Early December 2018 a friend of ours asked if we’d revarnish and upholster four dining chairs for her. This involved stripping off the old varnish before applying the new. Now I’ve stripped one chair previously, and that was not a straightforward job. But doing four chairs one after the other really tested my persistence and, to be frank, dogged determination. It turned into a seemingly endless cycle – apply varnish stripper, wait for 30-60 minutes, apply second layer, wait, use steel wool to remove varnish, clean off solvent with water, then sand the wood, repeat.
The old varnish had sunk into the wood in areas, so getting it all off proved in the end impossible, unless I sanded half a leg away. Plus there was the small black mould spots that appeared on one chair, that disappeared with the application of wood bleach. Oh yes, I discovered wood bleach, expensive but really good. But you do have to wash down the wood afterwards extremely thoroughly to not leave any residue. Then when the new light oak varnish, went on it went on patchy in areas, sometimes with a discernible grey cast to it. This involved yet more re-stripping and washing down etc. So to say it was a bit of a battle is an understatement, it was a bloody nightmare that I lost sleep over.
Feeling a bit despondent and at the end of my tether I asked the friend to come over and see the varnish finish for themselves. They were more than happy with what I’d achieved so far. Perhaps working in the small confines of my workshop I’d gone a bit stir-crazy and lost a degree of perspective. Once we got to reupholstering the seat pads we felt on safer territory. When they were fixed into place they did have the effect of transforming their appearance into looking actually quite acceptable. All of which was a bit of a relief.
Apart from never taking on a varnish stripping job again, I did learn some useful skills, I had to accept there were limitations to the sort of work I could do in my workshop space. But mostly it was how to deal better with the mental states I find myself in when my efforts feel frustrated.