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October 18, 2012

Refinishing 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.

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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!

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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.

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The shelves were also pretty beat up…..and then there was that HUGE ink stain on the bottom.

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Paint???? on the legs.

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You could tell this H-W secretary had seen better days, so it was Sara to the rescue once again!

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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.

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Here you can see I am removing one of the drawer pulls from a drawer.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And here is everything disassembled and just waiting for me to attack it with the sander!

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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.

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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.

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OK, here are my tools for refinishing. I have a palm sander for the bulk of the sanding.

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And an orbital sander for more of the finish/final sanding.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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It FINALLY came out though!!! YAY!

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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. 

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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 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!!!

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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.

 

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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!

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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.

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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! hee!!!

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Letting all of the handles dry………….

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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!!!

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Here is what the desk/secretary cubby looks like.

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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!

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36 Responses to Refinishing Our Heywood Wakefield M328 Desk Bookcase…….The Definitive Post on Refinishing!

  1. Sharon Reply

    October 18, 2012 at 9:12 am

    This is a very inspiring post! I have several pieces of midcentury and older furniture that could use a new finish, but I’ve been afraid to touch them. Your finished secretary looks so great that it gives me confidence to work on my own pieces. Thanks for the step by step.

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      October 18, 2012 at 3:26 pm

      Hi Sharon! Yes, you can definitely do this! Do not be intimidated by refinishing at all, seriously the most time consuming part of it all is the sanding and even that is not really that bad. Let me know when you’ve refinished something, I would love to see! :)

  2. Desirae Reply

    October 18, 2012 at 9:37 am

    That is beautiful. What a great deal and a great job.

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      October 18, 2012 at 3:35 pm

      Thank you so much Desirae, I really appreciate that! :)

  3. thatmidcenturyfella Reply

    October 18, 2012 at 9:41 am

    I loved this tutorial! Great work!

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      October 18, 2012 at 3:37 pm

      Thanks Midcentury Fella…..hey – you gotta love the blonde right!?! ;)

  4. Jennifer Reply

    October 18, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    I’ve been tip toeing around my 2 HW pieces. I am usually gung ho to refinish anything, but I love my end tables so much I’ve been afraid to give it a shot. This is an excellent set of directions. Thank you!

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      October 18, 2012 at 3:52 pm

      Jennifer – I know you can do it!!! Seriously, do not be afraid. I was terrified going into refinishing H-W at first, but it really is completely do-able and you will be thrilled with the results. Let me know when you refinish your end tables!

  5. Andrea Reply

    October 18, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Fantastic tute, Sara! I’ve definitely picked up some tips from you that I will be using on my next refinishing project!

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      October 18, 2012 at 3:39 pm

      Thank you Andrea! :) Ooohhhh, I am excited to see what you have to refinish…definitely post pics!!!

  6. John Bachman Reply

    October 18, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Looks amazing! My Heywood Wakefield dining room table was refinished by the previous owner and there is no sign of the label left.

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      October 18, 2012 at 3:43 pm

      Thanks John! :)

      Eek! That is one of my HUGE pet peeves – when someone sands out/removes all the labels. I take great pains when I refinish to make sure that none of the stamps/labels come off when I am refinishing. That said, I have seen some H-W stamps that are very, very light and super hard to see and in a hard place to spot………..is it possible your stamp is there and you missed it???

      • John Bachman Reply

        October 19, 2012 at 1:18 pm

        I’ll look harder but not much luck.

        • Sara In AZ Reply

          October 19, 2012 at 7:18 pm

          Yeah, let me know if you do find anything. I wouldn’t be surprised if the re-finishers did sand it off – but you never know…..it could be hiding somewhere! Initially sometimes I would swear that some of the H-W I have gotten had no stamp on it at all either, it was not until I had it in the bright sunlight looking all over the place that I finally found the stamp. And don’t forget, they also used paper tags in the earlier days – so if your table is old enough it may have had one of those too.

  7. Eartha Kitsch Reply

    October 19, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    Amazing job, Sara! I can never get over how detail oriented you are.

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      October 19, 2012 at 9:26 pm

      Oh gosh, thanks so much Eartha! :)

  8. Laura Reply

    October 21, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    Wow. You’re hired next time I need furniture refinished. ;)

  9. Sherree Reply

    October 21, 2012 at 10:57 pm

    Oh I love it; you did a great job.
    Post pics of it all staged :-)

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      October 22, 2012 at 11:52 am

      Thanks Sherree! I will definitely try to post pics of it staged too…..eventually!

  10. RetroRuth Reply

    October 22, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    As always, you are the best!!!

