Refinishing old furniture with fake wood trim?

Fori is not pleasedDecember 1, 2009

Maybe this goes in the woodworking forum, but y'all here know everything!

I have a bedroom set my father bought me at a garage sale when I was in elementary school. I'm pretty sure it was cheap when it was new and the value has probably dropped. I like it; most people hate it. Anyway, it was old when I got it and it was abused a bit. (For example, I kept a mouse in a drawer for a while.)

Many moons ago when I was a kid I refinished the nightstand. Not a terrible job except that the thing has plastic trim and I didn't notice until some of it was stripped. I had to paint it back in.

I'm considering doing the whole set now, just to make it presentable. I'm not overly concerned with retaining value because I'm pretty sure it has none, except as furniture.

Are there any tricks for dealing with sticker wood? I think perhaps I don't even have to strip the pieces, but I would have to seal it somehow because I'd have to fill in some chunks of missing veneer. The "feet" will require some touchup stain as well, but they're solid wood. And poorly attached, and a different color, so they can be dealt with separately.

Here are a few closeups of the vanity--the "birch bark" is the plastic. Some of it is already a bit smeared. And it's quite dirty. I despise fake wood, but here I am trying to save my fake wood furniture!

Any recommendations (besides junk it)? Thanks!

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If it's just scratched up and missing small bits of veneer, you could get a set of furniture touch-up markers (Guardsman makes a set of 3, light, medium and dark) and just touch up the spots that need it with the shade closest to the wood (or fake wood). If the damage is no worse than what appears in the two photos, I wouldn't try to refinish the wood.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2009 at 3:52PM
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It's 1930's Hollywood deco kitsch! It's great!
Don't even try to refinish it....just touch it up with a little stain and perhaps s brush with some lacquer.
Linda C

    Bookmark   December 1, 2009 at 7:26PM
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It is indeed thirties. That's what they call "waterfall" design. I had a set a little like that when I was a teenager, and I hated it. LOL. But, I sure wish I had it now.

Are those plastic knobs? If so it could be bakelite. Quite the collector's item now in jewelry.

I've seen waterfall sets like that with plastic details going over eight hundred. Don't sell it short as to value. I wouldn't try to 'refinish' it either. Just shine it up and use as is.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2009 at 8:53PM
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Fori is not pleased

Yup. I call it my depression furniture and people say, "yeah, it's depressing". But I love it. The rings on the knobs seem to be bakelite and the pulls are entirely metal. I assumed it was 30s ish, but a small chunk of mirror was stamped 1954. It might have been a replacement--after my last move I too had to have it replaced thanks to some idiot movers who thought they were doing me a favor my attaching the mirror with longer screws. Duh. Good thing it wasn't the main mirror which would have been tough to replace.

Sooooo, any ideas on how to clean really grungy wood? Hair spray, dirt, etc...

    Bookmark   December 1, 2009 at 10:13PM
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I wouldn't junk it!!! And I surely wouldn't cover it. I think you should touch it up like the others suggested either with the furniture crayon or matching stain. It actually doesn't look that damaged. I'm sure it has appreciated in value. Maybe not a million bucks but surely a few hundred.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2009 at 12:36AM
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Does anyone know of an address, phone number, or web site where this product may be ordered? It is a furniture polish made by Blacks Products in High Point NC. Wonderful product!

    Bookmark   December 2, 2009 at 2:19AM
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I have used a product called Krud Kutter, I had bought a used entertainment center that had some stickers attached at one time and then removed to leave the glue/dirt accumulation. I sprayed this on full strength and it took off layers!

I also used it on a linoleum floor removal to break up the glue that was used to secure the laminate, poured it on, left it for a long time, and came back to scrape it off with a big putty knife. Miracle compound!! Also used it on my laminate wood floors *again full strength* to remove what turned out to be a build up of wax and other cleaners. Restored the natural shine to my floors (I had to get down on my knees and scrape the floors with a plastic flipper thing, and it took up a layer of gunk.

I should work for them, I'm their biggest fan!!!

It can be purchased at either Lowe's or Home Depot, I forget which one I found it at.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2009 at 6:18AM
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Fori is not pleased

Thanks y'all!

The vanity isn't in bad shape; the bed is, partly from nails popping out and chunks of veneer being knocked off the base. But none of that would be fixed with refinishing. And the color is a beautiful orange I'd hate to lose. (The vanity was the best one to photograph due to location at the moment--and the biggest strip of sticker in the set.)

