Expensive Disappointment

{sigh} Couple weeks ago, one of my mother’s Conant Ball chairs, which she bought in San Francisco when we came back to the States from the Middle East in the late 1950s, broke. A piece of wood that supported the legs dried out and finally gave way.

It and its partner needed some work, anyway. Not knowing how much she must have spent on the stuff, my father decided to make the dining set they belonged to into outdoor furniture. The house they moved into in Sun City didn’t have room to accommodate a dining-room set and a television, and my father certainly could not be expected to live without his TV. So he covered the solid birch table and six chairs with layer on layer on layer of polyurethane. Then he stuck them out on the screened-in porch, where they resided for the rest of my mother’s life — about 15 years.

To give you a clue to the enormity of this act, Thomas Moser makes chairs that look very much like them:

Eastward

$1,075 for the side chair on the left.

Newport

$1,225. That’s right: apiece.

Admittedly, the Moser chairs are made of cherry and ash, not birch. But they look very much like the chairs my mother bought in San Francisco, back in 1957. They’re almost identical, except that my mother’s side chairs had padded seat cushions.

After my mother died, my father moved to an old-folkerie and gave me the set. A friend stripped the polyurethane off the table and the side chairs and I refinished them with Watco’s lightly stained Danish oil. This looked OK. A helluva lot better than yellow varnish, anyway. But Friend tired of the job before he finished the captain’s chairs, so they stayed covered in polyurethane.

Obviously, I can’t afford to replace them. Not even at the 15 percent discount Thos. Moser is offering just this moment.

So, I took the occasion of the busted leg to ask the furniture repair guys I’d found through Angie’s list not only to repair the leg assembly but also to strip and refinish the both captain’s chairs, and while they were at it, to strip and refinish the scratched-up Ethan Allen coffee table I’d never been very satisfied with. So they carted it off the end of last month.

They delivered the finished job today.

I didn’t expect perfection. The chairs are very old, and 15 years out in the heat, the dust, and the rain couldn’t have helped them, embalmed in polyurethane or not. And the table is just a mass-produced thing not designed for a hand-rubbed oil finish. But the chairs’ cirrhosis-yellow varnish and the scratched-up shiny surface of the table have annoyed me for years. So I figured nothing ventured, nothing gained.

And perfection is decidedly not what I got.

I can’t imagine what they did to remove the table’s finish, but it looks like they scraped at it with some sort of tool like a spackling knife. The surface has patches of small abrasions — doesn’t look like sandpaper marks, at least not from a circular sander (which one would hope they’d know better than to use). Overall they did a nice job of sanding — all three pieces are satin-smooth to the touch. It’s possible, in fact, that they oversanded: if you sand with too fine a grade of sandpaper and steel wool, Danish oil won’t soak in the way it’s supposed to.

At any rate, it looked mighty sad after they’d plopped it down in the living room. Yet, interestingly, they’d done an amazingly good job of imitating the color and finish of the Stickley table that lives next to the couch.

The chairs are pretty pale and wan: looks like they only applied one coat of Watco. To do the job right requires several coats. But it’s just as well, because I think they used a walnut color, which is decidedly not what was on the other chairs. Watco’s “cherry” version would come fairly close to the oil I used in the 70s to refinish the side chairs and table. If they’d done the job right, the result would have been way too dark.

Studied the table for a while. Then decided to try a coat of butcher’s wax, which I happened to have lurking in a closet. Applied three coats.

This helped a little, but not enough. Waxing brought out several splotches where it looked like the wood might have gotten wet after they’d stripped it. We’ve had a lot of rain, and it sure could be that their roof leaked or someone walked past it dripping water. Whatever, this was annoying.

Once the wax was dry and polished as well as it was going to be polished — which wasn’t very — I applied some furniture oil. Put on a couple of coats of English oil, which helped more than I expected. Then I came across an old bottle of Weiman’s lemon oil in the cleaning closet. Weiman’s is a superior product, so I figured, why not? Applied another coat of that oil.

And that did make a big difference. It looks much, much better. Not perfect. But perfection clearly is not attainable here.

