Video: Refinishing A Merklen Brothers “Shabby” Table

by John Werry on June 15, 2008

This will be the first of hopefully many video blog posts here on Rare Victorian in the future. I did end up rescuing the Merklen Brothers table from this previous post and I hope to capture the transformation on video for you.

You can view the video by using the player below or follow the instructions to view it in High-Definition.



Antique Merklen Brothers Table Refinish Project from RareVictorian.com on Vimeo.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

james conrad June 16, 2008 at 6:55 am

neat idea,a video of refinishing your table. there is a long standing debate in the early american furniture world about “original” finish. This table painted pink offers a good example of why refinishing isnt always bad as some “purists” would have one believe. Lets face it, finishes were primative in the 18th & 19 century by todays standards and unless a piece happened to live in a dark room and recieve little use its most likely in need of a new finish if its going to survive in the long term. another thing, furniture falls out of fashion and is removed to attics, barns, basements etc. to make way for current fashions. some would argue that painting your table pink actually helped it to survive as it gave it a chance to live in the house as shabby chic instead of rotting away in some damp basement.GO SHABBY CHIC, you saved a table that might otherwise not even be here.

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RareVictorian June 16, 2008 at 8:59 am

James, you make a good point that Shabby Chic may have saved this table from rotting away to oblivion. I’m all about preserving these pieces and if they have to go incognito for a while to do that, then that is fine with me.

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woodwright June 16, 2008 at 9:04 am

Hard to believe you’re planning to strip the pink paint. Merklen probably didn’t make too many pink tables. You could have a one of a kind there!

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RareVictorian June 16, 2008 at 9:06 am

woodwright, I figure that this is probably one of the rare cases that you can get the non-refinishers and the refinishers to agree it is warranted. Can’t be ostracized on this one.

That beautiful Oak needs to see the light of day.

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woodwright June 16, 2008 at 9:43 am

Hopefully it was painted over a finish, not stripped first, or bare wood – it makes a big difference when it comes to stripping it. The finish seals the wood, so the paint will not soak into/ penetrate the wood itself, but only sits on top of the finish. However – it is oak, which is an open grained wood (walnut, mahogany, ash, butternut, etc. are other open grained woods, as opposed to a closed grained wood like maple, cherry, birch, etc.). Open grained woods have open pores/ pockets that the paint gets into and makes it more dificult to strip than a closed grained wood. A brass bristle brush works very well for scrubbing the paint out of the pores. Brass is soft – so it won’t scratch the wood the way a steel wire brush will. They are a little bigger than a toothbrush. Get one w/ a wood handle – not a plastic handle which disolves with some strippers (available at most paint and hardware stores). If it still has it’s original finish under the paint – it’s most likely shellac – one of the easiest finishes in the world to strip. Denatured Alcohol and a #0 or #1 steel wool will melt the shellac away very quickly, but it won’t touch the paint – or any finish other than shellac. You’ll need a stripper for most other finishes. Strippers w/ Methelene Chloride work the fastest – but are also the most noxious – use w/ caution & have good ventilation – ideally outdoors. Waterbased strippers like Safestrip are the safest to use, but also the slowest working. woodwright

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Paul Tucker June 16, 2008 at 9:47 am

I’m hooked. This video refinishing is a great idea John. Can’t wait to see more.

I discovered in reading the American Cabinetmaker and Upholstery Journal, a 19th century trade journal, I discovered that Oak had only recently come on the scene as a high quality furniture wood. The Merklens worked almost exclusively with quarter sawn oak and mahogany.

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RareVictorian June 16, 2008 at 10:05 am

Lest anyone be mislead that I’m going to refinish this one myself, I will let you know that I’m not. Since I’ve never refinished anything in my life, I don’t want to cut my teeth on this one (I actually care how this one turns out).

I have another Merklen that is a disaster that I may work on myself when I have the time.

I hope to drop the Shabby one off at my local favorite shop today and take video #2….

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james conrad June 18, 2008 at 5:21 am

generally speaking, its a bad idea to use water based strippers on antique furniture. why? because water raises the grain of the wood and will require sand paper, a no no as sanding will remove any patina thats present on the surface of the wood. additionally, if any veneer is present on the piece, water is much more likely to damage it.

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JUST COOL Design Blog June 18, 2008 at 12:28 pm

liken it pink!

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Mike June 19, 2008 at 1:24 pm

Terrific idea! How much did you end up paying for the table?

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RareVictorian June 19, 2008 at 1:35 pm

wasn’t a bargain – several hundred and the cost to refinish will exceed that.

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RareVictorian June 26, 2008 at 7:36 pm

I saw the table today 95% stripped. Quartersawn Oak looks good. Getting the chunks of paint out of all the nooks and crannies is the next part…

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John Hogan August 17, 2008 at 4:50 pm

There is such a thing as “proper restoration” where the minimal amount of restoration is executed in order to preserve the originality of a quality antique with reverence for its past. On the other hand there is such a thing as “over restoration” which in essence does nothing for the piece and destroys all original value.

If one cannot live with a piece of antique furniture in its original state, that deserves its rightful place in history or a particular culture, then sell it to someone or donate it to a small museum that can preserve it the way it should be and appreciate it for what it is.

“Shabby Chic” after all, is a fashion trend that eventually will go out of style; and on many occasions in the future you probably will regret what you have done to a great piece of furniture that has been bastardized beyond a point of reversing the restoration process and becomes valueless.

Are we sure we are using the correct term “Shabby Chic” or is it “Shabby S…”? I have seen many great pieces converted to the Shabby Chic look and as a lover of beautiful antique furniture, I find it in actuality very distasteful on some occasions and very over priced for a particular look.

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RareVictorian August 17, 2008 at 5:14 pm

John, I bought it as a shabby chic piece and had the proper restoration done and it is now glorious. I did not put the shabby chic paint on. I bought it to rescue it from those coat(s) of paint.

The full process and final state is documented in all 4 videos, here and I hope you’ll watch them.

It doesn’t appear that you watched the full first video and may have assumed I painted it from the first frame preview image on the video player.

That is unfortunately how I found it but it is now in the condition it was intended and the quarter-sawn Oak looks better than ever.

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james conrad August 18, 2008 at 4:35 am

John Hogan, have you ever considered that “shabby chic” may have saved this Merklen table by allowing it to live in someones house as opposed to rotting away in some damp basement?

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John Hogan August 18, 2008 at 9:59 am

I have finally have gotten the time to look at your video. Great idea! Lovely table that you have brought back to life – to its original state! This is certainly not over restoration. Some crazy person obviously almost ruined such a gorgeous table.

Continue the great work! We need more people like you who appreciate great quality antique furniture and take pleasure in bringing it back to life. It is quite obvious that the finish was not original. However it would be interesting to know your views on Shabby Chic in terms of good quality antique furniture. I think I may know already know your opinion to some degree seeing that you have already gone to the painstakingly trouble to restore this beautiful piece.

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RareVictorian August 18, 2008 at 10:08 am

John, glad you could check the videos out.

My view on shabby chic is that is has no place for mid-to-higher end pieces.

I have seen many an inexpensive, mass-produced, late 19th and early 20th century piece that is worth about $20-$40 at auction but has a few interesting carving profiles that when “shabbied” looks like $200-$400.

It also depends on who is doing the work and their skill. Simply painting a solid color is not appealing.

In general I don’t like the look or implications of burying a finish, but there are some pieces that are saved from the dump that when “shabbied” make it back into someone’s home.

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