What's New at Vintage Wood?​

Notes From the Workshop


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The Vintage Wood Shop Blog

Clawfoot End Table

August 29, 2017

This quarter sawn oak table with vintage ball and claw feet came in to the shop with a prominent ink stain in the table top and a broken leg and missing foot.  With great attention to even the smallest details, it has now been diligently repaired and restored.   Hunting down a matching foot for the broken one was the challenge of this project, taking us on many adventures over the past few months as we searched the stashes of neighbors, fellow refinishers, and antique stores.  Success came from the dusty bins of our friend Craig at V&L Stripping in Appleton, where we found a foot that was similar in design but a drastically different color.  With some creative painting, the foot now matches the original three.  The call is out to the patient owner and the piece will be returned to its home this week.  For those interested in a bit of history on the ball and claw design, check out this site. 


Storage Trunk for Sale

September 8, 2017

For sale, fresh from the Vintage Wood workshop. Typically our projects are commissioned by a private owner, but now and then a piece comes into our possession that can be restored and sold. This beautifully refinished trunk is cedar lined with a solid maple tray. Contact Mike or Bridget for details. [email protected]

Beginning of a Vintage Restoration

September 23, 2017

The finished projects from the shop are certainly beautiful and impressive, and we can build a stunning webpage full of gorgeous completed pieces, but what the casual viewer doesn't get to see is the amazing transformation many of our projects go through.   This desk, tucked away for decades in the basement of a family friend, came our way yesterday in a serious state of disrepair.  This dusty family heirloom is missing a base, has peeling and chipped veneer, and has  several broken parts.  We hauled it back to the shop, and over the next few months it will be stripped, rebuilt, refinished and ultimately be a showcase of what Vintage Wood and Fine Finishing is all about.  Stay tuned for the "after" shot!

Recipe for Building a Business


October 24, 2017

After five months of what can definitely be labeled as "the start-up phase",  we're finally feeling like we've established ourselves as a legitimate business.  Since spring we've put in lots of hours preparing to do this full-time and successfully. We started with a garage full of Mike's tools that he had accumulated over a lifetime, for what was, until now, mostly a hobby.   Those tools, Mike's 8+ years of experience honing his skills in a refinishing shop in Appleton, my organizational skills and fiscal sensibilities, and our mutual desire to be partners in all aspects of our day to day lives.  Mutual respect and joint decision making.  Faith and trust.  Those main ingredients were our recipe for starting a business.  That, plus a bare concrete slab next to the garage that he'd poured, just before we met, with some notion of making an extra stall for skid steer storage. 

This past June, when we decided to take the plunge and start up a refinishing business, the first step was building on that concrete slab to expand the shop space and then outfitting ourselves with the tools and supplies necessary to do this as a full time business. In addition, we had to go through all the legal and practical steps necessary to become an official small business (registering with the state, drawing up paperwork with our lawyer to file as an LLC, working with our accountant, and having lots of conversations with other small business owners who've traveled the path we're taking.) All in all the process of "starting-up" went off without a hitch, although we were both surprised by how much was required to get us to this point.  The first surprise was of course all the unexpected time, money, and effort required by that "quick" construction project on the concrete slab.  Constructing, roofing, installing windows, electricity, and heat took until just recently to feel finished (and, in fact, as I type, Mike is out in the shop once again drywalling interior walls.  So many many hours have been logged in on that particular aspect of construction. A fine furniture finisher he definitely is, a want-to-be professional drywaller, not so much). That space, now mostly done, is what Mike still tends to call the "garage". I, who have never seen a car cast a shadow inside that space, know better. I'm willing to bet that a car will never enter that addition to our house, and I rankle a bit every time Mike says "garage". "The Shop", I say, "Not garage. Shop." Every time. I know very well that the Subaru and Trailblazer will fend for themselves out in the driveway for as long as they both shall live. Mike optimistically proclaims we'll make room for our skid steer/snow plow in there this winter.  I'm doubtful, although his love for that skid steer is something to behold, so it may be a matter of if there's a will there's a way!

As for the actual business, furniture refinishing, we're now at the point where finished pieces are out the door regularly. The cash flow is coming in these days as much as it is going out, a great relief to Bridget the Bookkeeper. Take a peek at the pics above to see some of current projects we have going on. Besides what you see pictured, we also have recently completed a kitchen table and five chairs, a bunch of travel trunks, and we began phase one of a large job in a private home, doing work on customer's solid wood exterior doors, sidelights, and storm doors. We started with the interior doors, which we cleaned up and recoated to protect them this winter. We'll return in the spring to finish the exterior portions of the job. While refinishing and restoration is the mainstay of our business, we are open to on-site work like that.  Last week we looked at a kitchen that the customer wants to have repainted. He's also interested in having new hinges installed on the cupboard doors and having new drawer boxes with new slides built and installed. For this type of work we call in the professionals at Der Meister, an Appleton-based custom cabinet/furniture shop to give us a hand. We are open to anything that involves painting or coating, here at the shop or in the customer's home, and sometimes a combination of the two. As of right now we are booking jobs into February. 

