The end is near for me…in terms of scraping, that is.
I am nearly finished removing every last bit of finish from the surface. The thing that I enjoy most about this method of finish removal, other than the fabulously smooth surface that it leaves, is the darker tones left behind in the grain. Because this desk is oak it is turning out really beautifully. All of the long, open pores of the grain are stained a dark mahogany color, while the rest of the surface returns to it’s original light-sand tone. Even though this method is time consuming, it leaves little to be desired from the finished surface.
You can see in the photo above my ingenious short-term solution to my lack of sawhorses. I’m using a small shelving unit and the Wood Book to prop up the legs for a little extra support as I work on them.
It isn’t possible to tell in this photo that the underside of the desk is completely rough, unfinished lumber. What’s more, the center board of the table top even has a very drastic cup on the underside, which would have reduced the overall thickness of the table top by about 1/4″ or more, had it been properly planed. I am so fascinated by furniture like this.
When I was in school, if myself or my peers had attempted to leave a part of a piece of furniture so wholly unfinished we would have been severely reprimanded for our laziness, our grades would have dropped, and we would have had terrible critiques, or “roasts,” as we liked to call them. However, in earlier furniture making, such techniques were common to save labor costs. In fact, the introduction of fringe into upholstered furniture was simply a tool for covering up the areas left undone, and wasn’t originally decorative, so much as it was necessary. Even in very wealthy upper-middle class drawing rooms in the 1800’s, all of the upholstered chairs were usually left completely unfinished on the backs (as in no fabric, no padding, etc.) to save costs. A table or desk like this one, which is so simple and undecorated, would most certainly have been left unfinished on the bottom. Who needed to see that, let alone use it?
I have also discovered that this piece was at one time painted some kind of white or light gray, in what I believe to have been milk paint. In certain areas there is still paint lodged into deeper grain openings, and you can tell from this that it was applied and then removed before the existing varnish was painted on. Whoever applied the varnish decided that – just as the original builder(s) had not cared before them – they also didn’t care about the underside of the piece, and as such left behind a patchy band of white paint along the edges. Due to the discoloration and the poor condition of the varnish, we can hazard a guess that this was done at least a couple of decades ago.
All of these elements tell a story, and although I will never know exactly what this piece has been though, I can start to build a loose history as I discover these different clues.