If you’re a knitter and you’ve been knitting from patterns for any length of time, you will have run across the advice to knit a test swatch using the yarn and needles intended for your particular project. I cringe at the thought of making test swatches because they feel like a waste of time. Let me get to work on the actual thing I want to make, please!
Usually I bypass the swatch and jump right into the project. When I’m finished, I am often annoyed to find that my piece is not the size I hoped it would be. Usually, it is too big. That’s the value of a test swatch in knitting. If I would do them, I would know whether I needed to adjust my needles in order to get the proper gauge.
Now that Erik has been seriously refinishing furniture for the past 5+ years, he has come around to learning the value of test swatches in refinishing.
As I’ve watched his process evolve, I’m amazed at how many variables there are to consider in refinishing a piece of mid-century modern furniture. Here are some of the variables he has to contend with:
Type of wood – Some woods, like walnut, take stain evenly; others, like birch, don’t and will turn out blotchy if not dealt with properly.
The stain – Color is a big part of this, but so are the composition (gel vs. dye vs. pigmented vs. wiping & etc.) and brand of stain.
How finely a piece is sanded – If coarse-grit sandpaper is used before staining, more pigment will lodge into the wood and the stain will appear darker.
The various protective coats – There are usually several layers of protective coats on a given piece. These can include shellac, de-waxed shellac, lacquer, polyurethane (known as “Poly” in the business), vinyl sealer, conversion varnish, and curing oils. The lacquer can be nitrocellulose, pre-catalyzed lacquer, post-catalyzed lacquer, or water-based.
The condition a piece is in – If an old piece of furniture has been impregnated with a silicone furniture polish over time, this will contaminate a new finish if it is not properly sealed in. If it has been water-damaged, this damage has to be treated so that a shadow of it doesn’t reappear after the piece has been refinished. If a piece has faded due to sun damage, this will also affect the final outcome.
As you can see, refinishing a piece of furniture is not a simple matter of slapping on a new finish coat.
Because of all these variables (and more!) and the time it takes Erik to strip and sand a piece to bare wood, he has become a fan of test swatches. This is especially true when he’s trying a new finishing technique. He doesn’t want to get to the end of a project and find he doesn’t like the result. That would mean restripping the entire piece over again.
To create a test swatch, he finds a scrap piece of wood that is the same or similar to the furniture he is working on and tries a few finishing techniques on it, marking each trial with the variables so he can remember how to recreate the finish he prefers on the furniture.
The final result from the middle test swatches in the above photos is the finish on these matching lounge chairs:
I am NOT an expert and I don’t even play one on TV.**
I just thought I’d share the process I used in my first effort at using a dye stain layered beneath an oil stain in an attempt to give a little depth and warmth to the finish on this set.
The original finish was similar to a blonde finish, though in a different color/tone.
**Editor’s note: It is obvious that Erik wrote this post because he immediately starts out by downplaying any of the skill he has earned over the 6 years he’s been working on refinishing furniture. His education started long before that, when he was a boy watching his Grandma Lillian refinishing furniture. Erik’s work speaks for itself and I’m pretty sure most of the pieces he’s refinished are very happy with their new look (as are the customers who purchase them). – Mary
The business of Erik G. Warner Decorative Salvage (formerly Mid-Century Vibe) is constantly shifting as the market shifts. Any number of factors can cause these alterations in our business model. These include customers’ tastes changing over time, our inability to find enough mid-century modern pieces to refinish, a change in our interests regarding merchandise, or a particular customer demand we see. For example, we are moving away from selling small household items because Erik has become more interested in designing and building furniture. (He is keeping YouTube busy with all the woodworking videos he is watching.)
We were in the shop yesterday building a prototype for a coffee table. We’re still in the construction phase, so no pics to show yet.
Today we were back in the shop, learning how to use the router and a circle jig. We purchased the circle router from Rockler in order to make round table tops. Erik discovered that our old router would not fit the jig, so, after reading the jig’s packaging to determine which routers it would work with, he went and bought a new router.
We got the router set up and went to attach it to the jig. It was supposed to attach via 3 holes in the router. We could not find 3 holes on the jig that would align properly with the router. We worked at this for probably an hour, thinking we had to be missing something, but, no, the jig simply wouldn’t align with our new router. We were not happy campers.
I suggested we use the Rockler jig to create our own jig, which is exactly what we did.
Once we finished making the jig, we turned our attention to making the small table top (23″ diameter) that we intended to make with the Rockler jig. You can see the table top next to the router and jig in the photo above.
Here it is again, in all its glory. In order to finish it, Erik will attach edge banding, stain it and lacquer it. We are incredibly pleased with the result so far, especially after problem-solving the non-working jig.