Thanks for reading this far and supporting us as we launch this business. We couldn't do it without help from lots of different people. Just as it takes a village to raise a child , it takes a village to nurture a small business. If you know of anyone who seeking the type of services we offer, please refer them to us. We deeply appreciate and rely on word of mouth in a business like this.  Bridget and Michael

Something Old, Something New


November 27, 2017

Something old, Something new

November 27, 2017

Part of our regular business plan is to scrounge ads on craigslist and rifle through resale shops, looking for old furniture that could be brought back to life and sold to people who seek out beauty and quality, customers who shy away from the instant gratification of the big box world in favor of craftsmanship and durability. We bring the rummaged pieces into our shop a little worn with time but still solid. With a bit of work, a lot of attention to detail, and a fresh coat of finish, the beauty and function of old furniture is restored. These old pieces come from a different time when craftsmanship was a given, when furniture (and most everything else) was built to stand the test of time. When design wasn't just a matter of outward appearance, a quick sell, and a short lifespan. When "Lifetime Warranty" actually used to mean something and every town had a local "Fix-It Shop". We now live in a time when material goods are consumed and replaced often. Our stores and homes are filled with endless options that reflect the latest styles. The things we buy to use in our homes dazzle us from the display, but it is a beauty that is fleeting. The materials are usually imported and cheap. If we're lucky, the furniture comes on a delivery truck fully assembled, but quite often we take home a box of disparate parts, poorly written instructions, and cheap little tools meant to be used for the one assembly, then thrown away. Either way, delivered whole or "some assembly required", often these new things fall apart quickly. Styles change. We redecorate regularly, discarding the old and broken when we bring home the next factory made piece to replace the broken ones. What we save by buying the lower cost option at the outset, we end up paying for in replacement costs every few years, not to mention the hidden costs to our society that come from filling our world with discarded items. Next time you are searching for a way to furnish your home, consider buying old and making it new. Here at Vintage Wood, we can resurrect the pieces from the past, whether they are your own treasured family heirlooms or old items you pick up off someone else's curbside.

Trendy trunks

December 31, 2017

     One thing that I have discovered in the course of doing this type of work is that there are inexplicable and  coincidental trends that occur.  For instance, a couple of weeks ago on a day of driving around the Fox Cities giving estimates and picking up furniture, we ended  up taking two extremely similar drum tables from two separate unrelated customers. Up until that day, we hadn't ever had a drum table come in the shop.   That may have been a freakish fluke, but other trends have more lasting power.  One particularly noticeable trendy item lately is trunks.  All kinds of trunks.  We've had lots of customers bringing us old family heirloom steamer trunks, others who've picked up a beat-up resale trunk,  and  other customers have sought us out hoping to purchase a refurbished one. The trunk pictured here is an old tool chest from 1857 with our customer's great grandfather's initials on the top in addition to some shipping information from Europe on the front and some old baggage claim stickers on the sides...from Buffalo to Sheboygan...that only needed a minimal amount of work.  The worst of the damage was to the top that was at some point covered with contact paper that had adhered to the wood.   I scraped it down to bare wood, reapplied color and a coat of varnish to preserve it inside and out, and finally installed some new suede leather handles.    

     Trunks come in all shapes and sizes.  I recently found and refinished two identical stamped tin camelback trunks, which we then we sold to customers.  First step in the process is to chemically strip off the old red paint from the outside and the paper from the inside.  Then I sand the wood straps and go over the metal parts with a  wire wheel to remove most, but not all,  of the rust  because I want the material to retain some of its patina.  Then I stain the wood and give the outside a couple coats of varnish.   The next step of the process with these two trunks was to line the interiors with thin strips of cedar, the final step in restoring not only the beauty of an old piece but its function as well. (If you've never pulled out a blanket stored in a cedar lined trunk, you've been missing one of the simplest pleasures in life.)  

     The other type of trunks we have been working are are wooden.  The old steamer trunks that were covered with canvas and papered on the inside and the more typical "cedar chests",  manufactured by national companies like Lane or, more common in this area, the Bluebird trunks that were made in Sheboygan.   

      In the case of steamer trunks the first step is to remove the canvas through a multi-step process of first cutting the canvas off and then chemically stripping the chest..  The  paper inside is also removed.  It's always a surprise to find out what is underneath the canvas.     Usually the wood straps were made from ash while the body was made out of pine or maple.    After stripping and discovering what wood I'm working with, the next steps are to make repairs, sand the whole piece, and then stain and finish it.  Cedar lining is an option.  In many cases  the final step is to add new handles or lid closing hardware.

