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Jens Risom Credenza: Restoration complete.

Jens Risom Credenza Revived

Jens Risom credenza as found.
Jens Risom credenza as found.
Front of Jens Risom credenza as found.
Front of Jens Risom credenza as found.

Erik is known for taking on furniture restoration challenges that few others are willing to tackle. When we picked up this Jens Risom credenza, all the defects weren’t apparent until we got it into the shop. This project took at least 20 hours for Erik to finish and there were points in the process where he felt it was going to kick his ass. But, he prevailed and the end result is beautiful.

Below are photos showing some of the defects, parts of the repair process, and the final result.

Risom Credenza Drawers

Before: Jens Risom credenza drawers.
Jens Risom Credenza: Drawers before.
After: Jens Risom credenza drawers.
Jens Risom Credenza: Drawers after. 

Once Erik started examining the Risom credenza, it became obvious that someone had attempted to refinish it before. The finish had been applied haphazardly and it was a sticky mess to remove. Typically, during refinishing, especially when someone is inexpert at it, the interior of the piece is not touched. Not so with this credenza. Even the insides of the drawers had been poorly refinished.

Erik had to disassemble the drawers and remove the hardware in order to properly strip and refinish them. The top picture shows the foreground drawer after sanding and the background drawer in its original state. Note the stain slopped on the original Risom label. We love labels in furniture and do our best to preserve them, which Erik managed to do as seen in the bottom picture.

He did not restain the insides of the drawers, but gave them 2 coats of shellac and 1 coat of lacquer to protect the wood.

 

Repairing Holes in the Top of the Credenza

ens Risom Credenza: Holes in top, before.
Jens Risom Credenza: Holes in top, before.
Jens Risom Credenza: Holes in top, epoxy filled.
Jens Risom Credenza: Holes in top, epoxy filled.
Jens Risom Credenza: Holes in top, stain and sealer coats applied.
Jens Risom Credenza: Holes in top, stain and sealer coats applied.
Jens Risom Credenza: Holes in top, finished repair.
Jens Risom Credenza: Holes in top, finished repair.

This Risom credenza is actually the return from an executive desk, which means that the two pieces would have been joined together to form an “L” shape. The holes in the top of the credenza are where the desk is attached to the credenza. When selling the credenza separate from the desk, you have to repair the holes. The above photos show this process.

The first photo shows the holes before any work has been done.

The second shows the piece after sanding, with epoxy filling the holes.

The third photo is the piece after staining, 2 coats of shellac, and 1 thin coat of lacquer. Note how the epoxy-filled holes are still visible. It’s at this point that Erik had to use his artistry to grain-paint these spots, making them blend in to the rest of the finish.

The fourth photo is the finished product.

 

The Left End of the Credenza

Jens Risom Credenza: Left end before.
Jens Risom Credenza: Left end before.
Jens Risom Credenza: Left end, defects epoxy filled.
Jens Risom Credenza: Left end, corner epoxy filled.
Jens Risom Credenza: Left end, defects epoxy filled.
Jens Risom Credenza: Left end, defects epoxy filled.
Jens Risom Credenza: Left end, finished repair.
Jens Risom Credenza: Left end, finished repair.

The left end of the Risom credenza needed a lot of work, including removing an unneeded mounting board for the privacy panel, gluing to tighten joints, epoxy-filling a corner and more holes (lotta holes in this piece!), and a couple of other veneer repairs. The same process was followed as for repairing the holes in the top and you can see the end result.

Replacing a Piece of Trim

Jens Risom Credenza: Splintered and missing trim.
Jens Risom Credenza: Splintered and missing trim.
Jens Risom Credenza: New walnut trim cut, secured in place and shaped.
Jens Risom Credenza: New walnut trim cut, secured in place and shaped.
Jens Risom Credenza: Trim, repair complete.
Jens Risom Credenza: Trim, repair complete.

This Risom credenza is meant to float in the middle of the room, so the entire thing was designed to be finished, even on the back side. A portion of the trim on the back left corner was broken off and jagged, so Erik had to fabricate a new piece, glue it on, and shape it so that it matched the profile of the original. By the time he had the credenza finished, you could barely tell he had replaced this piece.

