Victorian Vanity Update

by | Aug 17, 2021 | Farmhouse Furniture, Refurbishing Furniture | 0 comments

Awhile back, I started working on this Victorian Vanity but it got side-lined for a variety of reasons.  

Remember when I gave you advice about buying furniture to refurbish? There were tips on what pieces to avoid?  One of my top “Don’t buy it” tips was if the piece of furniture had water damage.  Well, evidently I don’t listen to my own advice.  

This little vanity had water damage and it needed a lot of work.  The drawers were particularly effected by the water and the fronts had warped.  

Here is a reminder of how this piece started.

It’s difficult to tell from this photo but, trust me, those drawers were warped.

I don’t know about you, but it drives me nuts if I have incomplete projects.  I usually keep a very small backlog of projects because I like to work on pieces and in a timely fashion, complete them.  Once the pieces are done, I take them to my booth at Stone Soup Antiques. 

So the fact that this little vanity has been collecting dust in the corner of the workshop was driving me nuts. However, I knew repairing this vanity would require a significant amount of time and I simply have not had a solid block of 8 plus hours to work on her. 

Then this weekend, I woke up early (around 6 am) – put on my workshop clothes and finally started working more on this piece. It took the ENTIRE DAY just to fix the drawers.  Yup. 

I had to remove the thin wood panel, with the flowers painted on them, from the front of the drawer, without damaging the wood underneath.  Even though the panels were warped, they were glued on pretty darn well.  Or rather- the glue used -adhered to the wood beneath really well. I tried using a putty knife to scrape the front panels off.  No luck.  The panels just splintered where the glue still adhered. 

Then I realized, that given the age of this piece of furniture that the furniture-maker probably used animal hide glue.  Here is a secret: animal hide glue disintegrates in warm water.  Given that the drawers were already warped from water damage, I figured that I had nothing to lose by further soaking them in a bathtub with warm water. 

I am happy to say, the bathtub method worked well.  The drawers had to soak awhile and I needed to use a putty knife to remove the wood panel fronts but eventually – it worked! The best part, is that the wood underneath was still intact and undamaged.  (As an aside, if you choose to try to soak any drawers to loosen glue, please be advised it makes a terrible mess in your bath tub.) 

So, then I had to sand the paint from the exterior of the drawers.  Given that there was a lip around the edge of the drawers, I hand sanded each drawer.  The orbital sander just couldn’t get into the small groove.  Each drawer took about an hour to sand so that every speck of paint was removed.  

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the wood underneath.  It was in surprisingly good condition. To protect and hydrate the drawers, I applied hemp oil.  

If you look closely, you can see clamps that are being used in the back of the piece.  This was so I could create new drawer stops.  Drawer stops prevent the drawers from sliding back too far or from falling out the other side. The old drawer stops were either missing or damaged.  So, I removed what was left of the old drawer stops, created some new ones and attached them.  In this case, the drawer stops are simply small blocks of wood.

Trust me, I realize she still looks rough.  As you can tell from the photos, I started to sand the body of the piece too.  This is what I refer to as the “ugly stage” of furniture refurbishing.  This is when things look worse than when you started.  This is also known as the “Oh my god, what have I done?” phase.  

Compared to the work that went into the drawers, the rest should be pretty easy.  I will likely strip the top and sides completely and hand sand the rest of the legs.  Then everything will be painted, except for the drawers.   Meaning the drawers will remain as they are with a natural wood finish and the body of the vanity will be painted. 

This is why I spent so much time on the drawers.  They really needed to be close to perfect.

Speaking of legs – did you see that this little vanity has SIX legs with the cutest original wheels?  All the wheels are in perfect working order.  That alone is reason to save this piece of furniture and bring it back to life.  Each wheel swivels and rolls – more than 150 years later.   

Still, this project is a good reminder for me to be aware of the amount of work and time it takes to fix water damage.  The ironic part of this project, is that I had to use water to fix water damage.

Thank you for stopping by the blog today.  I hope you are inspired to go out and transform an old piece of furniture.  It’s worth the effort!

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