October 18, 2012Refinishing Our Heywood Wakefield M328 Desk Bookcase…….The Definitive Post on Refinishing!
By Sara In AZ
Sooooooo, as many of you have already figured out by now I am a sucker for Heywood Wakefield blonde furniture. I am SUCH a sucker for H-W that I always seem to get myself involved in these crazy refinishing projects so I can buy the furniture on the cheap, but have a nice piece in the end. I’ve refinished my Dining Room Table, a Corner Table I found at Goodwill, and a set of Encore Night Stands so far.
I came across this Craigslist ad for a Heywood Wakefield M328 Desk/Secretary Bookcase and I knew I’d fallen into the trap once again. I told myself I’d only go to look at it and if the finish was really bad I’d pass.
Uggghhhhh, I tried to be strong……I REALLY, REALLY did. But in the end Heywood won again. The finish was shot and I knew it would take a ton of work, but I just could not leave the Secretary behind. I bargained the guy down to $160 and we left with ANOTHER refinishing project. eek!
Some of y’all have left comments, or e-mailed me, wanting to know my specific refinishing methods. So I thought I would take this post to let everyone in on exactly what I do when I refinish a piece of Heywood. I am, for sure, not saying my refinishing method is the only way. I am certainly not an expert. I am only saying this is what I have found works for me. When I first set out to refinish my Heywood dining room set 9 years ago (lord have mercy I almost cannot believe it’s been THAT long!!!) there really was not much info online about refinishing H-W, so through trial and error I’ve figured out what works best for me. One other thing to note – the new finish you achieve will look fantastic…..MUCH better than what it was, but you probably will never be able to fully match an original vintage piece of H-W in either color or sheen. Honestly though, I have pieces of Heywood with the original finish and the ones I have refinished are such a close match it would be hard to tell unless you were up close inspecting it. With that said let’s get on with the refinishing!
And here is the H-W Secretary…… patiently waiting for me to start my work. It’s pretty daunting at the beginning of a project just looking at this huge piece of furniture and knowing ALL the steps you have to go through to get it pretty again. But trust me, once you start it actually does go pretty fast.
I know, I know – y’all are probably thinking “Sara, this secretary looks just fine, why are you refinishing it?” Well, in this picture it does look ok – but let’s take a closer look shall we!
The top left pull-down door (where the desk is) had these spots and streaks that were all over the front. I tried to get them out with Feed-N-Wax but the stains remained. The drawers below also had some streaks and stains, but the desk door was the worst.
The shelves were also pretty beat up…..and then there was that HUGE ink stain on the bottom.
Paint???? on the legs.
You could tell this H-W secretary had seen better days, so it was Sara to the rescue once again!
The very first thing you want to do before starting any refinishing project is disassembly. Whatever you can easily remove such as legs, drawer pulls, etc., definitely take the time to remove – as your finish will be all that much better for you having taken the time to do this.
Here you can see I am removing one of the drawer pulls from a drawer.
This is a very important step. You must note what drawer goes with what handle and the like, so you can keep all of the original pieces together. For the drawer I just disassembled above I wrote a number “1” in pencil on the bottom of the drawer and the back of the drawer pull where it will never be seen – that way I can easily discern what goes with what when I reassemble.
This is also an extremely important step. See how the screws in the picture below are varying in sizes. You will have to note, as you are removing the screws, what screws go where. In my case here, the top drawer pull had the 3 smaller screws – while the other drawer handles had one larger screw in the middle of each pull.
After I removed all of the hardware I placed everything in little baggies and labeled all of it so I would know exactly what went where.
And here is everything disassembled and just waiting for me to attack it with the sander!
I also had Mike remove one of the back panels (that the shelves backed up to) because I knew this would be terribly hard to refinish if left in place. The other back panel did not need to be removed because it backs up to the drawers.
Said panel, now removed. I have to say, it is a bit tricky removing these back panels. It is a thinner veneer type of birch that will more than likely crack and split if you try to just yank it off, and the nails that hold the panel on have a tendency to be a bit rusty after all of this time so the nail heads might pop right off leaving the rest of the nail still inside the piece…..so you will need to drill the old nails out if you want to use all of the existing nail holes. But obviously it is do-able, it just takes time.