The Risom Credenza Brought Back to Life

Jens Risom Credenza: Restoration complete.
Jens Risom Credenza: Restoration complete.

Ta da! Here it is, the Jens Risom credenza fully restored and ready to be used by someone new. This piece would make a great entertainment center, with a slide-out tray, 5 drawers, and a space for vinyl albums or books.

 

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The Value of Test Swatches in Refinishing

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.

Erik Warner's refinishing test swatches, May 2017.
Erik Warner’s refinishing test swatches, May 2017.

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.

Notes on Erik Warner's test swatches, May 2017.
Notes on Erik Warner’s test swatches, May 2017.

The final result from the middle test swatches in the above photos is the finish on these matching lounge chairs:

Lounge chairs refinished by Erik Warner, May 2017.
Lounge chairs refinished by Erik Warner, May 2017.

Nice, eh?

Mid-Century United Dresser Set – Refinished Using Dye Stain Under Oil Stain

United dresser set refinish.

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.

United dresser set as purchased at auction.
United dresser set as purchased at auction.
The first step was to strip off the old finish. I used Klean Strip 15 minute variety. (sorry, I forgot to take a pic of the can so I swiped an image from the interwebs). After scraping the stripper I washed with Lacquer thinner; would have used straight Acetone but I was out.
The first step was to strip off the old finish. I used Klean Strip 15 minute variety. (sorry, I forgot to take a pic of the can so I swiped an image from the interwebs).
After scraping the stripper I washed with Lacquer thinner; would have used straight Acetone but I was out.
Once the finish was removed I sanded with 150 and then 180 grit.
Once the finish was removed I sanded with 150 and then 180 grit.
After sanding came the dye stain. I went with TransTint orange mixed in water. I chose water because it would give me a little more open time. I figured that, being new to this, I might need some extra time to move the color around to blend out any potential streaks or runs.
After sanding came the dye stain. I went with TransTint orange mixed in water. I chose water because it would give me a little more open time. I figured that, being new to this, I might need some extra time to move the color around to blend out any potential streaks or runs.
United low-boy, dye stained orange.
United low-boy, dye stained orange.
The next step after the dye was a sealer coat of dewaxed shellac. I happened to have enough Ruby that I had mixed for another project left over so I used that.   I had this thinned to a 1 pound cut. When spraying you have to adjust your fluid and air flow rates (if using a compressor set-up) and have to make sure you move the gun at the right speed so you get an even application but don't deposit so much material that you get runs and sags.
The next step after the dye was a sealer coat of dewaxed shellac. I happened to have enough Ruby that I had mixed for another project left over so I used that.
I had this thinned to a 1 pound cut. When spraying you have to adjust your fluid and air flow rates (if using a compressor set-up) and have to make sure you move the gun at the right speed so you get an even application but don’t deposit so much material that you get runs and sags.
After a little light sanding I applied General Finishes Mahogany stain.
After a little light sanding I applied General Finishes Mahogany stain.
Here's the hi-boy post stain application.
Here’s the hi-boy post stain application.
Once the stain had dried, I gave it two + days, I laid down several (3-4) coats of 1 pound cut SealCoat de-waxed shellac. I didn't have enough of the ruby left and was able to pick this up at a local shop so I could move the project forward.
Once the stain had dried, I gave it two + days, I laid down several (3-4) coats of 1 pound cut SealCoat de-waxed shellac. I didn’t have enough of the ruby left and was able to pick this up at a local shop so I could move the project forward.
Up after the shellac were a few coats of lacquer. Went with Watco Satin, thinned about 25% on the first two coats, and then about 50% on a final coat.
Up after the shellac were a few coats of lacquer. Went with Watco Satin, thinned about 25% on the first two coats, and then about 50% on a final coat.
United low-boy all finished. Hoping it has a nice glowing orange, Mahogany look.
United low-boy all finished. Hoping it has a nice glowing orange, Mahogany look.

**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