I've never seen these sets with fake wood, other than mine. I've seen them with differing wood insets. I'd write mine off as just a cheap low end set compared to the multi-wood type models, but the mirrors are more fabulous than the plain boring round ones!

Any idea what kind of wood that is?

    Bookmark   December 2, 2009 at 10:29AM
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Here's an article you might find interesting. It tells you about how waterfall came into popularity, how it was made, what not to use to clean it. Some interesting stories about it. (Such as why so many pieces made and that we still see today are bedroom suites. Depression era couples often started out living with parents, so had nothing much to call their own except their bedroom furniture - if they could afford that.) Click on What is Waterfall, Anyway?

I'd be very leery of Krud Kutter on wood, but especially delicate, aged veneers. That's a degreaser meant for everything from aluminum siding to garage floors.

There are lots of recipes out there for cleaning antique wood. I have a routine I like. Start with Formby's Deep Cleansing Build-Up Remover. Just be careful with any loose veneer, some of it could be about paper thin and not take a lot of pressure.

I like Restore-A-Finish for pieces that need spruced up but not a full strip and restore. It's worked wonders on solid wood. If using on veneers, avoid the steel wool it says you can use. Too harsh on veneer imho.

When you've got it nice and clean, consider a good paste wax like Trewax or I like the liquid Howard's Beeswax Feed N Wax (Sears Hardware, Ace). If someone in a store suggests Bowling Alley wax, I'd suggest avoiding it. It was recommended to me by a retailer who said a couple of his 'old-timer' antique dealing customers use it. That stuff was about impossible to buff out and was kind of gummy feeling to me.

My SIL gave me a beautiful deco era waterfall accent table, from DHs grandparents. She just didn't want it anymore. I just did a light RAF wipe rather than a lot of elbow grease with super fine steel wool. Didn't want to risk harming the veneers. Anyway, I did my Formby's, RAF, Howard's Beeswax routine and sent her a photo with a thank you. She was amazed at the difference and wanted to know what I refinished it with. ;)

This is a different piece, before and after. An ebay purchase, a vintage solid cherry hutch in pristine condition structurally but had smoke film on it and other kinds of grime, the finish was dull and needed a really good cleaning.

seller's photo

after I did my Formby's>RAF>Feed n Wax routine.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2009 at 11:06AM
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I don't know what's in Formby's cleaning stuff....but I would be very careful around the painted insets and the bakelite knobs, It could contain a solvent which would harm them.
the wood looks like a birch veneer to me....and because you say it looks cheaply made, likely paper thin. be careful when sprucing it up.
Linda C

    Bookmark   December 2, 2009 at 11:20AM
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Yes, definitely agree! I was focusing on the wood part. Do keep the Formby's off paint and bakelite!

    Bookmark   December 2, 2009 at 12:39PM
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Fori is not pleased

Fun link--thanks! But now I realize that I really should have a bench for the vanity and my set is incomplete. :(

I was inspired to do a little light scrubbing with oil soap to see if it would make a difference. It definitely does NOT need to be refinished. It looks like it'll be possible to get most of that orange shimmer back with a bunch of elbow grease. (The dresser is in much cleaner condition since it's vertical and wasn't used for doing hair and has a wonderful glow.) The finish is in pretty good shape under the grime.

The nicks and dings, though....

I'm not sure it's cheaply made, Linda, at least not more so than others of that style. Just the fake wood strip instead of wood veneer strips. But maybe plastic was new and exciting and upscale. Hehe. The veneer is pretty substantial. I have several chunks of it that have been knocked off the bed. It's sturdy furniture, but the headboard doesn't have wheels like the other pieces (of course) so it has some wear from veneer snagging on carpet.

Maybe I'll tidy up and take some pictures. It's scattered through 3 rooms because I don't have a room for it. Darn kids. My little girl is using the bed and I'm using the dresser, but I don't trust her with the vanity.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2009 at 12:57PM
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The hardware on that vanity is incredible! and the feet are great too. As waterfall furniture goes, this is some of the best I've seen, and this from a person who browses craigslist furniture and vintage furniture stores as a hobby.


    Bookmark   December 3, 2009 at 12:42PM
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Fori is not pleased

Thanks Karin. I do love it. I'm not going to junk it even though some have suggested it and I don't have space for it!

    Bookmark   December 4, 2009 at 10:19AM
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Cheaply made were your words, not mine.
I wouldn't use oil's water based and may seep beneath those joined veneer pieces.
Use a solvent based cleaner...or just plain mineral spirits.
And doilys! LOL! think Doilys to protect the dressing table!
Linda C

    Bookmark   December 4, 2009 at 6:49PM
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