Small Cabinet Restoration





Introduction: Small Cabinet Restoration

Small Cabinet Restoration

Awhile back a friend tasked me with turning this old yard-sale find into something presentable for his mothers birthday.

As you can see it was in pretty rough shape. It had at least three different colours of paint and the top had been "fix" with an old piece of vinyl flooring. From what I could tell, at some point there would have been some type of upper cabinet or mirror to accompany this piece but I suspect it's long gone. That history I've covered up but we'll get to that a little later.

This is the process I took to bring some life into this old/dated piece furniture.

Step 1: Removing the Old Paint

One of the most painful steps in restoring a piece of furniture, has got to be removing the old paint and or finish. There are tons of different paint strippers out there, and many of which work quite well when removing one layer of paint at a time. I had started this project with one such product, it had worked great on previous endeavours but this one was a different beast. With layers of paint varying in not only colour but in whether it was latex of oil based caused some layers to turn gummy and made a bit of a mess.

Fast forward a day and the learning of the helpful hint of paint removal with a heat gun, the entire cabinet was down to bare wood in a night.

Note: The more paint and finish you remove with the heat gun the less sand paper you'll need to finish things up. Because I was reapplying paint and if you will be too, you won't have to waste your time sanding to a super fine finish. Up to a 80 grit should be more than enough.

Step 2: Sanding Complete & Top Fixed Up

With all the sanding finished up I was ready to move onto fixing up the top.

The top was a bit too small to cover the whole frame. This is because of that original upper piece I mentioned earlier. And the front corner was cut off at sometime over its life. In order to address these issues the front edge was trimmed down on the table saw to remove the cut corner.

A piece of pine 2x4 was planed down to thickness and cut to size, this will become the new front edge. after gluing the pine and entire top was routed with a 45 degree chamfering bit, this matched what was original to the piece.

*When nearing final sanding be sure to fill unwanted holes with wood filler. (Like the ones I encountered in the drawers.)

With the top fixed up I was ready for paint and primer.

Step 3: Primer

Now I'm not a fan of painting, Actually I hate it with just about every fibre of my being. But sometimes its the best and in the case the only finish for the job.

I knew that I wanted the insides of the drawers to be a different colour than the outside of the cabinet. Since I will be painting the final coats with a light cream colour, I figured I would save myself some time and have the drawers be primer white. It took about 2 coats of primer on the outer surfaces and 3 to get to a point were I was happy with the coverage on the interior. Because the only time I get for these things is after work every new coat of paint had overnight to dry.

Step 4: Painting

I took the same approach with the paint as I did with the primer. (And with the same enthusiasm)

Step 5: Drawer Pulls

The final touch was to add new drawer pull, these nickel coloured pulls replaced the old glass ones which at some point had replaced the original (what I suspect were a type of batwing pull).

When replacing drawer pulls, (unlike the person who installed the glass ones) you want to be very careful to centre each one on the face of the drawer. In my case I was able to take a small round file and elongate the holes just a bit so the pulls sat flush against the drawer front and as centred as I could get them.

Step 6: Enjoy!

All that is left is to enjoy your handy work, and hopefully take a great deal of pride in the fact that you breathed new life into an old piece of furniture.

Thanks for reading.

-Wood Crow

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    27 Discussions

    That looks beautiful!
    After reading this today, I just went and buy a heat gun. Hopefully mine turns out as well as yours!

    New to you leave the paint strippers on then use the heat gun??? Thanks for the tips too!

    Good job, awesome advice on heat gun too, wouldn't've thought of that. I wouldn't paint though, just stain it and leave the natural wood colour/ornament...

    I like this a lot. Will try a heat gun next time I have multiple layers of paint. As far as staining goes I read an instructable about a neat way to get color onto wood. On cedar it turns it the awesome shade of grey that I love. It involves putting steel wool in vinegar and aging this until the vinegar dissolves the steel wool. When applied to wood it makes it look like aged barn wood. So pretty. My last project I tried this with ended up being built from more than one type of wood so it came out different colors for each type of wood. It never occurred to me that someone would build a cabinet out of multiple types of wood but yeah if you have scraps around why wouldn't you build out of different stuff if you were going to simply paint it. Here's a link to the article about the steel wool and vinegar treatment.

    I'm just about to tackle a similar project, but am a little leery about painting parts that will touch/rub (in your case, the drawers... in mine, adjustable shelves in a pair of bookcases).

