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Friday, March 16

Chair Repair-Part One

 A couple of days ago (link here), I wrote about our chair situation. We suffered from a lack of seating arrangements and though the use of spray paint and guilt (thanks mom and dad!) we achieved a nice little dining room set-up. It’s been a great dining room, but since we still have the “death” chair, you know the chair that threatens to break every time you sit in it, we were still on the lookout for more chairs. We were not looking for anything in particular, just nice, solid, simple chairs that must at the very least come in a pair. Over the last President’s Day in February, the Salvation Army store had 50% off everything. When we stopped by, we found two great solid oak chairs that were similar to the ones my parents fixed for us. The chairs were priced at $14 each, and with the sale, it made them only $7 each! We quickly decided to purchase the two chairs and figured we would either strip and stain them, or give up and spray paint them.

I did some digging around on the internet, and I think that the chairs were made in the 1920’s. Both chairs have a metal tag on the back for Murphy’s furniture. They also have a Murphy’s furniture stamp on the underside of the chair. The chairs also have nice wood plugs that look hand craved. I don’t know about you, but I get a great feeling from reusing something rather than buying it new. Plus, it was neat for me to think about all the stories that must have happened on those chairs and the history behind them. The chairs are coming up on 100 years old and still are in great shape.  

The chairs were physically in great shape, however cosmetically they looked really rough. It looked like someone had tried to stain them darker, and rather than stripping the old stain applied the stain on top and then tried to dry it with a fan. There were dark drips of stain running down the sides and blobbed on to the seat. This first thing I did was call my parents and ask them what to do. Yup, I admit, I have no shame; I called my parents to tell me what to do. Hey, why not go to the pros, right? Since the chairs are a solid oak, they suggested to first remove the stain as best as I can, sand the snot out of those chairs, and then seal them with a clear coat.

I went to Home Depot and picked up the smallest can of stain remover that I could find. It cost $7. I decided to get the kind that goes on a little thicker. I applied a coat of the remover on the chairs using an old paint brush that I had. I would recommend doing this outside and on cardboard due to the mess and smell. The stain requires a metal or glass container to work from. I just used an old can that we were going to recycle. After letting the stuff sit on the chair for 30 minutes, I scraped each chair with a plastic scrapper. This was a huge mess. I wore gloves but I kept ripping them. I finally just shoved my hand through a plastic bag. It removed the top layer of stain pretty well, but did not remove the original layer very well.

After wiping the chairs down, I got out the belt sander! This is an old belt sander that my parents gave us, and I believe weights 800 pounds. Since the chairs were solid oak, they can stand up to a lot of sanding/abuse. I used a 80 grit belt to strip the chairs. The belt sander was amazing! It took off the stain really well. To get at the smaller spots that sander could not fit into, I used a smaller Ryobi sander fit with first 60 grit, then 80 grit sandpaper.  I then went over the details by hand. It took me about 5 hours of two days of sanding to finish one chair and mostly finish another chair.  It killed my back. Don’t worry I am surviving.
Restoring the chairs is not an easy project, nor is it for the faint of heart. However the project does not require a lot of skill, just a lot of upper body strength. I was unsure if I could do it, but have been pleasantly surprised that its worked. Sometimes I start a project and don’t’ know how it will end up. The good news with the chairs was that if we had trouble removing the stain we were more than willing to spray paint them the same color as the other chairs. It was nice to have a safety net in a sense. Next week, I will share the pictures of the chairs all finished. First I have to go stain them! So here are my following tips on how to sand a chair and do it better than me.
  1.  Place the chair up on a sturdy table so you give some relief to your back.
  2. Not sure that the stain remover helped all that much. Seemed like using the sander worked great and did not use messy toxic chemicals.
  3.  Use a dust mask!
  4.  Place cardboard under you work areas and work outside.
  5. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

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