I have a dresser in my bedroom that has been in the family for a while. I’m told my uncle used it as a boy, which makes it at least 60 years old, and I’d suspect older. There are mounting points on the back, for a mirror that I’d never seen in my life. But I’d been thinking for the last few years that it would be nice to put one back on there. I’d researched a bit, for what style the original would have been. And kept an eye out for second hand mirrors.
Then a few months back, Abbey and I were wandering through (local salvage business) Community F0rklift, when she saw this mirror, and urged me to get it for the dresser. It was pretty dirty, and a bit beat up. And I wasn’t sure about the size. But it was cheap, and I didn’t really have anything to lose.
When we got it home, it was too big by several inches. I stewed on that for a while, thinking I could use it somewhere else or sell it on to someone else. But. it occurred to me a day or so later, thatI could probably move the mounting brackets and rotate the mirror 90 degrees. I would just have to chop out a few inches of the bottom bar; but that cut could be hidden behind one of the uprights.
So… this could still work, it seemed.
The first picture above was after a rough cleaning. Some mineral spirits, to get the grime out and get a good look at the condition of the piece.
As you can see in these two photos, there were a couple spots where veneer had broken away. And some minor cracks in one of the uprights. The back panel needed a few new nails to hold it firm. But otherwise, it was in solid shape, and the mirror itself was really good for it’s age.
The first step is usually deconstruction, so I broke down the frame into it’s constituent parts, and scrubbed everything with denatured alcohol and 4-aught steel wool. (I was fairly sure it was finished in shellac, and denatured alcohol will dissolve shellac.) As you can see, it took off the finish and a fair amount of staining. And all the scrapes, like the one on the above photo, disappeared during this process too. (I assume, between the overall lightening, and some carried over stain, the scrapes now just blended in.) The original wood grain now stood out much more.
I measured, tested, and chopped out about 4 inches of the bottom bar.
Next I needed to deal with the missing and loose veneer. The loose veneer is fairly easy… I could just use some wood glue, and clamp it in place to dry.
I’ve never dealt with veneer before, so I did a lot of studying and how-to watching at this point. It basically came down to trimming away the damaged veneer until you got a nice clean edge, and applying the new. I searched for the closest veneer I could find to the original, in texture and pattern. Then I made some templates of the spots to be redone, out of brown paper bag. I got lucky and they looked pretty good on the first try. This was heat-adhesive backed veneer, so I literally ironed it on, and taped/clamped it until it cooled.
At this point, I re-stained all the pieces so they matched the dresser. (They were already a close match.)
And I re-shellaced everything. The wood came out quite beautiful.
At this point, all that was left was to reposition the mounting brackets, and re-assembling the whole thing. I used all the original hardware, which had been cleaned up as well.
When assembled and mounted on the dresser, it was perfect. If you didn’t know the story, you’d never know it wasn’t original.
I rehung (rehanged?) door #4, today.
It was one of those doors that took a bit of encouragement to latch shut. Besides the heavy layers of paint, it wasn’t quite meeting the striker plate properly. (A generic replacement plate.) So I sanded that a bit and repositioned the plate. Now the door latches without effort.
As far as refinishing the doors goes, this one is special. When I sit at my desk working, everyday, I stare down the length of the house, into the master bedroom. And during sunset, that room tends to fill up with a golden light. I’ve been looking forward to having the real wood door hanging there, framing that.
(Photo is obviously “before”).
One of the issues I run into when refinishing the doors comes after the first complete sanding. I’ve generally got it down to bare wood now. But these doors are approaching 80 years old. So they have a bunch of dents and divots and gouges, which have over the years been filled in with paint and putty and such.
I had been going back and spot applying some more stripper. It lets me remove all those little bits just fine. But I risk the stripper soaking into the wood and not allowing the stain to work properly. So I can get improperly colored spots.
On the latest door (#4), I found that I could manually scrap out most of those spots, just using the sharp end of a painter’s tool. I only had one serious, intricate gouge, that’s going to require chemical stripping.
