Tuesday, October 8, 2013

dirty broken pretty things

I'm pretty sure there's a help line out there for furniture and objects in need, and the number they give out is mine. Pittsburgh has been extremely generous to us, I think it helps that since we work for home we tell people we can pick something up anytime (not to mention that old picture of our house is pretty convincing when we say the house NEEDS something). Two recent freebies are this Victorian buffet and Aesthetic Movement desk, both were pulled from basements where they'd been pressed into workbench slavery. The horror . . . I didn't intend to talk about them today, so forgive the absence of before pictures.

Yes, we have the drawers and cabinet door

Obviously they're rough. The buffet is high Victorian though, and aside from some chipped quartersawn oak veneer is in rather brilliant condition under it's paint splatters, deeply embedded grime and nailed on linoleum top - even the glass is in perfect shape. We picked it up a week ago with only a vague description to go on, and it's owner was very dubious of our promise to take it no matter what. Truthfully I was half expecting some 1970's thing with fake stained glass that we'd promptly have to drop off at the ReStore, so to see this thing in the dark basement was a sight to behold. Working on it was supposed to be a winter project, but we decided we could use it, so stripping the shellac has begun (I'm about half done).

First pass on the right, glue from the linoleum on the left

This is the first time I've stripped shellac, and though tedious, it's sooooo easy compared to what I'm used to (50 layers of paint, heat guns, and caustic strippers). I'm using denatured alcohol and varying grades of steel wool, q-tips, scrapers and shop towels. I read on Shellac.net (bought some garnet flakes that are on they're way now) that most denatured alcohol you can buy now is trash (including the jug I bought at Lowes) because of the ingredients - so I know to use the good stuff for mixing my shellac, but does anyone know if the better stuff makes stripping easier?

As for the cabinet, this is similar to what it's supposed to look like - rolltop and bookcase that fit into the top with pegs, but, all we have is the cabinet (insert sad face here).

It's really just serving as a flat surface that things get stacked on for now, but since we were getting ready to move it upstairs I decided to give it a closer inspection. We had assumed that the top was missing it's leather, although that didn't explain why the moldings didn't match up. When I pulled out the drawers it all became clear though, obviously the top was on upside down, now why didn't that occur to me?

now why would there be pink felt UNDER the desktop?

I have no idea what possessed the previous owners of this poor little cabinet to ditch the top, break the door and two handles, and remove the top and glue it back on upside down; but, at least the top is right-side up now.

so, anyone know where I can pick up tiny Greek Key border?

What I don't want to talk about is the fact that although the top was glued in - it's also mounted in an original channel so it could slide in and out. It took us longer than I care to admit to figure that second part out.


  1. They're gonna be beautiful once you're done, but I can't believe someone would use either piece as a workbench. What are people thinking! Still, you're lucky to get the pieces for free. People around here think everything's worth big bucks no matter what the condition - no freebies in these parts! :P

    So not only is the varnish these days crap, but so's denatured alcohol? I had my paint store guy round up 10 (so far) gallons of "old school" varnish. I hope I have enough to do the wood in the new place. Shellec.net sounds like a good site to visit! :o)

    1. Yeah, the denatured alcohol thing was an eye opener for me too... The "old school varnish" just cracks me up, we're lucky in that this house has enough antique cans of stuff laying around that we could make do if we wanted to - but I hear lead paint may have some problems associated with it (we also have an unused bag of yellow calcimine paint powder!)...

  2. WOW! Both pieces are amazing! Can't wait to see the after pictures!

    1. Hi Lottie - They're great aren't they? It's such as pleasure to work on something finite for the first time in a while, instead of just neverending house projects...

  3. (Trying again. lol.)

    Absolutely spectacular pieces. You are blessed.

    For denatured alcohol for my shellac (which I also get from Ron at Shellac.net), I use only the Sunnyside brand I get from Craig's Hardware up in New Brighton. They're a Do It Best outfit, so it's possible you can get the same at any other DIB outlet. Sunnyside is 95% ethanol, which is what you want, to avoid methanol skin poisoning. (Not that ethanol can't do for you if you get too intimate with it in a closed-in space.) Or you can always use EverClear, which is 100% grain alcohol, if you want to pay our wonderful Pennsylvania liquor tax at the State Store . . .

    For stripping shellac, though, I like something quicker. I get the stuck-on paint drips off first with the heat gun, then I go over it with Western Wood Doctor Refinisher and a 00 steel wool pad. The WWDR comes from Howard's in Oregon. Wish they sold it in stores locally, but you have to order it on line.

    Kate H.

    1. Blessed indeed Kate! I had thought the Howard's would be similar to the Formby's (which I tried for exactly 5 minutes before deciding it was trash), maybe I'll order it for the next piece on the deassembly line. Now the EverClear is an idea - I could start my own refinishing business called Sip n'Dip!

  4. Sip n'Dip!

    That made me laugh!


    1. Ha! Yeah, I crack myself up. Must be all the fumes I've been inhaling....


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