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Life with Liz: Refinishing those heirlooms

Published May 18. 2019 06:03AM

When the Wonderful Husband and I got married, we were working at refinishing our home, and when you’re tearing out walls and ceilings, it’s a little hard to picture the end result and how you’re going to furnish things. Other than a mattress on the floor and a few chairs, we were pretty much sans furniture, and as a result, we graciously accepted hand me downs and castoffs over the years. Eventually, our hodgepodge of furniture gave the house a sort of trendy shabby chic look. The feline residents also did their part to increase the shabby aspect of things.

Now that we’re finally moving back to the farmhouse, we’re in the process of reviewing the collection and figuring out what we want to salvage and what is ready to be passed on to someone else, or finally put out of its misery. One of the things I will miss most about our old house is the built-in closets and drawers. The WH has plans to add some built-ins to our new closets, but they won’t come close to what we’re leaving behind.

I realized that we were going to need a dresser added to the boys’ bedroom suite, since we’d be losing about six drawers and two closets. My first plan was to eliminate the need for at least four drawers and one closet by downsizing “the stuff,” but I still had soccer, baseball, wrestling and swim season equipment to account for, so I had to be realistic.

As I inventoried the furniture we had on hand, I came across a piece that I thought would work perfectly, although it was pretty beat up and wasn’t even close to the right color. It’s been a while since I did any furniture restoration projects, and I was excited to see how this dresser would turn out.

It wasn’t long after I fired up my trusty sander that a curious onlooker appeared.

“Whatcha’ doin’,” asked G. I explained to him the process of stripping off the old varnish and sanding the wood down, and then re-staining it to match his current bed set and having a “new” dresser for him.

We’ve impressed all three kids into various aspects of the home remodel, and although they’ve become quite adept at painting and pulling carpet tacks, I can’t say it’s their favorite activity to pursue. Except for G. When it comes to the mundane tasks like running the vacuum and putting his laundry away, G can’t be found. But when it comes to the big stuff, like cleaning the furnace, or laying flooring, or moving furniture, G is the man.

His grandparents hit the nail on the head when they started building a toolbox for him for on his birthday. He maintains it well and enjoys finding the right tool for the job at hand.

As I dislodged the old hardware from a drawer and started sanding it, I could tell he was just itching to get his hands on the sander. I showed him how I was sanding with the grain and just doing it until the original wood started to show through. Of course, the minute he grabbed it, he went against the grain and dug a little trench into the wood. Although I will appreciate that little notch in the future as a reminder of our time together, I really wanted to keep the gouges to a minimum.

We had our standard “if you want to do it, you need to do it right” argument, and about 10 minutes later, he was up to speed on the operation of the sander. In no time, we had a little assembly line going: him, sanding the drawers; me, giving them a final scrape and wiping them down to prepare them for the stain.

For me, staining the wood is almost like revealing a work of art. I like to apply it slowly and in long swaths, revealing swirls and variations in the wood as I go along. G preferred to just slop it all on and get it applied as quickly as possible. Cue another argument about “the right” way to do things. This time, things went the other way. G started applying the stain a little more than a Q-Tip full at a time.

Walking the line between wanting to get things done the right way and wanting him to find his own way was a real balancing act, but eventually we got there. As I watched him work, I saw him going back over parts that didn’t take the stain evenly, flicking at pieces of dust that settled on his work, and occasionally, comparing his work to mine. I soon realized that he was more likely to copy my behavior than take oral direction from me, and so I worked accordingly. As we set the frame and the drawers up to dry, I caught G admiring his work. “We did some pretty good work, didn’t we, Mom?” he asked.

Later that evening, I heard the sander running again. Assuming the worst (that my newly stained cherry dresser was taking the hit), I ran outside in a panic. I found G working over an old wooden baseball bat he’d found in the basement, that had become splintered on one end. As I watched him go carefully with the grain, pausing and wiping the dust off, then resuming his work, I realized just how much he’d picked up that afternoon.

As we finished up for the day, a nosy A appeared and checked out our almost finished piece of work. G cut off any hopes he had of claiming it for his own immediately. “That’s my new dresser that I made,” he informed his brother. New dresser for him, now a treasured family heirloom for me.

Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.

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