installing everything. Attaching hardware to drawers and doors, attaching everything back to the cabinet... Well, almost everything. During the cleaning and coating of the hardware two hinge pins and a couple screws were lost. Drat! How to match the 50+ year old hardware? Was easier than you would think. My favorite hardware store in the world, my local Suburban Ace Hardware fixed our hinge pin problem with tiny single-hole Clevis pins that we ground the tops of to have a similar appearance to the original. The screws were even easier - we bought 2 round-head plain steel slotted screws of the same size as the originals, used a hacksaw to give them the Phillips-head look, and ground the heads to match. I think I'm the only one that can tell which ones aren't original.
Digression - did you notice the guest appearance of a PC "Quicksand" random orbital sander in picture? This is what we used to finish sand the cabinet face-frame and doors. One of my favorite sanders. As you can see from the Shade-tree-engineering blue painter tape, not a fan of the way the porous dust collector cup attaches.
In conclusion - I like the look of natural wood & avoid painting wood whenever possible. I wish stripping paint off wood was as easy as using a crockpot to strip hardware!

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