I totally defaced six Heywood-Wakefield chairs.
But I promise, they weren't worth much.
Yes, I know that there is some old school furniture, like these Toledo Uhl Art stools, that is worth a fortune. I narrowly missed out on 9 of those stools for $20/each on Craigslist. I still feel sick to my stomach even though it happened 10 months ago. Sigh.
Moving on. The chairs I refinished don't belong in the same category as those stools. They're easy to find, sometimes even for free if you're lucky enough to live near an old school that is getting new furniture or closing down.
I bought six of them on Ebay for a couple hundred bucks plus shipping. They sat in my garage gathering sawdust for several months before I had time to work on them, but all the while I had a vision for what they could be.
|These are not my exact chairs, but similar ones I found on Ebay once I realized |
I couldn't find the Ebay pics for my chairs!
Once I finally had a chance to take them out of their packaging, the first thing I did was remove all the screws to separate the wooden seats and backs from the metal frames. I saved the old screws in a container to re-use later. I used this stripper to get rid of the old yellow finish on the chair seats and backs. (Avid readers will remember that I once sung the praises of Mostenbocker's stripper, but I've had problems using it this summer in our super-dry climate, so I've switched brands. This new stuff is working great!)
Can I just inject a sentimental note here? These seats and chair backs were made from the nicest wood I've ever worked with. I have no idea what species it is, but it's obvious that the wood that was used to build these chairs back in the 1940s or 1950s is not the same stuff I buy at Home Depot today and certainly a lot nicer than what's in our kids' classrooms now. After I got through the layer of yellow grime I knew I was working with something unlike any lumber I've ever touched before. There's some kind of spiritual connection you make when working with something old and beautiful, especially something that's been handled by thousands of school kids. I love the vibe I got from these chairs.
Once the old finish was gone, I gave each seat and back a good sanding before applying a grey-wash. For my grey-wash, I used one part Restoration Hardware's Graphite to about eight parts water. I shook it up well in an old plastic peanut butter jar and then painted it onto the backs and seats of the chairs, wiping it off immediately with an old rag.
I just wanted the grey-wash to offset the yellow tones in the wood a bit, to give the wood a more neutral color once finished. The seats are still warm, just not yellow like before.
Once the grey-wash was dry, I brushed on 3 coats of my favorite sealer, PolyWhey in satin. As always, I sanded between coats with 400 grit paper for a super smooth finish.*
For the frames, first I sanded them down with 220 grit paper to get rid of the rust and peeling paint. When it came to the new finish, I waffled back and forth between two different options. I knew I wanted them to be red but I wasn't sure how to get there. On one side was powder coating. I'd visited a powder coating and metal fabricating shop last winter and seen powder coating in action. It's a great process and relatively green, as well. There are no harmful VOCs and very little waste. In the process, the metal is sandblasted to remove the old finish. Then, the metal is sprayed with a static-charged pigmented powder before being baked in a super hot oven where the powder coating melts (sorry...I don't know the technical term) and adheres to the metal. Once the powder coat is cooled and dry, it's a really durable and glossy finish. Your bike frame is powder coated as is lots of colored metal outdoor furniture. The only problem was the cost. I knew that for each chair I'd have to pony up somewhere between $40-$75. For one or two chairs I could handle the cost. But for six chairs? I just wasn't ready for that kind of investment.
My second option was spray paint. Let me just say this: I loathe spray paint. It smells. It makes me feel sick. It produces a ton of overspray that I hate dealing with. Here is the upside, though. It's cheap.
The cheap got me. I knew that if the sprayed-on finish deteriorated quickly, I could always go back and get the frames powder coated. You know, when I've got several hundred bucks to spare which will happen...probably never.
I ended up using Rustoleum auto body primer for the first coat and then Rustoleum auto enamel in Gloss Cherry for the second coat. It took four cans of primer and four cans of paint to get the job done. Every single second of it sucked.
After working with my sprayer for a while, I'm totally spoiled. I already hated using canned spray paint, but now I really don't ever want to use canned spray paint again. It's hard to control, it gets paint residue on everything, the smell lingers forever...ugh. I just really, really don't like the stuff.
But it got the job done.
In the foreground of the picture where the frames are all red you can see my strategy for painting screws and other hardware. It's a piece of styrofoam that was used to package something we bought a while back. I kept it around and have been using it when I need to paint hardware. It works great -- just stick the hardware in so it stands up straight. No more screws or knobs rolling around while I paint them.
So what do you think? Did I deface a precious antique or give new life to some ailing chairs?
*FYI: I don't get any kick-backs from Vermont Natural Coatings for promoting their product...I just really like it that much.