If you need to remove one of these backer panels in your refinishing process you will need to proceed with caution as, like I said, these are thin pieces of birch veneer and will crack and split if you put too much force on them. In our efforts to remove this backer piece we wrapped a wood block in a small towel and then VERY gently pounded at the backer from the interior with a rubber mallet. We gently pounded the entire perimeter of the backer from the interior, as close as close to the edge as we could get, trying to get the nails out by pushing on them from the inside. We tried to ease off the backer as gently as possible, not trying to force it in any way at all. We worked our way all around the interior perimeter a few times easing the backer out more and more. As we were easing the backer out some of the old rusted nail heads fell off and left the nail point end in the back of the secretary. This is not a problem in any way. If you want to use all of the original nail holes (and not drill any new holes in the back of your piece) you will have to use a VERY tiny drill bit to drill out the old embedded nail point end…and obviously, if you do not want to drill out the old nail point ends you will just have to drill some new small holes in order to re-attach your backer. And who knows, maybe you will get lucky and not have any rusted nails to deal with….either way any problem can be overcome!
OK, here are my tools for refinishing. I have a palm sander for the bulk of the sanding.
And an orbital sander for more of the finish/final sanding.
Honestly though you do not need 2 sanders and can definitely get by with just one sander. If you only had one sander I would probably stick to the palm sander as it can get into more tight spaces than the round orbital sander.
I personally always sand everything I refinish with 3 different types of sandpaper. I start off with the 60 grit sandpaper, which will really dig in and take all of that existing finish off. 60 grit sandpaper is what you will probably use the most of , as it takes a lot to remove that old finish. I then sand with 150 grit sandpaper to bring the wood down to a bit of a finer finish because the 60 grit really roughs it up. Lastly, I sand with 220 grit sandpaper to really get a nice fine finish on the wood in preparation for the stain. After you sand with the 220 grit sandpaper the wood will feel so smooth, almost like silk.
In the picture below you can see I have been sanding a while. I wanted to point out that the top section has been sanded down totally and all the old stain has been removed from this area. You can see that the wood is very white looking and that is what you want to see. This was all done with 60 grit sandpaper.
You will note in the middle section of the picture the old stain has only been partially removed, it looks kind of dark and streaky. As you sand the wood down you will see stain still embedded into the wood grain and you need to remove as much of that as possible as you do not want to apply stain over the old stain.
In the bottom section of the picture no sanding has been done at all.
Getting the wood to have that ‘white’ look will take you quite some time and will be the hardest and most time consuming part of your sanding. Not all areas of your project will be able to be sanded with a sander, it is then that you will need to sand by hand – such as in corners.
The ink stain that was on the bottom shelf of the secretary took FOR.EV.ERRRRRR to get out! I seriously had to sit there for hours with the orbital sander, going back and forth, to sand that out.
It FINALLY came out though!!! YAY!
Whew, all done sanding now!
Your next, and final step, before the staining starts is the clean everything off with Acetone. Literally everything. Sanding dust gets everywhere and you do not want that mixing with your stain. I know it seems weird to put something liquid on wood, but acetone will not hurt the wood as it is super fast drying. So get yourself some big ole rubber gloves and go to town cleaning……you can see on my paper towel below all the yellow sanding dust from just one swipe. After I clean everything with acetone I try to touch the raw wood as little as possible with my bare hands – as you do not want your body oils, or anything else, absorbing into the wood.
And, we are finally onto the staining process! I always use the Wheat ‘Heywood’ stain I get off of a seller on E-Bay. There is a seller on there, needful useful things, who mixes stain to match Champagne and Wheat finishes of Heywood Wakefield blonde furniture. It is a stain AND a topcoat all in one so you do not have to worry about too many steps. I have always had really good luck with his stains, and he will mix custom colors for you if you need that as well. Here is a link to his E-Bay store needful_useful_things . He is a really great seller who is super nice to deal with and is really customer service orientated as well! Check him out!!!
