Besides, this was an old piece of furniture, made the way they used to make them... well. It is solid wood and sturdy, it just had some cosmetic unpleasantness. Most notably, it seemed that someone's cat decided to use it as a scratching post. It actually had a thick cardboard backing when I got it, but it was so messed up I had pulled it off prior to taking the "before" pics. Cosmetic issues aside though, the structure was fine and it was an intact, usable piece of furniture, it just needed a little lovin'.
As this is my first real attempt at restoring old furniture, I welcome any feedback, constructive criticism, or wild adulation. My woodworking skills were mostly learned in high school, where I worked in a cabinet shop and also did finish woodworking on custom homes. However, my use of these skills has taken about a ten year hiatus, so I am rusty and may get some things wrong... Which is the beauty of instructables, I get to learn from you even while I share my work! So if anyone has experience with this kind of thing and has some useful hints, please comment.
Step 1: Tools
-Random orbital sander with 120 and 220 grit pads
-Lots of regular sandpaper 80,120,220,320 grit
-clean cloth to apply stain (I used some scraps from a t-shirt)