Monday, August 15, 2016

Buffet Refinish

Oh. Em. Gee. It's a blog post! Can you believe it? It's only been seven short months since I last posted. So much has happened since then! I got my dream job after nearly eight years of trying, I moved to a new city and state, and I graduated from my master's program! Perhaps I'll write more about that another time but let's get into this DIY refinishing project I've been wanting to do for years that I finally got around to a few weeks ago.

Here you will see an old buffet my parents have had in the family room for years. It sat in the corner holding pictures and odds and ends and was always where we put pie on Thanksgiving. The piece came from my great-grandparents' farmhouse in South Carolina and is part of a larger dining set that I am slowly taking as I get room for it.

As you can see, this piece was in desperate need of refinishing. There were scratches and water marks all over it and even flecks of red and white paint on the side. The top was definitely the worst. It used to have a piece that attached on the back but the mirror on it broke and I didn't want to pay to get it replaced.

One weekend while I was home, my mom and I decided it was finally time to work on it. After reading lots of stuff online, we wanted to try to refinish the piece without stripping it completely. I read online that trying a gel stain would work best. We went to Home Depot and got Minwax Gel Stain in Hickory. It wasn't the exact color I wanted, but I wanted to get started on my project.

I cleaned it with mineral spirits and gently sanded it (and then sanded it again after my mom told me I did it wrong since I didn't go with the grain). Then we stained it...and I already wasn't feeling it. The stain looked more like paint. I don't, of course, have any pictures of the in-between process.

The next weekend, I headed back to my parents' house and my mom showed me the doors - one that was with the stain and one she had used Minwax Antique Furniture Refinisher on. I liked the one with the refinisher on it more because it made it lighter and you could see the wood grain better. So, we headed outside and used it on the entire piece.

The problem with the refinisher is it takes some of the stain off and the more you use it, the lighter the wood gets. Three-quarters of the piece looked better but the top of the buffet had this old, strange finish on it that was turning sticky and one side got too light and was this ugly yellow-brown. This was my first refinishing process and I was so bummed. The online tutorials made it sound so easy! Did I also mention the buffet is made out of multiple kinds of wood? Probably not the best choice for a beginner refinishing project.

Knowing it would be a while before I could make it back to my parents' house to work on it more, I gave my mom permission to keep playing with it. She ended up doing most of the work so I really can't even take 50% of the credit. She went over the piece with a combination of the gel stain and some Minwax Wood Finish in Red Mahogany 225 that she had on hand. With that combination, it came out the nice dark color I wanted, with a hint of subtle red richness.

She also polished the handles with Brasso because, apparently, they were brass. Who would have thought? I thought they were steel or iron or something but they were just really, really filthy.

Lastly, my mom covered the piece in Minwax Tung Oil Finish. My parents put the buffet in the back of the pick up and brought it over to my apartment and my dad and I pushed it in on a dolly. Apparently, that was a horrible choice because...

The wood on the top of the piece was apparently extremely soft and scratched ridiculously easily. There was lots of cursing between my dad and I when we turned it over and saw the top covered in scratches and dents in the wood. My parents left, my mom vowing to return the next day to find a way to fix it.

My dad had mentioned reading somewhere that you could use an iron to get dents out of wood so I Googled it and, low and behold, it's apparently a thing. Using an eyedropper, I dripped some water into the dent, placed a damp towel over the spot (we used a pillowcase), and then went over it with the iron on the highest steam setting, moving the iron constantly. We repeated as necessary until the dent was removed.

Our dents were pretty shallow but, by golly, it worked! We were afraid the water would mess up the stain but it didn't. Even though the gouges were removed, you could still see the lines where the finish was messed up.

Using a small paintbrush, we painted over the streaks using the stain...

And then wiped it off with a rag.

We went to lunch while we waited for it to dry. When we came back, it looked much improved but you could still see that there were dull lines.

My mom left and later that evening, I used another paint brush to paint the lines with tung oil which reduced the visibility even further. After 24 hours, I used tung oil on top of the entire top again.


Where are those streaks? Beats me! (my apologies for the bad pictures - unlike my last apartment, I don't get very good natural light)

Well, if you look very closely at just the right angle, you can see faint marks but I'm confident they will fade over time.

So, what do you do after you've spent all this time fixing and repairing a messed up buffet top? Cover it with a table runner, of course!

I found this at Target and think the colors and pattern looks really nice with my herringbone wall art.

I was surprised by how much I love the brass against the color of the wood. It makes it look fancy!

Just like my old apartment, I have a long rectangle that goes kitchen-dining-living and this piece sits nicely in between my dining room set and my couch.

Thank you to my mama for all her help on this piece! It literally could not have been done without her!


  1. So gorgeous, Dianna! What a treasured piece you've created. Not only is is a family heirloom, but now you have embellished it with precious memories of working on it with your mom and dad. Big happy smile.

    1. Thanks Susan! The Journey made me love it even more!

  2. Wow..........very well done!


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