A Mega Craigslist Score and a Comparison of Refinishing Techniques

Craigslist everywhere is a hit-or-miss hodge podge, but I’m fairly certain that in Alaska it’s especially bleak.  There’s a lot of taxidermy (don’t try to tell Alaskans that stuffed dead animals don’t belong in the furniture category!), overstuffed ’80s couches, and mattresses so stained they look like crime scenes, selling for the bargain price of $150.   And yet I check it every day, sometimes several times per.  Last week that fiendish madness paid off big time when I came across this ad:

Red House West

I have been on the hunt for new nightstands and a credenza-y dresser for ages, and here they were all in one sweetheart of a package.  Obviously $550 is some serious dough, but if I were to buy just the nightstands from, say, West Elm, it would cost way north of $550 when you include shipping.  Let alone the dresser, which is crazy and beautiful, so needless to say I jumped at this.  Here’s what I ended up with:

Sales pamphlet found here.

Sales pamphlet found here.

Here’s a picture of a dresser like mine (not my actual dresser) looking fine:

Image found on pinterest.

Image found on pinterest.

When we unloaded them from the car the smell of talcum powder was dizzying.  The nightstands came complete with the crocheted doilies that topped them (though did little to protect them) for upwards of fifty years.  There was sort of a dingy, half-a-century-of-smoking-inside pall to the finish, and it was clear right away that more than just cleaning was needed.

Red House West

I decided that I would experiment with the nightstands first to see how little work I could get away with in tackling the dresser.  I chose the most damaged of the two to begin with; it had one leg that looked like a dog chewed on it, and so I decided I would have to go at the whole thing with an orbital sander to smooth it out.  The sanding only took about an hour, but my right hand was a painful claw afterward.  Here is what it looked like post sanding:

Red House West

The bottom shelf and back are a thin veneer and I was worried that they wouldn’t stand up to the orbital sander so I just lightly sanded them by hand.

After sanding I cleaned the table thoroughly and then used Danish Oil in Light Walnut to stain and finish it.

I waited about an hour, and then applied a second coat of Danish Oil.  After letting that dry for another hour (you probably don’t actually have to wait that long) I used Howard Feed-n-Wax to really make the wood sing.  And here is the result:

Red House West

It’s a pretty major difference, and let me tell you, in person the refinished version is FOXY!  I was tempted to give the second nightstand the same treatment, but one glance at the massive dresser reminded me that I owed it to my former-right-hand-now-claw to see if I could get away with a short-cut.

The second nightstand was in better shape than the first, but still pretty beat up.

Red House West

I lightly sanded it by hand, and then had a go with Katie’s beloved Restor-A-Finish in Walnut.

Red House West

The Restor-A-Finish couldn’t be easier: you just wipe-on wipe-off (while Mr. Miyagi’s voice echoes in your middle-aged ear) and call it good.  It took all of 15 minutes to do the whole nightstand and the results are pretty impressive:

Red House West

And here is the side-by-side comparison of them after they each got, to greater and lesser degrees, some TLC:

Red House West

It probably surprises exactly no one that the refinished version looks better than the restor-a-finished version, but I have to say that the restor-a-finish impressed the heck out of me.  I think for the dresser I will probably do a combination of techniques, but that’s a post for a later date.  And speaking of later dates, stay tuned for next Wednesday when I plan to share the nightstands in their final positions, including the results of my efforts at lining the drawers in velvet.

Anybody else gotten lucky with Craigslist lately?  If so, send ’em in to Good Score via email to redhousewest@gmail.com, or on Instagram by tagging #rhwgoodscore.  Check back in with us later in the week for a Pinterest Friday round-up of rooms that make great use of a color I’ve been loving lately–pink!

14 responses on “A Mega Craigslist Score and a Comparison of Refinishing Techniques

  1. papict

    I think you got a great deal on that furniture. I love the style and, despite the extra work involved, you got pieces that look classic yet stylish which makes them investment pieces. Side by side I definitely think the refinished nightstand looks best but, had I not seen that, I would have thought of the shortcut version as being a bang tidy job. Great bargain-hunting!

    I am entirely new to the whole Cragislist thing (they do have it in the UK but not covering the remote part of Scotland we lived in) and I have yet to find a bargain when skimming the listings. Maybe the trick is to do as you do and look daily to ensure I can snag any decent deals to be had.

    1. meramatthews

      Thank you, I think I did get a good deal even though it’s more money than I’m accustomed to spending on Craigslist finds. I’ve gotten a few good pieces off Craigslist over the years and it’s always been because I saw the ad soon after it was posted. Welcome to the Craigslist Craze–definitely let us know if you’re finding good stuff in PA! 🙂

    2. Stephanie Jones

      Can you tell me what you used for stain on the one that you refinished? I need to refinish a table top and am not sure where to start for a stain. I cannot find where anyone has put in writing on their show and tell, what exactly they have used.

  2. Marlene Miller

    What a score Mera! That dresser is a classic, you have such a great eye. Love the design of the center. I see hinges…. doors to open shelves?

    1. meramatthews

      Yes! Those funky doors in the center open to reveal three little drawers inside. Refinishing the design on the doors will be a real chore, but worth it! Thanks Marlene! xxoo

  3. Carol Crump Bryner

    I’m impressed by your refinishing skills, no matter what method you used. I probably would have just painted them white. My mother used to refinish furniture using some kind of horribly toxic stuff and old nylon stockings. I’m amazed our house never blew up!

    I’m wondering if you’ve decided which nightstand is “his” and which one “hers.”

    1. meramatthews

      Old nylon stockings, I wonder if that’s a secret of the masters! The his/hers question is a good one. Chester’s nightstand is more visible, but I’m likely to be more appreciative (he probably won’t notice that he has a new nightstand at all!). Thank you Carol!

  4. Ruth

    Really nice work, Mera. Looking forward to catching up on your blog, and maybe even you in person one of these days. 🙂 I did a lot of Craigslist shopping in the past few years, but nothing this exciting springs to mind. I’d love to talk to you about refinishing a piece I have at my house…. I’d like to move it out of the garage and into a useful place. 🙂

    1. meramatthews

      Hi Ruth! I’d love to talk with you about your refinishing job, though I’m certainly no expert. You can definitely get Restor-a-Finish here in town, I got mine at Home Depot. Let’s get together! 🙂

  5. bnwobsession

    Thank you so much for sharing your link on Thrift Score Thursday. I had to snort-laugh a little when I read the Alaska Taxidermy bit. So interesting how much Craigslist varies across the country (and world!). Off to pin, since I know I’ll need these refinishing tips someday!

  6. krista

    I know this is an old post, but I was searching for how to refinish a mid century dresser, and it came up! It cracked me up when I first started reading, because I live in Anchorage, and I remember when these were on Craigslist! I wanted them so badly, but they were out of my budget at the time. So maddening that everything that comes up here in AK is so expensive! Anyway, I have a dresser that was given to me 14 years ago for free, covered in stickers, and I had no idea at the time it was a gem. So I painted over it in green crackle paint. And added swirly drawer pulls. Awful. Yet I’ve hung on to it. I’m hoping to strip the paint and refinish the wood in a couple of weeks. Thank you for the tips!

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