I have tried many different manners of applying the stain – clean white socks, cut up white t shirts, clean white towels…………they all worked ok, but I always thought there must be something better out there. I walked around Home Depot for a while one day and came across these Workforce Staining Pads. It’s kind of like a sponge wrapped up in a low nap terry cloth. I decided I really liked these best of all to apply the stain, as it holds it shape very well and you can apply a nice layer of stain in one fell swoop. I think, for the pack of 4, it is around $5.
When you are in between stain coats you can keep your sponge in a Zip-loc bag. However, if you notice stain flakes starting to dry on your sponge toss it out and start using a new one as you do not want stain flakes embedded in your fresh stain.
Also, when applying your stain be sure to not drag the applicator back and forth over the stain. You really only want to go across the surface one time and keep working your way across. If you try to go back over the stain when it is even just a little bit dry (say 5 to 10 mins) you could leave streaks in the finish that will never go away. And trust me, you REALLY don’t want that!
When I apply my stain I get enough stain on my pad to go over one section (the width of the stain pad) lengthwise (with the wood grain) without ever pulling up the pad. Here is an example from a H-W table I refinished a while back, you can see the red arrow…..I apply the stain in one fell swoop, with the grain, a section at a time (the width of the stain pad) never pulling the pad up until I reach the end. You obviously WILL want to overlap the stain section to section so time is of the essence and you will want to work quickly so the stain sections will just kind of “flow” together if you will.
This Heywood Wakefield type stain is very different than normal stain you would use off the shelf from a big box store (the kind of stain that you would literally wipe on and then wipe back off) as this type of stain is a layering process so NONE of the stain is ever wiped back off.
When applying this stain you can apply as many or a few coats as you want to, as long as you think the wood has sufficient coverage there is no right or wrong. The fewer coats you apply will obviously leave you seeing more of the wood grain, the more coats you apply you will see less wood grain. Seller needful useful things recommends 4 applications of his Heywood Wakefield stain, and that is pretty much what I have always done because I am trying to mimic the mostly ‘grain hiding’ original blonde stain that H-W used on their furniture.
Also important – in between coats of stain, but only when the stain is totally dry, buff the stain out with 0000 steel wool. This will remove any imperfections in your last coat of stain such as little fibers that get left behind in the stain coat when you are applying it. Be sure to clean over the area that you have just ran the steel wool over too, as you do not want steel wool fibers embedded into your next stain coat.
Sometimes people have a preference as to what to use for cleaning after they use steel wool…..a regular tack cloth, a dry rag etc. – I know some refinishers are adamantly against using normal tack cloths. I personally have used all of the above and have never noticed a problem with my finish. One cleaning cloth I have used with good results is this Micro Fiber Tack Cloth
I have also used these regular old normal tack cloths as well.
I’d say to find what works best for you and go with that!
One other note I wanted to make in regards to the buffing process between stain coats….lately I have started using a VERY high grit sandpaper to buff the stain between coats (as opposed to using steel wool) and this has given me very nice results. I have been using 1000 grit sandpaper like this 3M Ultra Fine Grit Silicon Carbide Sandpaper.
This high grit sandpaper will cost you more in the end than using steel wool…which is much cheaper, but to be perfectly honest with you I think using the high grit sandpaper has given my refinished pieces a much finer finish. Either way you will be fine…using steel wool or high grit sandpaper…..I just wanted to put it out there as an option!
Wow, can you believe we made it all the way to the end of the staining process!?!
And yes, I was staining right in the middle of my kitchen! Ha!!!
Letting all of the handles dry………….
And voila, here we have the finished Heywood Wakefield Bookcase/Secretary! No more big ink stain on the bottom, no more streaky door fronts! Yippee!!!
Here is what the desk/secretary cubby looks like.
I wound up really loving this piece even more after I refinished it. It has tons of storage and comes in super handy in our bedroom!
I hope that anyone out there looking to refinish Heywood Wakefield will find this tutorial post helpful, let me know if y’all have any more questions!