Spring always gets me excited. The warmer weather hails the start of one of my favorite pastimes... the yard sale. Don't get me wrong, I definitely do my fair share of rummaging through thrift shops and Craigslist during the colder months, but there is something to be said about the ability to drag something outside and spray paint it on a whim. I also tend to have a backlog of projects by spring that are just too large or stinky to finish indoors, so my fix-it-up mojo is in high gear these days. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to share some practical repair tips for salvaging used furniture as well as some tips on how to know if your find is a keeper.
I found this little table on the curb for free. It had great lines, was very sturdy and actually looked very similar to a side table I already had. It also had a bunch of defects which made it a perfect candidate for this post. So lets get right to the fixing part!
This baby was going to need some serious TLC. I headed to True Value and grabbed some medium and fine grit sandpaper, wood putty and wood glue.
I gave the entire piece a good sanding to rough up the laminate and loosen all the peeling paint. There was quite a bit of that.
As I sanded, I noticed the bamboo trim along the edge was loose, so I re-glued it and tacked it in place with some small brad nails.
The veneer on the drawer front had to go. I thought about replacing it with a piece of grasscloth wallpaper, but in the end I opted for plain. I carefully cut along the edge of the veneer with a sharp utility knife...
and peeled it off.
I then sanded the wood underneath and wood puttied along the edges to hide any deep cut marks I made.
I also used wood putty to patch the chipped edges, gouges, open seams and nail holes.
Once the putty dried I sanded it smooth with a fine sandpaper and wiped away all the dust with a tack cloth.
Now for the fun part... paint.
I am loving this Stix primer.
It adheres to almost anything- great for laminate surfaces. You really need to wear gloves when using it or else it will be on you for weeks!
At this point you are ready for your finish coat of paint. I chose to go with a white Krylon spray paint here. The bamboo style details on this piece tend to collect drip and brush marks, so the spray creates a more even finish.
As my paint dried I tackled cleaning the hardware. In most cases when you revamp old furniture you usually swap out the old dated hardware for something newer. In this case I adored the bamboo pulls, so I gave them a quick shine with a Brill-o pad. I normally use brass cleaner or extra fine steel wool, but I was out of both. Brill-o was a little trick I learned online.
Once it was dry it went into my living room as my new end table!I'm so happy with my little curbside makeover...
Now for the tough part. How you decide what's a keeper when looking at second hand furniture and not become a hoarder in the process? I am completely guilty for having way too many "future projects" littering my basement, and have gotten better at recognizing what I want vs. what I actually will use. Here are a couple of tips when deciding on that next "great find".
Have a budget & ask the right questions.
Lets start with your wallet. This usually helps to make the decision much faster. We need to estimate how much work will be involved. Even if it's free there is most likely going to be some repairs and materials needed to make it your own. You might even have a lot of the materials on hand. I usually ask myself "What's the most I'd pay if this were in a store?" Quite often I realize that I wouldn't buy it if it was, it's just the free or $5 price tag that is intriguing- so I walk away.
Now ask yourself a) do you have a place for it and b) do you have the time to do the work. If you answered no, it very well might go into the "project abyss" (mine is in my basement) to be forgotten and add to clutter. And a good final question is "Do I love it?" If you answer yes, well than take it home.
Old vs. New/ Wood vs. Particle Board
Is it hardwood or a big box knock off made of particle board? Real wood will be easier to makeover or fix, a damaged laminate or pressed board will be tough. Also, older vintage pieces are generally of better quality. I prefer older dressers and tables to the newer inexpensive pieces manufactured today for this reason. Joints are usually dovetailed, not nailed or stapled and the wood is usually a hardwood that will hold up much longer than softer pine or pressed board.
Don't be afraid of veneer. If it's in good shape a little elbow grease is all you need to bring it back to life. I found these mid-century dressers for a song and shined them up by rubbing on a little Restore-A-Finish with some fine steel wool, and then wiping the excess off with a clean cloth:
Good as new!
If the veneer is damaged beyond repair you can sometimes peel it off and then sand and paint the wood below. If the piece has a laminate top, don't worry that can be changed. You just need a good primer that is made to cover laminate and you can turn that into a painted surface.
Are there big chips or scratches? You will be amazed what can be filled or fixed with a little wood putty and paint. If the scratches are small you can usuallly lightly sand them and restain. If they run deep you can fill, sand and then paint. If there are big chunks or corners missing, I say walk away. Know your skill level and limits.
What lies beneath?
This is where things can get gross. First question- is the piece upholstered? I recommend doing a smell test if possible. Upholstery can be funky... from pet stains to mystery odors to creepy crawlies like bed bugs. You want no part. Don't get me wrong. I have dragged home my fair share of bad choices, but you have to be careful. With the rise of bedbugs I have been very conservative about what I choose. Even so, I once brought a chair home that I found down the street from my house. It looked safe enough until I opened it up to upholster. No bugs, but just as scary... mold!
The worse part is that I brought it to an upholstery class, and when I opened it my teacher made me keep it to prove a point anything could be save. It turned out fine in the end, but I definitely shed some tears in that class!
Do the stress test.
Lean on it, bounce, wiggle... any action it may undergo in your home. If it seems a bit rickety, buyer beware... you are in for some work. Look under the hood. Has there been previous repairs made? I once grabbed a set of dining chairs at a flea market because they looked great and there was the pressure of two other people stalking them. I didn't test them all out and I paid full price. I got them home and realized two of the four chairs were a bit wobbly. Upon further inspection I noticed a leg had been broken off and repaired using a staple gun!
Most loose joints that are not cracked and missing pieces can be repaired with wood glue and a clamp to hold in place until dry. I learned this from the aforementioned upholstery class. That little chair was beyond rickety, but after a serious gluing/clamping session it is still sitting pretty today!
Know your comfort and skill level. The more you are able to do yourself, the bigger the savings. Are you OK with a little sanding and painting but intimidated by upholstering? I use the "University of Google & YouTube" to feel out tutorials before jumping in head first. It's so empowering to gain a new skill, and I can't tell you how much I've learned. I really should have a degree from them by know!