Making a Magic Box: Stage 2

The box's new finish.  I'm so pleased with how it turned out!

The box’s new finish. I’m so pleased with how it turned out!

Wow, it has been forever and a day since I started this project.  I bought the box on February 3rd, 2014, and I’d been searching for a good one months before that.  Where we last left off, I had removed the original finish completely off the box using 80-grit sand paper and 6 hours of sanding by hand.  At that point, I pretty much abandoned the project.  My arm was killing me after all that sanding, and I thought it would take another 8 hours each to go over it with 120-grit and then 220-grit paper.  And then there was the interior to contend with.  Let me tell you, ripping out 66-year-old silver cloth is no fun.  There was so much disgusting-smelling dust, and then what was left was firmly stuck to the inside with the remaining glue.  I just about wanted to die after I’d finished ripping out what I could.  I had no idea what to do to remove what was stuck on, so I essentially abandoned the project.

But now that I myself am moving, I desperately wanted to get my “large scale” projects done while I still have such things as a back yard and a garage to facilitate the process.  I wish I had taken photographs of my different stages, but as I believed I would firmly screw it all up, I did not want photographic evidence of my failure.  (Also, there was no way I was touching my iPhone with dirty hands.)

First, I finished sanding.  As it turned out, I only had about 45 minutes left of work to do on that front; once the old finish was gone, it was so easy to just go over all the surfaces and smooth things out.  I eventually took the hinges off the box to make sure I sanded in every nook and cranny.

Once that was done, I turned my attention towards cleaning out the inside.  I took a gamble that the glue was waterbased and that I wouldn’t warp the project with a “liberal” application of water…and I essentially filled up the inside of the lid and the main box’s body with a couple of gallons and let it soak for 15 minutes or so.  Then I poured out the water and set to work scraping with a putty knife.  To my eternal amazement, it worked!  I repeated the process about three times in order to get the worst of it off, then I let the box dry for four or five days and took the 80-grit paper to the inside to remove what remained.  To transition off to the next stage, I lightly sanded the outside again with 220-grit, just in case the water raised anything, checked the box for square, and washed the whole thing–inside and out–with mineral spirits to remove all the dust.

After I let the mineral spirits dry off for a day or so, I stained the entire exterior of the box with one coat of Minwax’s dark walnut stain.  I’d originally wanted to stain the whole thing green, but when I went to go buy the stain, I couldn’t find any place local that carried the colors.  Since I wanted to finish the project ASAP, I went with my next choice.  I am very glad the fates conspired against me!  The dark walnut beautifully pulls out all the details of the wood grain and makes the project look timeless.

When I first applied the stain, I thought I’d destroyed the box.  The wood instantly absorbed all the pigment, and even thought I wiped the surfaces down immediately rather than waiting the recommended time, the box was black.  But I decided to roll with it; after all, what’s the worst that would happen?  When the stain dried, I went over the whole exterior with WATCO’s butcher block oil and finish.  Rubbing the oil into the wood actually removed quite a bit of stain and let me see the beautiful grain again, so I was pleased.  I ended up doing about two coats of oil.

After the oil had dried, I was very pleased with the final result, but it still looked very matte.  I decided to do a final “seal” of wax and rubbed Miss Mustard Seed’s Furniture Wax into the wood, which removed a little bit more stain color, gave the project an incredible luster, and makes the wood feel like satin when you touch it. And I am going to take one moment to say how much I love this wax.  It’s just beeswax and carnauba wax, and it’s whipped to the texture of softened butter.  It’s positively luxurious to work with, and it’s one of the best furniture waxes I’ve ever used.

Finally, I taped off the outside of the box and sprayed the interior with Rust-Oleum’s Black Hammered spray paint.  Normally I wouldn’t have used the Hammered product and would have just used a brush and acrylic to apply the paint, but even with all my ministrations, the interior wasn’t “flawless” and I thought the Hammered paint would add enough texture to camouflage my remaining sins.  It took three coats and an entire can to provide enough coverage, but it worked out in the end and I was pleased with the final result.  My housemate then helped me clean up the hinges with some ammonia and re-install them, and voila!  The exterior was (finally!) finished!

The before and the after.

The before and the after.

I can’t believe the difference all that work made.  Though my younger brother says I spent too much time and money to make the box look exactly the same, I think the devil is in the details.  I erased all the damage of the past 66 years.  I smoothed out the gouges and the nicks, and I sanded out the burns.  I got rid of the plastic-y lacquer finish and achieved something that feels “alive” and sensual when you touch it.  And the color is now something that isn’t trying too hard to be elegant.  It could go perfectly well in contemporary, country, or classic decors.  I think I’m going to have this box around for quite a long time.

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