One of my latest house projects was refinishing the vanity in my bathroom. When I first moved into my house, I gave it a light sanding and another coat of varnish to freshen it up, but I’ve never completely loved it. There were a lot of layers of stain and varnish on the wood, and it was starting to peel off around the handles.
My goal was to strip it down to bare wood, and redo the stain and varnish. The wood in my house is all blonded which was really trendy in the 1950’s. I personally don’t love the look of it, but I have the look of hodge-podge wood tones or slapping white paint on random trim, so I try to stick with the original color.
I started by removing all of the drawers and hardware. Since I didn’t quite know how the project would end up, I started by using a paint stripper on only one drawer to see the condition of the wood underneath. I use a product called Citristrip Gel. It’s not the most powerful one on the market, but it also doesn’t like burn your skin off if you accidentally touch it.
My trick to making the stripper work well is to put on a coat of gel, then wrap it in plastic wrap and let it sit for about an hour. The plastic wrap helps keep the gel from drying out and keeps the chemicals close to the wood. After an hour, the layers of stain and varnish literally peel off.
Because the wood had been blonded, I did the process twice to get all of the remaining stain out of the wood. I also did a light sanding to get a few tricky spots and to give the wood a nice finish. My vanity wasn’t made of the most beautiful wood in the world, but it was workable.
After doing all of the drawers, I moved onto the rest of the vanity. I did my best to coat and plastic wrap all of the surfaces and let the gel sit. I ended up doing a little more sanding since there were smaller surfaces compared to the flat drawers.
After all the wood was bare, I used a pre-stain wood conditioner. I have had a few experiences with stain that didn’t go on as even as I would have liked, and this conditioner really helps you get a smooth color application. Its a liquid that dries fast, so you just have to put it on 10-15 minutes before you stain. At that point, I wipe off any excess pools of it and move on to staining.
I have found a color called fruitwood that works well with the existing wood tones in my house. It is semi opaque, which helps blend in tarnished areas of wood like my windowsill project, but it also can be used as more of a sheer wiping stain, which is what I wanted for this project. My goal with the application of the stain was to give the wood color that fit with the rest of the trim, but still allow the grain to show through.
I started with a very light coat of the stain, that I blended with a paper towel. Then I went back and gave it a little more color with a coat that I didn’t wipe. At first, I was a little bummed that the color didn’t look all that different than before, but it was the look I was going for, and the wood looked a lot cleaner. I want to get a new vanity top installed when I do my kitchen counters, so I’m hoping to see a bigger transformation then!
After letting the stain completely dry for 2 days, I then added varnish. I prefer a satin finish for most wood surfaces in my house as it gives a nice sheen but isn’t too glossy. For humid areas like a bathroom, I use a marine quality varnish to help it last longer. For the varnish, I add one coat, let it dry overnight, and then lightly sand before adding a second. I try to give enough coverage without building up too much product (which was my issue to begin with!).
I also took the time to clean out the drawers and add new contact paper to the inside of the drawers and my medicine cabinet. Little updates like this help make everything look cleaner, and contact paper is a really inexpensive way to protect your wood from getting damaged.
Finally, it was time to put it all back together! As I mentioned, its not a huge overhaul, but I love that the wood looks updated and cleaner than it did before. I also learned quite a few things that will be helpful as I move onto restoring my kitchen cupboards!