In the workshop – “Before” Antique China Cabinet



I have to start off this post by making a confession. Guys, I don’t think I can carry antique furniture up 17 stairs anymore.  I. Just. Can’t.  Perhaps I am getting too old.  Perhaps, I am out of shape.  Perhaps, I am just not strong enough.  I dunno but- I can’t do it any more.

So, the “before” photos here are in the less than lovely garage.  Nonetheless, I feel it is so important to document the “before” so I marched on.  Do me a favor and pretend these photos are in a lovely setting with good lighting.

Normally, I am not a big fan of china cabinets.  Most are from Depression era and they are mahogany.  Mahogany and I  are not friends.  Enough said.

However, when I stumbled across this piece, I could not stop seeing its potential.  It was such a well made piece of furniture and had some unique details.  First, that glass front door is CURVED.  Not flat.  Second, those wheels, which are fully functioning, melted my heart.  Third, this piece had such great patina.

Not shown here are the shelves that came with it.  For ease of moving the cabinet and not breaking the glass front door, I removed the shelves.

When I got it home, I did some research.  Based on the wood, hinges, design, construction, wheels, and the shellac finish – I believe this was made between 1910 and 1920. This piece had been in storage for a number of years- that was likely a barn, storage shed, garage or other place that was not climate controlled.  (The spider webs I found on the piece also confirm this) Every summer, the wood in the cabinet would swell and expand with the heat and humidity.  Every winter, the wood would contract and shrink with the freezing temperatures. This process repeated over a 100 years results in the shellac finish having an alligator like appearance.

There are little islands of shellac rather than a uniform consistency. In some areas, the shellac was flaking off.



So, the first thing I did was sand the entire piece using 150 grit sand paper.  The intent was to remove the flaking shellac as well as remove the dust and debris that had built up over time. Below is a photo of the piece after sanding a portion.  There was SO much dust created from this process.  The old finish just literally fell off in places.


Another reason that I loved this cabinet was the rosette details on the front.  They just looked so French!  These types of details always look great when they are painted.




After sanding with 150 grit paper, I then went over the entire piece again using 220 grit paper.  This included sanding the entire INSIDE of the cabinet. Sanding took about 3 to 4 hours.

The next step was to wipe everything down and remove all the dust.  I just kept wiping down the piece with a damp rag and then a microfiber cloth.   The photo below shows the inside of the cabinet before I sanded it and wiped it down.  I always find the dark interiors of these old cabinets a little scary.  They look so intimidating and I am always afraid a spider is lurking in some remote corner.



Finally, the last step was to remove (gasp!) some of the shellac that was still adhering to the cabinet.  I did not want to remove all the shellac because I love the alligator finish, but there were some places where it was applied too thickly and looked gloppy.  This was particularly true for some areas on the legs.

Acetone will remove shellac.  This is a handy piece of information to have stored in your memory.  Using 000 steel wool and some acetone, I removed portions of the glopped on shellac. If you look at the photo below, you can see what I am referring to about the gloppy application of the shellac.



Once all the prep work was done, she was ready to paint.  Check back here on Thursday, I will post the “after” photos.

Hopefully, I will find the inspiration and motivation to carry this piece up 17 stairs so that I can take some better photos.  Really, these garage photos don’t do this piece of furniture any justice.

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