May 16, 2013


This set of six Mid Century Thonet dining chairs have been patiently awaiting an overhaul. Luckily for them it was sunny in Seattle last week so I had a good excuse to finally get this project started. In addition to the great weather I was also fortunate to have help in the form of my brother-in-law, Zach. He wanted to learn how to refinish wood and I needed a second set of hands.

Many of our pieces can get by with a small bit of touchup; removing a spot of paint or sanding out and oiling a scuff. Not this set. The vinyl was splitting and peeling, the finish had worn through, and the stain was splotchy. These chairs needed to be fully sanded, restained and reupholstered.

This project, although extensive, was worth it for us because these are iconic chairs with a classic silhouette. I feel great giving them at least another 50 years of life.

Here's what I used for this project:

Lint Free Rags (Old t-shirts work great)
Latex Gloves
Sand Paper (80 Grit and 220 Grit)
Gel Stain
Wipe-On Polyurethane

After I had all of my supplies together we disassembled the chairs. This made sanding quicker and in this case it allowed us to send off the cushions to be reupholstered while we worked on the wood.

Next we sanded every piece down by hand. Here's Zach being a hero and taking on the bulk of the sanding. We started with 80 grit sandpaper and sanded with the grain until the finish and stain came off completely. Then we went over it again with 220 grit sandpaper. The 220 smoothed out the surface and allowed the stain to apply more evenly.

I have learned to never be lazy about sanding. It feels terrible to sand away for hours only to have the stain go on poorly and then be stuck sanding everything over again. Don't skimp on sanding.

Once we had the first leg sanded we tested out a few different shades and types of stains and settled on a gel stain in dark walnut. Oil-based stains are great for bringing out the highlights and natural colors of wood grain but they're harder to work with than gel stains. Gel stain applies much more evenly than oil-based and it is easier to clean up . Since I was looking to keep the color as even as possible and because I was working with Zach on his first project, gel stain was the best option. 

Before and after the first coat of stain.

I'm nearly done staining the chairs and the frames should be ready by the time we get the cushions back from our upholsterer. These two plaids were our top choices. Michele decided on the vintage blue Pendleton plaid fabric because the teal stripe feels more summery than the burgundy. Everything should be finished in a week or two. I can't wait to see it all come together.

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