Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Sanding is so soothing

Another project has been completed. Number one (and only) son has moved into his first unfurnished house and we promised him our old Ercol circular drop leaf table. Since we acquired our 5-legged extending dining table the old drop leaf has been living in the kitchen and is was really too big for the space. We needed to replace it with something smaller and square so snapped up an Ercol kitchen table, the rectangular design with spindle shelf underneath which sits nicely with two Windsor chairs in our breakfast/blogging corner. The new table isn't in great condition with an ink stain and joint separation to the top but that's something for the future. The table came with 4 light finish Windsor chairs, (60s or 70s era?) and these were suffering from being stored in a loft, shrinkage had loosened leg and back joints and the finish was looking dull. As the whole table and chair set were reasonably priced, no-one else bid on Ebay, and they were 10 miles from me so I'd been able to inspect prior to bidding I knew what I was letting myself in for. The initial plan was to fix the many loose joints with Chair Doctor as described in my other blog postings and give the chairs a quick polish. It didn't work out like that though as I started cleaning some black scuff marks from the bottom of a leg using a Cif on a paper towel and found that the finish was coming off to expose bare wood. Further experimenting showed that I could make good progress stripping off the old coating with Cif on a green nylon pot scourer rinsing off periodically with water. Against my better judgement I decided to go for a complete strip and refinish. I don't know if all light finishes will come off as easily, maybe a production run using some sort of water based lacquer or maybe the finish has become delicate with ageing. If you want to try the same method I recommend testing on a small section out of view. Tips for Cif/scourer stripping: Don't let the wood get too wet, scour, rinse, wipe down and move to a different section frequently. Best to work outdoors on a windy day. The scourer will get clogged with lacquer debris so wash it out frequently. Don't glue joints before scouring like I did as many became loose, possibly water dissolving Chair Doctor. (Re-Chair Doctoring worked fine.) Although scouring took away the donkey work of initial strip by sanding, (I prefer not to use chemical strippers), at some stage the sandpaper has to come out. After doing a LOT of chairs now I have a few tips which will help you get an acceptable finish and save wasted effort. Like many tasks, the devil is in the detail. It is very tempting to get out the sandpaper and start attacking a large easy area which gives the illusion of progress. Unfortunately when you then move on to those difficult crevices around dowel joints you will end up re-sanding a lot of the easy stuff you already worked on. For that reason I start by sanding all of the joints and work outwards. To minimise leaving sanding marks I cut finger shaped pieces of 120 grit Aluminium Oxide paper and work in oval movements as much with the grain as I can. Avoid holding the ends of a strip and "towelling" as this will leave circumferential marks which will show badly. Once the difficult bits are done the long sections of spindles are easily sanded along the grain and where you meet the fiddly bits you sanded earlier its possible to reduce any sanding marks you were unable to avoid. You can do the whole job by hand but I found that the deep grain of the elm seats made it hard work so used a power detail sander, Lidl's finest :-), one with a rounded triangular sanding pad. With care it can be used on the curved faces of legs and bow, the technique is to dangle the chair from one hand whilst lightly brushing against the sander held in the other in a sort of random motion frequently changing where the chair is held. Avoid pressure or concentrating on one place as "flatting" of a rounded profile could result. Be careful not to over-sand, the aim is to retain the profiles of the original piece, keep sharp edges sharp. If you have a set of chairs for instance it's a good idea to work on one at a time leaving one original untouched so that you have a pattern to follow. As always The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good I don't believe that it's practical to achieve a totally invisible refinishing job especially if stripping dark finish. (I've mentioned before that removing dark finish often reveals that Ercol quite sensibly used beech with unsightly coloured graining which wouldn't be visible the finished article.) Fortunately I'm more interested in having furniture to use and enjoy than to recreate collector's items.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this! I am just about to start stripping the arms on an Ercol sofa and chair- I have had the upholstery and the webbing redone already but the arms need some work. I will try the Cif approach first. Any hints for revarnishing the arms to try to match the colour?