  11. NGB Reply

    October 24, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Hi…Gorgeous job! I have a dumb question…when you wipe down the piece, after steel wooling….is it with a tack cloth or just a dry lint free rag??
    I, too, have rarely seen a H/W piece I did’t love…can’t get enough…EVER!

    I love your blog and read it daily!
    Thanks.

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      October 24, 2012 at 8:04 pm

      Thanks so much NGB, I appreciate that and I am so glad to hear you like the blog! :)

      No, not a dumb question at all! I left that kind of open intentionally because I know sometimes people have a personal preference for what they like to use for cleaning after steel wooling…..a regular tack cloth…..a dry rag…..ect – then I know some people are adamantly against using the normal tack cloths. I personally have used all of the above and have not noticed any problems with my finish, but one cloth I have also used with good results is this Microfiber Tack Cloth. Check out the link

      http://toolsforworkingwood.com/store/item/NO-TACK.XX

      I got mine at Home Depot, you might want to check them out!

  12. Rebecca@MidCenturyModernRemodel Reply

    October 31, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    WOW. Just wow. Nice work. I read every single word of that post. I just went to a huge store of H-W where the owner refinishes everything and then charges $$$. They pay big in So. Cal. Based on what I saw in that store, your labor of love would go for at least $1,200 if not more. I think more.

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      November 1, 2012 at 5:32 pm

      Thank you so much Rebecca! :)

      I can only imagine they pay big $$$ in Ca. for this stuff…..maybe I should think about shipping all of my refinished furniture out there and selling it for big dollars! ;)

  13. Jill Reply

    February 5, 2013 at 7:26 am

    Thank you so much for this tutorial! I recently discovered Heywood Wakfield vintage furniture and fell in love. This caused me to aquire the following pieces in one weekend!… dining table and chair set, a buffet and hutch, a encore utility dresser cehest, and a Mr. and Mrs. Encore dresser. All pieces need refinished and I will tackle these in the Spring. I scoured the internet for help on refinishing and your post was by far the best. Thank You!!!

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      February 5, 2013 at 10:39 am

      Thanks so much for the nice compliment Jill! I have to say that I think vintage Heywood is some amazing furniture and I think you will be thrilled with your results! Please send in some pics so we all can see!

  14. Keith Reply

    May 24, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Hi Sara, I came across your blog while researching this amazing desk I came across at a yard sale. I now know it’s a H-W kneehole desk (M320W). It’s in very good condition except for a spot on the top, where the original finish appears to have been dissolved by some kind of liquid. Now that I know the asking price is pretty good ($250) and with your tutorial as a guide to refinish it, I’m going to be headed back to that house! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience!

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      July 18, 2013 at 5:41 pm

      Hi Keith – Sorry I missed your comment for so long! Glad I could help you out, and let me know how your project goes!

  15. Pingback: Refinishing and Restoring A Vintage 1940s Heywood Wakefield Extension Dining Room Table | No Pattern Required

  16. AtomicVault.etsy.com Reply

    July 18, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    I know this is a super old post, but we have the exact same Heywood Desk!!! And it also is in need of a re-finish. Not quite as bad as yours was, but still a bit too scratched up to ignore. Will be tackling this next after our furniture guy finishes the surfboard tables :)

    Great job!

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      July 18, 2013 at 5:44 pm

      Oh my gosh! How wild that we have the same desk! I don’t think they are very common at all. Great find on your part!

      Sounds like you are going to have a house full of beautiful Heywood furniture! AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. Pingback: Refinishing Our Heywood Wakefield C3971 Corner Bookcase | No Pattern Required

  18. Malissa Reply

    January 9, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Glad to find your post! I have an atomic lamp table I picked up and needs the top redone. I will most likely be doing the whole piece. So by rough sanding, no need to ‘strip’ the finish off? I’m trying to figure out where to start. (Ironically, I work for a woodworking company full of men who really know what they are doing! hahaha I could probably pay someone to do it for me! And we actually use the Sherwin Williams Kemvar system that the new H-W company uses and have 2 spray booths!) Your finished product looks fabulous and I’m excited to get my table back to it’s original beauty! I’ve seen my table in books, but in person, it was even more fabulous! But I say that about every H-W piece I encounter! Great job!

    • Sara In AZ Reply

      January 9, 2014 at 9:37 pm

      Hi Malissa! Congrats on scoring the H-W lamp table and I’m so glad you found us!!!

      You will definitely want to re-do the whole table for a consistent look.

      You do not have to strip the finish before you start sanding, the 60 grit sandpaper will take everything away! From there it’s all the finish sanding….then deciding on what stain to use.

      It sounds like you will do great…esp. with ALL of those woodworkers around you….give us an update when you can!

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