Vanity Refinish the III/I do not make these things up

I love the lines of this vanity. It reminds me of something you’d see in the office of a private detective in the 1940s.

Slick lines

It was another CL find. $20 and painted peach. I deposited my son at my neighbor’s house and hightailed it over to the address I was given.

“I didn’t think anyone would want this old thing,” the seller told me. “But I got 10 emails for it the first hour.” Score.

Vanity before refinishing

Vanity in its peach incarnation.

She had replaced the hardware as well with these card catalog handles, which I liked well enough. It looked kind of industrial, which I guess is all the rage in design right now. Which means they will be this moment’s avocado green next month. It was really light and I was able to unload it by myself. So no legs were broken in the unloading of this piece.

She had done a decent paint job, but hadn’t really puttied any dents. I was curious to see how many layers of paint there were, so out came the Citristrip.

Turned out it wasn’t covered in layers upon layers of gunk. I managed to scrape off most of the paint/primer on the desktop. Then sanded. And sanded more. Then puttied. Then sanded again. Then puttied again. And sanded again. Then sanded some more.

I don’t know if it is just me, but I find that I spend most of my time sanding and applying wood putty when I do refinishes. I know, “the prep work is the important part.” Anyway, there were several hairline cracks, probably from age, maybe from the wood not being dried long enough, and my garage temperature in the middle of the summer in Texas doesn’t help. The top consisted of planks that appeared to be edge glued and probably joined with biscuits. One of the planks had shifted slightly to be millimeters higher than the adjacent plank.

Then there was the issue of one of the drawers. The drawers had dovetailed joints. They’re old but still solid. This particular drawer’s bottom was in poor shape – it looked like it had gotten wet at some point and had some deep cracks that ran nearly the length of the board, never mind the raised grain. A groove was routed in all 4 sides of the drawer so that the bottom just floated in it. And because of that, I didn’t know how to get it out.

You can see in this picture that the bottom of the back had a clean break right behind the groove. It looked like I could feasibly just break it off without any trouble and pull out the bottom. But this is my life and those kinds of things don’t happen to me.

Drawer back

Drawer back. Notice I refrained from using the word “crack” in the same sentence as “drawer” and “back”.

My woodworker neighbor had been out of town, so I was happy to see their car in their driveway (because I like them, not just because I could harass him about furniture). He pointed out a dot in the back that was apparently a nail and suggested I carefully pull out the nail, pull off the back, then the bottom.

So I got out a crowbar and started pulling very gently. It came out, but it wasn’t a nail. I ended up breaking that little piece off the back after all. And it was a clean cut! I didn’t break the drawer this time!

Drawer back after I broke it

Drawer back after I broke it.

The problem was that the bottom wouldn’t come out. One side was loose, but the other wouldn’t budge. I was sick of dealing with it, so I did what any sensible person would do. I got out a pair of pliers and just ripped the bottom into little pieces until it came out.

Broken drawer bottom, pliers.

This is where I really broke it.

Some 1/8” scrap wood, probably from another old vanity, done. Prime. Sand. Putty because priming showed more imperfections that I couldn’t see before. Sand more. Paint. Not done.

After 3 thin coats, I just needed one more light coat before applying poly. I went back to the garage and picked up my paint can to shake it. And discovered that I had forgotten to seal the lid back on.

What ensued looked like something out of a Wheaties commercial from the 80s where the camera zooms in on some liquid that’s supposed to resemble milk splashing over all the flakes. But instead of pouring out of a pitcher, picture it placed in a blender without the lid and hitting the On button. About half a gallon of Antique White Valspar paint flew everywhere. Like, on me, and on (and in) my Bosch sander. I yelled a few words, then yelled for my husband. No answer. I ran to the door leading into the house, poked my head in, and yelled again. No answer. I grabbed a few rags and sort of soaked up part of the mess.

When I got my head back on, I realized that paint was soaking into the innards of my sander, so I’d better wipe that up. I yelled for my husband again and this time he answered. I yelled that I really, really needed his help.

He grabbed towels and started mopping up the spreading puddle. He handed me some wire to clear the paint out of the holes of my sander. The scene was actually quite boring.

Sander covered in paint

My poor sander after the first clean off

Husband calmly asked me to get some garbage bags and more towels. Having splashed paint on one foot, I hopped across the living room on the other foot to the kitchen. “At least you’re ok,” he said as I handed him the materials. “It’s just stuff.”

Husband cleaning wife's mess

My patient hero.

I sadly picked up my sander, covered in paint, with a heavy heart. “I’m afraid it’s gone,” he said. “But maybe, just maybe, if we turn it on, the centrifugal force will keep the paint from congealing.” This is how nerds think.

I turned it on, fully expecting it to sputter and die a dramatic, expensive death. And it came on. And sounded and looked completely normal!

As of this writing, my sander is bravely soldering on. Oh, and I finished the vanity.

Vanity after refinishing

Vanity after


9 thoughts on “Vanity Refinish the III/I do not make these things up

  1. Wow! What an ordeal, but it turned out great! The paint incident sounds like something that would happen to me – LOL!

  2. You did a beautiful job! I have a desk someone gave me and I’m sure it’s from the 40’s someone along the way painted it with crackle paint and you have inspired me to redo it and bring it back to beautiful.

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