Old Bookcase Restoration

How to Restore a Bookcase to its Original Beauty

By Mark J. Donovan

My in-laws gave my wife and me a very old bookcase that had several ugly coatings of paint on it. The bookcase was made from a solid wood, though I could not tell what type. Other than the ugly paint on it, it was in pristine condition so I decided to tackle an old bookcase restoration project. Suffice it to say it was not easy and took a couple of weekends to get it looking like new. But in the end, it was a successful old bookcase restoration project.

Initially I thought about taking a belt sander to it, however with no intention of disassembling the old bookcase to restore it, I decided that wasn’t going to be the best approach.

Instead I chose to use a paint stripper chemical solution that you brush on, and then after you leave on for awhile you scrape off, along with the paint.

The paint stripper was a thick jell like substance that you slathered on, more than brushed on. I did it out in my garage with the garage doors open. Paint stripper fumes can be deadly so I wanted to be sure I had plenty of fresh air. I also wore eye protection, gloves and a mask to protect my eyes and skin from burns and to not breathe in the fumes.

I applied the paint stripper slowly and carefully so that I made sure to get every square inch of the bookcase. I wanted this old bookcase restoration project to be a prime example to my wife on how we could save money and still own beautiful wood furniture. I also applied the paint stripper in stages. For example, I started out with the top and sides of the bookcase first. Later on, the following weekend, I did the shelving areas.

After I applied the paint stripper I allowed time for it to bubble and wrinkle. Bubbles and wrinkles are good signs that the old paint is ready to be actually scraped off the wood.

Restoring a bookcase.

I used a 1-1/2 inch wide putty knife to gently scrape away the paint stripper and old paint from the large surface areas of the bookcase. I also used an awl to get into all of the seams to remove the paint and paint stripper. I found I needed to apply a second coat of paint stripper to fully get the old paint off.

After I had stripped clean the areas that I had applied the paint stripper to I allowed it to thoroughly dry before going on and applying additional paint stripper to other pieces of the old bookcase.

The next weekend I started early Saturday on my bookcase restoration project and removed the remaining paint from the old bookcase. On Sunday, I lightly hand sanded down the entire book case. I then used a tack cloth to remove any residual dust and then applied a light stain to it.

Finally, I wound up applying three coats of polyurethane on it using a paint brush. Between each coat, and after each coat had fully dried, I lightly sanded the bookcase to ensure a smooth finish. For the final step I applied a beeswax furniture polish to it to complete by old bookcase restoration project and create a beautiful finish.

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