Restoring a Mid-Century Modern End Table

Blog, Home, Living Room, Woodworking / Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Sometimes, things just were meant to be and you don’t question the why or the how. That’s just the way it is. When it comes to restoring a mid-century modern end table my wife found at Goodwill, I didn’t question the why or the how. I just knew I needed to do it. Let me explain.

Occasionally, my wife and I stop by Goodwill before we go to the grocery store because they’re right next to each other. We just go to see what’s there and if we need anything. Rarely are we looking for anything in particular, though that day I think she was looking for curtains. I stopped by the tools and home products area that day and just so happened to find an unopened bottle of Citristrip for $1. Since I had just bought the same bottle for $10, I knew I had to get this because it was such a deal. I snagged it and headed to the checkout.

While I was in the checkout, Ellie came up to me and pulled me out of line to show me something. I grumbled because I had already been waiting two minutes in line and I would lose my spot! She led me to the furniture sections and pointed to a table on the floor and asked, “What do you think of this?” This is a fairly common question from her regarding furniture. She knows I like to restore things and I’m fairly picky about what I choose. I avoid things that are cheaply made because even if you fix them up nice, they still look cheaply made even from a mile away. This time, however, I had to take a closer look.

It was a two-tiered table with long, gangly legs. Clearly neglected, but it appeared to be solid wood. A genuinely beautiful table that had been forgotten over the years. I liked it and I saw it’s potential. The best part, only $5. So we quickly snatched it up and brought it back to the checkout with the $1 bottle of Citristrip.

When we got it home, I took a closer look at what we had just bought. The table looked as though it had been heavily used over the years and now the finish was chipping away. There was a water stain on the main portion of the table, likely from a plant resting on the table. What the table didn’t have were any major dings, dents, or scratches. This is good, less to buff out with the sander. On the legs, there was only one ferrule and it was in rough shape. None of the legs were wobbly nor was the top tier, so none of the holes needing any filling to fix the wobble. 

I think it took me about 20 minutes to break down the table into its individual pieces. I know some furniture refinishers like to keep things intact as much as they can to reduce the effort, but I prefer to really do a through, even job. I think they’re looking to put in the least amount of time so when they turn around for a sale, they get the most profit. I’m just looking to refinish this into something I can use. When I was done breaking it down, I had four legs, two supports from the bottom of the table, the table top, the two sliding dovetail pieces to connect to the top tier. Everything was relatively flat, so it should be an easy job.

I have only a very limited experience with Citristrip. I had bought a bottle to strip an antique radio for a friend (a project that keeps getting pushed back, unfortunately). I’ve watched furniture restoration videos on YouTube extensively, so I thought I had a good idea on how to use the goop. The videos make it look easy. They also don’t tell you how long to leave it on there for, usually. The bottle recommends up to 24 hours. I tried this, and regretted it. It starts to dry out at that point. I tried again and left it on an hour or two and it worked better. I made sure to scrape it off with the grain of the wood. After each piece had been stripped, I wiped it down with mineral spirits on a rag. I’ve since watched more videos and realized that the preferred method is to wipe off with mineral spirits using 0000 steel wool. I will the next time, as I can see how the slight abrasive would help with clean up.

After stripping all the wood, I took out the sander and went to down to start removing the remaining residue from the Citristrip. I also focused on the water spot, taking care to not add any low spots in the wood while doing so. The edges of the table were a bit harder to do, because they had a gradual rounding to them. I wanted to do these by hand but after trying for a bit, I realized the sander does this a whole lot easier and I do not see any areas where the wood was damaged as a result.

For sanding the legs, I stood them up in my Workmate vise and hand sanded them the way a cartoon would dry themselves. This worked extremely well.

During all of the sanding, I produced a lot of organgy-brown sawdust. I don’t know for certain, but I believe that indicates this is a solid teak table? If you know better than I do, please let me know with a comment!

After sanding, it was time for finishing. Ellie and I had talked about this and decided we wanted to keep it as close to natural as we could. During the stripping process, I had occasionally wiped down the wood with water to see how things were looking under all the sawdust. It made for a beautifully warm and dark wood so natural would be the best way to achieve this. I applied a coat of natural danish oil to all of the pieces, let it soak in, and then wiped it off. After that, I let it cure for 24 hours before putting on a couple coats of polyurethane. 

Since the table only had one ferrule, and it was in rough shape, I ordered a new set from an online store. Etsy and Amazon had them for sale but were asking $15 for each ferrule. The place I bought mine from was much cheaper but had a 16-piece minimum. I think I ended up paying $40 for 16 with shipping. If you need brass ferrules for anything, let me know and we can work something out. I attached these to the table by drilling a pilot hole in the bottom of the leg and then screwing in place. There was a recess in the brass ferrule for the screw head to be hidden and avoid scratching the floor.

Then came the most fun part, putting it all back together. It was simple to break down and that made for an easy rebuild. To protect the finish, I draped a towel over a laundry basket and used this as my work surface. It worked well. I probably could have used a slab of foam insulate for the same effect.

Now, we have a beautiful mid-century modern end-table. For all the parts and materials to rebuild this, I think I spent less than $20 and it’s now the nicest piece of furniture we own.

What do you think? Would you attempt a project like this?

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