About a month ago, I found an amazing cedar wood chest at Goodwill. I first noticed it because it seemed like it was made out of solid wood (so rare these days). I walked up to it, lifted the top and realized I had found a fully lined cedar chest. I am always on the lookout for chests and wooden storage units – brand new cedar chests run $200 and up and many times you will find storage chests made out of cheap wood laminate.
Upon closer inspection, I realized the original warranty tag was still intact:
Not only that, but I had stumbled upon a Lane sweetheart chest. The Lane Furniture Company began making furniture in Virginia at the beginning of the twentieth century and was one of the major manufacturers in the state. According to the Virginia Historical Society, the Lane sweetheart chests were manufactured from World War I through 2001, when the last chest “rolled off the production line” and the plant permanently closed.
This chest was also originally sold locally at Porteous, Portland’s once thriving department store on Congress Street (which currently houses the Maine College of Art). My guess is that this chest was originally purchased sometime in the 1950s. According to the tag, this was sold for $90. Using the US Department of Labor’s inflation calculator, this is equivalent to over $840 today! A very large purchase at the time.
I got the chest for $20, and as you can see, it was in pretty good shape.
The only issue was the top of the chest – the varnish was scratched and faded.
Now, I have never, ever taken part in any type of woodworking or refurbishment – but I saw this chest as a great opportunity to try it out. After doing some research, I decided to strip the old varnish on the exterior of the chest (I was not going to touch the cedar inside, it’s perfect), sand it down and re-varnish. I’ve only gotten as far as stripping and starting to sand, but here is my progress to date.
First, I put on eco-friendly Citristrip Stripping Gel and let it sit for about an hour.
After letting it sit, I used a plastic spackling tool and gently pushed off the old varnish.
It was like magic, the old varnish came off! Most of it came off pretty easily – it was harder to strip on the corners and on the front half of the chest near the handles. Most of the damage on the top of the chest is now gone – my next step is to completely sand the exterior and choose a varnish to protect the wood.
Any recommendations on color or eco-friendly varnish?