Refurbishing, Painting and Restoring Your Garage Sale Treasures and Antiques

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For this article I thought I'd give you some of my favorite things to look for while cruising your favorite neighborhoods for those little signs tacked up on the utility poles that say "Treasures This Way, Cheap!"

Whether for yourself, or as gifts for lucky family and friends, all of the following are recommended because they are easy to find at bargain prices, fit into most cars for hauling away immediately, and offer tons of possibilities for re-finishing or painting:

Chests of drawers: Almost everyone could use a little more storage, -in the kids room, a hallway, maybe a home office. Chests have a lot of surface area which can make them a great showcase for treatments from mild to wild. Perhaps some bright jewel-tones for children with easy-to-do stencils of their favorite things. Older kids can readily help here. Nice looking wood can be stripped and refinished, perhaps adding some quiet pinstriping for accents. Cleaning or changing the hardware is a quick way to make a big difference in the appearance.

Picture frames: Not the skinny metal ones, but any wider frames can be painted simply in a geometric pattern or faux finishes like tortoise-shell or malachite. Ornate old frames that have gone dingy can be white-washed and glazed with your wall color for a subtle sophistication. Insert the photo or artwork of your choice, or add an inexpensive mirror for a piece that looks good anywhere. Frames are usually low priced, and quick to finish; perfect gifts!

Small tables or end tables: Tables, particularly those with a shelf or drawer, are eternally handy around the home. These are a great way to show off all kinds of wood or paint treatments. The tops are perfect for a faux marble finish; try it with a natural wood finish below, or an antiqued paint look.

Chairs: Wonderful accent pieces in halls or bedrooms, chairs are useful for piling books, plants, groceries, or clothes onto. And of course they're always ready to pull up to the table when extra company arrives. Chairs can look good with simple treatments like oil and wax, or crackle paint. Unless you enjoy repair work, avoid any with loose or broken joints. Snatch up any child-sized chairs, they are probably at the top of the useful/desirable, and gift-able categories.

So stuff thirty or forty dollars into a pocket, grab the classifieds, and start your engines!

Bubbles in Varnish Coats

"I'm getting hundreds of tiny bubbles in my dried varnish coats. I've switched from using a cheap brush to a good one, and using a major brand of alkyd varnish, but there's little difference. Help, what's happening here?"

Bubbles naturally form as the varnish (this can also happen with paint) is applied with any kind of brush. They normally rise to the top of the surface and dissipate. The final, light, "tipping off" strokes with the brush help speed this process. When they're trapped beneath the surface, it's because a film has started forming on the surface before the bubbles could escape. That film is usually forming prematurely for one of two reasons: either it's drying in direct sunlight, or, most likely, you're applying the varnish too thickly.

Over the last few years, manufacturers of paints and varnishes have had to reduce the amount of V.O.C.'s (air pollution) in their products. One of the ways they've done this is to reduce the amount of mineral spirits that are contained within it, selling a thicker product (that is, having a higher percentage of solids). The manufacturers now meet regulations, but you end up having to add some mineral spirits back into it to get a flowing, brush-able product. Otherwise it's easy to end up with a too thick, almost chunky, finish coat.

Try adding 5-10% paint thinner to your varnish; you may be very pleasantly surprised at what a nice difference this makes to the ease of application AND to the final appearance.

Also keep in mind a major axiom in finishing; more thin coats are always better than a couple of thick ones!

And finally, a small note: this can also happen with water-based products as well, -and for similar reasons. Try adding a little water and a tiny drop or two of liquid dishwashing detergent if you're having trouble with bubbles.

Paper Towels

I find paper towels to be indispensable around the workshop. I use rags for polishing or waxing because they're stronger and softer than paper toweling, but find that no matter how many rags I have waiting to be used, I tend to be too stingy with them, -not wanting to grab a clean one to wipe off a brush or clean up a spill. Instead, I have three paper towel holders scattered around the shop, and usually have a clean one hanging out of a pocket, just waiting to be used. (This was omitted during the taping of the videos as it was considered kind of dopey looking; and I missed not having one there.)

Now here's the tricky part about the paper towels; they need to be good, but not too good. The cheap brands are too stiff and "card-boardy," not absorbing much, and falling apart easily. The really smooth, soft, and absorbent ones like you find at paint stores are marvelous, but a little pricey, and I discover that I start getting a bit too thoughtful about grabbing a clean one, kinda' like the rags. But the high-end towels at the grocery store are just right, they work well and aren't too expensive. I will go so far as to recommend Bounty or Brawny in plain white. (The prints can bleed their color onto your project.)

So there you have it; more than you ever really wanted to know about paper towel selection.

- Dave

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