How to Restore Blond '50s Furniture
Furniture from the '50s almost always has a honey or golden color to it. It's not stain; instead, it's the natural discoloration of the finish over the years. Furniture makers from the '50s often skipped the stain and added nothing but shellac. Over time, the shellac darkens to that honey color that you see on your treasured heirloom today. If you decide to refinish it, you can't wait another 50 years for the shellac to darken. Fortunately, there's a product that will bring back the original color in a single day.
Remove the doors and drawers from the piece of furniture if it's a dresser or other cabinet. Place them across sawhorses. Place chairs, tables or other solid-wooden items on sawhorses.
Spread a drop cloth around the sawhorses.
Dip a paintbrush into an open can of chemical stripper. Brush the stripper onto the wood, covering a 12-inch square area if the item is flat. Brush the stripper onto legs, arms, parts of chairs, tables or similar items, two at a time. Allow the stripper to remain on the wood long enough to soften the old finish.
Scrape off the old finish, using a flat stick such as a paint stirring stick or Popsicle stick. Scrape from the middle of flat surfaces, allowing the stripper to fall off onto the drop cloth. Scrape the stripper off stubborn spots, rounded legs or profiled parts, using a putty knife. Use a sharpened, flat stick to scrape the stripper from tight corners or profile lines. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 until all of the old finish has been removed. Allow the furniture to dry for one hour.
Sand the furniture smooth by hand, using a hand-sanding block with 100-grit sandpaper. Sand parallel to the grain on flat surfaces. Alternatively, roll a piece of 120-grit sandpaper into a cylinder to sand rounded parts. Sand inside tight corners and profile lines with sandpaper folded into thirds. Use the sharp edge to sand those hard-to-reach areas. When everything is smooth and consistent in color, dust everything with a soft cloth.
Dip a paintbrush into an open can of amber shellac. Brush an even coat onto all parts of the '50s furniture, using brush strokes parallel with the woodgrain. Allow the shellac to dry a minimum of one hour.
Sand everything again, using a folded piece of 180-grit sandpaper. Apply two more coats of amber shellac, waiting an hour between applications. Sand only after the first coat. Allow the shellac to cure for 72 hours before handling the furniture.
Some people refer to white finishes as blond; however, that's not correct. White finishes are known as limed finishes. Those types of finishes require a different technique for refinishing.
Wear gloves and eye protection when working with a chemical stripper as it can burn skin on contact. Use only in well-ventilated areas.
Be careful when using tools -- such as a putty knife -- to scrape off stripper as they can gouge or scratch wood.
Things You Will Need
- Drop cloth
- Eye protection
- 2 paintbrushes
- Chemical stripper
- Paint stirring sticks
- Popsicle sticks
- Putty knife
- Hand sanding block
- Sandpaper, 100-grit
- Sandpaper, 120-grit
- Amber shellac
- Sandpaper, 180-grit
Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.
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- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images