P1020073

By the light of an incandescent lamp, it actually looks pretty good. (As usual, you’re gonna have to click on the image to get anything resembling resolution out of WordPress…) But view it by sunlight from an angle, and the effect is somewhat cloudy and blotchy.

Oh well.

Now, as for the chairs…what to do?

While I was out replenishing the larder yesterday, I dropped by the Home Depot and picked up a can of Watco oil laced with “cherry” stain.

Before applying that, though, I’ve got to figure out what our boys did in their refinishing effort. If they applied wax, I’ll have to get that off before rubbing in another three, four, or five coats of Watco. The chairs don’t smell of paste wax. But the guys called me about a week ago asking to deliver them; I put this off until today, because I wanted to push the payment into a new AMEX billing cycle, so as to be able to cover it out of cash flow rather than having to raid savings. The odor of wax could have dissipated by now.

It is going to take for-fucking-EVER to do the job right on those chairs, with all those damn spindles. This project will have to wait until I finish a dog-and-pony show I have to write and trick out in PowerPoint for a webinar a local writer’s & self-publisher’s group asked me to do. I’m not getting paid, but we could pick up some work — I doubt it, though, because my experience with these folks is that they don’t have the money to pay professional rates.

At any rate, though my heart’s not exactly broken, neither am I pleased. This job cost $800, and so I’d just as soon not have to do it over myself to get it right.

On the other hand, just to replace the two captain’s chairs (to say nothing of the table) would cost three times that much. To extract the coffee table from Thos. Moser would cost another $1,250. So if I can get all three pieces to look acceptable, I suppose I can’t complain.

You get what you pay for…

 

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TB at BluecollarWorkman February 22, 2013 at 7:20 am

Well you know, sometimes this kinda thing just adds to the story of things. From mom to dad to varnish to a sun porch to a bad repair shop… adds character, in a way. And so they don’t look like what you want, but… well, they’re unique. They have a story. I think it’s great like that!

funny February 22, 2013 at 7:44 am

Yeah, that’s true. And also, I’m pretty sure I can improve the two captain’s chairs. First I’ve gotta find out if they waxed the things, because if so, I’ll need to wipe them down with mineral spirits first.

But after that, it shouldn’t be difficult to massage in several more layers of colored Danish oil, let them dry, wax them, and then slather them with furniture polish.

It’ll just be time-consuming. Plus my back hurts, and I expect a job like that isn’t going to do it much good. ;-)

Linda February 22, 2013 at 9:08 am

This is why I have Ikea furniture throughout my house. Keeping everything dusted and wiped down is enough of a chore for me.

funny February 22, 2013 at 10:12 am

LOL! Well said!!!

Also, Ikea has some very cool designs. There’s one little kids’ set that almost makes me wish I still had a little kid.

Almost…

Evan February 22, 2013 at 11:27 am

Did you complain at all?

jestjack February 22, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Not cool for you to not be TOTALLY satisfied after dropping $800. Personally … not a fan of Angie’s list…I have heard similiar stories on all types of repairs…and Angie offer’s little help. Know your upset when ya drop the “f-bomb”…I would be too.
Question?…I have some dining room chairs that I acquired about 25-30 years ago that have similiar lines as your chairs. Would you happen to have a good reference to check out if I have heirlooms or firewood?

jestjack February 22, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Ikea is very cool….True story….bought a loft bed for DD2 for $199 with matress as memory serves, DD slept on it over 10 years but “out-grew” the concept. Put it on craigslist and quickly sold it for $215 without matress and sold the matress for $35 to someone else. This is probably the only furniture I have ever used and sold for a profit…crazy.

Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies February 22, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Ooh, I’m disappointed for you. I was really hoping that they would do a great job when you mentioned the transaction originally. Is it worth complaining and asking for them to do it again? Or would that do more harm than good to the pieces at this point?

funny February 22, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Actually, things are looking up. More positive gnus tomorrow…entire day has been diddled away, between procrastination and an extended electric outage. Reduced to spending the evening at work. Again. :-D

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