I am tall. My ex girlfriend was fairly short. So, when it came to living together, we had a hard time finding a single mirror that we could both get a good look at ourselves in. Top or bottom, something was getting cut off. (Let’s face it… the top was getting cut off. I’d much rather she looked good, than I do.) But while walking through Community Forklift, I’d found a larger mirror. A very large mirror; at least 6 feet tall, and a foot and a half wide. It had obviously been a sliding door on someone’s wardrobe, but it was now standing by itself. The whole surface was mirror, aside from a 1″ strip down the side. So… fairly generic. Obvious what it once was if you looked closely, but who looks too closely at bedroom furniture?
But I did want to do *something* with it. It was plain and functional, but not terribly attractive. Certainly didn’t fit in with any other furniture.
So I found some wood molding. (I originally tried to find some reclaimed molding at the same Community Forklift, but was never able to find anything suitable in a large enough quantity. The joys of a salvage yard.) So just some cheap wood molding at Home Depot. Simple shape cut into it… just enough for a bit of character. Would have been cheaper to go with a manmade material molding, if I was just going to paint it, but I wanted to stain it. Picked up the wood,and trimmed it to length for the 4 front sides of the mirror, with an inward 45 degree angle at each corner, so they’d fit nicely.
I decided to place the wood just on the surface of the mirror. It would obscure the strip along the one side. And the sides of the mirror are black, and very simple… no hardware. So in the finished piece, they just disappear. And since the wood is only on the face of the mirror, when I lean it back against the wall, all the weight is on the original mirror; so there’s no concern about the wood staying attached under the strain. If I ever do decide I’d like to box it in, the molding I used has a perfectly flat outer edge, so I should be able to apply another layer of wood along the outside, with no problem.
As I said, I stained the wood. Since it was already cut out to shape, there’s no real way to sand it, and it’s not that fine of a piece of furniture anyway. So I took some existing stain that I had from a previous project, and got it to the colors I wanted in about 2 or 3 passes. A lighter red stain overlaid with a pass of an almost black stain. Standard procedure… applied the stain with a foam brush, as smoothly and consistently as possible. Wait about five minutes, and wipe off the excess. And be sure to stain the back of the molding, near what will be the inner edge. The mirror will reflect back a tiny amount of it, and if you don’t stain it, it will be glaringly obvious. I also stained the 45 degree cuts, so that if any 2 pieces didn’t come together perfectly, it would be less obvious. And I then finished it off with a coat of poly to seal the whole thing, also with a foam brush. Probably not vital, but I wouldn’t put it past my life that this thing gets wet at some point.
So now I had a mirror and the wood all prepped. I picked up a tube of Locktite adhesive specifically designed to work on mirrors, and a caulking gun (since I didn’t already have one), also from Home Depot. Applied the adhesive to the back of the wood, (careful to avoid the inner edge, since that could also reflect in the mirror when done.) I was aligning with the edge of the mirror. I placed the pieces one at a time, so that I’d have time to move each piece as needed before the glue started to set. And to ensure they stayed in place, and to deal with the inevitably warped pieces, I taped everything in place with painter’s tape. (Since painter’s tape won’t leave behind any marks when you remove it). Put some wood glue where any two pieces of wood met. (I hadn’t poly’d these seams). Because of the 45 degree joints, the reliefs cut into the wood meet up nicely.
Then it was just a question of waiting. I gave it about 2 days for the adhesive to set. Removed the tape, and put the mirror back in my bedroom. I’m very happy with it. I no longer have the tiny girlfriend, but I now have a big, really unique, functional piece in my bedroom, that I look at every day.
I took a class–with Heidi–at the Maryland Woodworkers Club; the Fundamentals of Woodworking class. I grew up with a father who did a bit of construction/roofing here and there, and the obligatory shop classes and boy scout projects. But I was long overdue for a refresher course.
I’d been to the shop once before and it tends to be full of extremely enthusiastic people, who border on a little weird. You know… the kind of people I like. The instructor was friendly from the start. Don’t mistake him for cute though; his inner hard-ass made several appearances. But that’s all the better in a teacher.
They walk you through basic concepts and most of the equipment in the shop, via some minor class time and the construction of a desktop bookshelf. Having done all those obligatory shop classes and such as a kid, I was still surprised how well everything actually came out. I attribute it to real teaching by a skilled practitioner, and not someone just walking you through a syllabus.
I had fun. I got reacquainted with numerous tools and methods. I built a book case. And I worked well with Heidi. It was a very good weekend. And I’m going back for a furniture class in a couple weeks.