Archive for the ‘Furniture’ Category

It’s taken me 5 years to get around to restoring this chair. It’s the third of four pieces of furniture I bought in Tarrington, near Hamilton, in June 2011. (The others are a wooden chest , a kitchen chair and a three-legged side table that’s still on my to-do list.)

chair backrest detail finished

Cleaning up the chair

The chair was described by the shop owner as being oak. I could tell it wasn’t but it was solid and I liked the proportions and the carving on the backrest, though not so much the upholstery job.


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On paper this was a basic job: clean up two old blocks of wood, bolt them together and, hey, we’ve got a compact timber side table or stool. In reality, it was an incredibly complicated and time-consuming project that tested our power tool skills and our patience.

side table in action

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The cupboard I bought at Mt Buffalo last month is now restored. It took quite a bit of effort for a piece of furniture that is – honestly – not the most brilliant example of cabinetmaking.

It’s hard to imagine what this cupboard would have looked like when it was originally built. There are tell-tale signs that it wasn’t ever intended to be a fine woodworking piece. The cabinet top has a narrow strip of joined wood running across the back edge, as though someone ran out of the right timber, and the whole top has been nailed straight onto the carcass. There are odd gaps and bad joins around the base of the cabinet and the interior varnish has been applied sloppily.

At some stage at least one of the shelves must have been refitted. And the door looks like it got opened back too far one day and it split – it was repaired with glue and nails. Still, the cupboard is part of the Mt Buffalo Chalet story and that makes me happy.


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Some view! Mt Buffalo early on a cold Sunday morning, clouds filling the Ovens valley and the sun shining brilliantly up on the plateau. As if that wasn’t enough excitement, the Mt Buffalo Chalet clearing auction was about to get underway.

mt buffalo - view across Ovens valley

The first I knew about the clearing auction was from an article in The Age last month. I’ve since done a bit more reading. The chalet has had an interesting history. It dates back to 1910 and was ‘the epitome of luxury’ apparently (though the guests who scored rooms with no heating probably wouldn’t have agreed). It closed in 2007 after it came close to being destroyed by the bushfires that took out large parts of the national park in December 2006-January 2007.


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It’s been a while since my last post (summer, new job …) but today’s a public holiday and it’s beautiful outside. Perfect conditions for cleaning wooden chairs with some home-made furniture cleaner. This is yet another tip I picked up during that French polishing course I mentioned in my post about applying beeswax.

all four chairs dirty

I made these chairs back in the 1990s. The wood is Australian ash and I finished them with Danish oil. I’m pretty sure today is the first time I’ve given them a good clean. They’re not really that dirty – except for all the spots where they get handled a lot, in particular the back rails (as you can see in the photo below).


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OK, so it’s another story about paint stripping. If you can’t be bothered reading it, at least enjoy the slideshow at the end.

red stool in original conditionI seem to have picked the simplest job ever for demonstrating how to strip paint off furniture. This old stool had just 1 coat of red paint. That’s it. Not even an undercoat.

I bought it from Bay Country Antiques in Waipawa, New Zealand (and got it home in my suitcase). The wood is probably rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum), according to the guy in the shop. Don’t ask me, I only know kauri.

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About 20 years ago I did an 8-part French polishing course. The instructor was a real craftsman, and he covered more ground than just ‘Applying Shellac for Dummies’. Most of the techniques I use for stripping and finishing furniture are ones I learned from him. This is what he taught me about applying beeswax. 

Beeswax gives a more sympathetic, though slightly duller finish than French polishing – and it makes the surface a bit more waterproof.

beeswax, turps, steelwool and old towellingIt’s best to make up your own beeswax to ensure its purity. Avoid any commercial products that aren’t pure (for example, ones that have paraffin added to them).

What you need:

  • a lump of beeswax
  • pure turpentine (or mineral turps will do)
  • a container to put the wax in
  • fine steelwool (000 grade)
  • old cotton towelling (not flat-weave cloth) cut up into rags


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It’s been a nice change working on a piece of furniture that didn’t need pulling apart and rebuilding. The bench seat I bought in Inverloch just needed sanding, oiling and waxing. Although, really, a lot of sanding, followed by a sore neck and sore shoulders.

The seat was superficially weathered but it was really sturdy. It had come from a deceased estate down Inverloch way and, given that there were a number of homemade pieces among the contents, the owner must have been into making furniture out of second-hand timbers.

The timber’s definitely blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) – the colour and the grain are wonderful. (Here’s some info on blackwood on the Victorian Department of Primary Industries website.)

bench seat in its original state

Then …

bench seat after restoring

… and now


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Inverloch on a warm weekend in February is pretty fantastic, as I’ve just discovered. Swimming along the inlet on an incoming tide made me feel like a sprint specialist. (If you could see the video footage you’d agree; it was like cheating.) And diving under big dumping waves at the surf beach on Saturday afternoon brought back vivid teenage memories of riding scary waves on surf mats at Portsea and Gunnamatta.

Driving out of town late this morning it was pure serendipity that led us to an excellent second-hand place. We were looking for one particular store but we turned down the wrong street and found something even better – the Inverloch Bargain Centre. What a place! Not much to look at from the street. In fact it’s pretty junky – old bikes, broken furniture and rough sheds stuffed with tables with no tops and chairs with two legs. Inside the main building it got much better. Floor to ceiling excitement for those of us who like a restoration project.

Inside the Inverloch Bargain Centre

Inside the Inverloch Bargain Centre

I bought a simple bench seat for $20. It looks like it’s been left out in the weather – the timber’s all silvery grey and the grain is quite open. It’s possibly blackwood, which would be brilliant, and it’s also incredibly heavy. Some serious work with the orbital sander is coming up, maybe next weekend. Of course, I’ve got no idea where I’m going to put the thing when I’m done. (Have a look at the final result.)

Bench seat

If you’re down Inverloch way, check out the Inverloch Bargain Centre at 36 Bear Street. (The other second-hand furniture place is in nearby Cashin Street. Worth a look but much more expensive and most of the furniture has already been restored, which is no fun at all really.)

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[read Part 1]
Here’s the second half of the chair restoration story. I took a lot of photos and I’m gonna use them.

Using dowel plugs to strengthen a join

The chair had originally been nailed at the two points where the long outer uprights of the chair back passed through the side rungs. The nails would have helped hold the uprights in position. I didn’t want to use nails again. Instead I used dowels. Dowels can easily be drilled out if the chair needs repairing at some time in the future. Removing nails just makes a mess. The person who built the chair should have got a rap over the knuckles.

This is what I did:

  • drilled a hole right through each rung and upright
  • glued in pieces of 4 mm dowel and then trimmed them
  • filled the hollow on the inside of the rungs with melted wax, using a soldering iron, then scraped off the excess wax and rubbed it smooth
  • sanded the dowel ends flush on the outside of the rungs

drilling hole for dowel

testing that dowel fits new hole


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