    Any advice on the type of paint to use and/or the technique you used in priming/painting?

    Thanks, Jim

    2 replies

    I didn't take any precautions with painting parts that were going to rub, mainly because I knew that this piece would be mostly decorative and wouldn't see a lot of hard use. If your anything like myself you'll adjust the shelves once and then maybe again in 5 years :P I would think the use of a good quality furniture paint would hold up with no issues.

    Good points about the heat gun and the 80 grit sandpaper. A hair dryer can be used if you don't have a heat gun. Most books on finishing furniture advise using much finer sandpaper, but for paint, 80 grit is fine. Sometimes I use 120 if a piece is going to be varnished. It's furniture, not a museum piece.

    -- I would have added the pine piece to the rear of the top, where there's no overhang and the glue joint wouldn't be as likely to be stressed by someone leaning on it or in moving. Also, I would have left the bottom edges of the drawers unpainted, along with the surfaces underneath them on which they slide. Many old drawers wear there, and applying some paraffin to those surfaces lubricates them effectively. (Don't use soap, or the dresser will end up smelling like dried up soap.)

    1 reply

    Thanks for the tip about the paraffin wax I will be keeping that one in mind.

    It appeared that you had it restored to a point where you could have finished with a stain. Also, did I neglect the part in which you talked about the little section of the bottom that was not a drawer. It looked like you had it to a point to have created a drawer to replace or was your intent to bring it back to its original configuration?

    Great job, by the way, I hope your friend's Mother enjoyed your work!

    1 reply

    Thank you for mentioning that. I wanted everything to function the same way as it did when it came to me, so yes, on the bottom, one side is a deep drawer and the other has a small door.

    Very nice outcome. What I appreciate about older pieces is that they are built using real wood instead of particle board. I just finished taking a '50s cabinet that was probably a bedside cabinet and making it into a small entertainment center. Fortunately for me the finished was the original varnish and came off with CitrusStrip, then I sanded and applied several coats of real tung oil (not the tung oil "finish" the hardware stores sell).

    WP_20140928_10_49_29_Pro 1.jpg
    1 reply

    Your finish looks great! tung oil has a why of really bringing out that natural look in the wood, makes it almost look soft.

    love your work. Just can't get pass the fact of all that stripping down to the beautiful natural wood grain pattern... Then paint?

    1 reply

    Trust me there is nothing I would rather do than to apply a nice coat of stain and poly. Unfortunately I felt this piece was a bit too far gone :(

    Like you I really hate to paint wood furniture. One way around that is to use two different stains. I found when I did that, I got a very nice piece with a bit of 'flair'. My project was old maple, and the doors were also darker wood than the rest of it. So, I used a reddish Varethain stain on the edges and top, and a darker stain on the doors, which turned out very nice indeed! So, the next time if you have a mixed wood look, just go with it, and try using different stain colors to make it look more attractive. Since also now there are water stains out there, you can add the color without using any paint. Just a tip.:) Hope that helps create more wood projects without using paint...yuk....LOL I see an example to the right of my web page here, but have not checked to see if they used paint or stains.

    When stripping older pieces one also has to check for those 'thin' layers of vainer, (as that was often used from the 1930's upward), as that comes off very easily, and you have to be extra careful not to get rid of it or damage the look of the layers. When scrapping the surface I often use a razor blade and drag the edge toward me using both hands to keep the blade at a near straight up and down angle and even on the surface, not push away as some do when using any type of scraping tool. It prevents gouging the surface and flawing the vainer. I found that tip in an old wood working book. and it works very well in removing most of the stripping material and old finishes along with it.

    Your project looks great and you are right, sometimes paint is the only option and not worth the extra funds with stains etc. Time is a huge factor in restorations:)

    Oh and where do you find REAL Tung oil? Would love to try it!



    Very pretty! I hope the lady that received it liked it. I know I would.

    Very good job. And a big thanks for mentioning the heat gun. I was about to begin a project with old boards and wondered the best method of removing some paint from them, and now I know how.

    Beautiful job and wonderful that you brought the old gal back to life. ☺ Re stripping the paint recall many, many years ago a friend of mine was restoring very ornate spindles in the staircase of her 125 year old farm house and after much frustration I recommended that she try using a heat gun to remove the layers of paint. As a child it was something I had seen my Father do when working on his boats, and voila it worked liked a charm for her as well.