      Another style of trunk is  the more conventional  cedar chests built for storage that fall  in the home furnishings category.  They come in a wide variety of ages, shapes, styles, and condition.  Depending on the condition of the finish and what type of color is desired by the customer, stripping the piece is not always necessary.  At a most basic and relatively affordable level, I can "clean and recoat", a process that involves going over the top of the existing finish and will revitalize the beauty of the piece.  Minor adjustments to color are possible with this method.  For those looking for a more thorough restoration, I recommend a complete refinishing which always starts with stripping part or all of the original finish away and starting over with bare wood.  "Refinishing" is what is called for in cases when the customer wants to change the color or the existing finish is failing or when veneer is peeling or chipping (a common scenario with trunks).   

    No piece is beyond help.  The trunk we have in our house I found in the dusty corner of an old antique shop.  It was well used by a small battalion of semi-feral cats, who'd claimed it as their sleeping quarters.   My daughter thought I was crazy to pay $20 for what looked like nothing more than a disgusting piece of junk.   Now it is a beautiful centerpiece in our living room, and instead of a residence for poorly behaved cats, the trunk is the lovely home for the cedar scented blankets my wife  curls up with she reads books about battalions and feral cats .   When you run across a treasure masquerading as trash, take the time to look underneath the dirt and damage of the years.   Just as Lady Liberty promised the masses of immigrants who landed at Ellis Island,  with all their worldly possessions stashed in steamer trunks, by saying "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore"  Bring us your wretched refuse and we'll turn it into a singular memento. 

A Vintage Restoration Part 2

December 31, 2017

     This past week, after a few months in our shop, we returned this desk to one of my family's closest friends (Thank you for trusting us Dennis and Mary Kay!)  This desk was originally custom-built for Mary Kay's father at his place of business.  When he passed away it was moved down into their basement.  Later,  after being severely water damaged, it was brought up out of the basement in pieces and moved into Dennis's shop.  There it sat for years, buried and mostly neglected, serving as a makeshift storage bench.  Fast forward to this past October when, at Dennis's request, we helped uncover it and haul it out with the intention of bringing it back to life.  The first step, after getting it back to our shop, was seeing the full extent of the damage it had suffered... much worse than it  had initially appeared.  One side was falling off.  All of the large veneer panels on the bottom were missing or junk.    There was no base trim and the bottom two inches (or more) of the vertical leg supports were rotted.  The drawers were in horrible condition, and most were missing bottoms.  The desktop was a motley assembly of four boards that had long ago fallen apart.  The drawer slides were handmade, and no surprise, they too had deteriorated over the years beyond functional.  

     The first step was to knock the whole desk apart while assessing what could be repaired and what needed to be remade.  This sorting process led to a substantial pile of unsalvageable boards and broken pieces, all of which I would end up manufacturing from new wood.  Bridget looked at that discard pile and gleefully added almost half a desk to her kindling collection for our fire pit (my woodworking passion is no doubt equaled by her wood burning passion.  A match made in heaven, kind of like Jack Sprat and his wife.  I end up producing lots of wood scraps, she burns them up.  Nothing gets wasted here.)  I carefully stamped every remaining piece with a label, so that when the time came to put it back together, I would know how to fit each piece to the next.  Then off to the stripper's went the collection of stamped boards and nine salvageable pieces of veneer that had been spared from our nightly bonfires.    

        After we got everything back from our friend Craig (a.k.a "the best stripper in the valley"), it was time to rebuild.  I started by gluing the top together,  fitting the rails and stiles back in place, and manufacturing two brand new vertical leg supports (you can see one of the leg supports in the third picture from the left at the top of the page... look on on the far right corner on the side of the desk.)  I used brand new veneer on all the exterior panels and reused those nine salvaged original panels on the inside of the desk.  Then the challenge was remaking the base trim with new wood, staying true to the original while aiming for a look that was aesthetically pleasing.  After that was the process of rebuilding the drawer boxes.  I used Douglas -fir boards for the bottoms, just as the original builder of the desk had done. Then new inside drawer slides had to be constructed and installed.   At that point everything was assembled and looked once again like a desk.  A desk that looks like the original, but was in reality made from a hodgepodge collection of old and new materials, red oak and white oak, veneers and solid wood.  

     The next part of the process is what keeps me awake at night, plotting my strategy to use various colors and toners  on these vastly different materials in a way that results in a uniform appearance, all the while striving to maintain its character as an antique.  

    (Bridget writing here... As someone who is still new to the intricacies of the craft behind what Mike does, I want to add my two cents in here.  What Mike is writing about here, what keeps him awake at night...this is what sets professional refinishing apart from  everyday do-it-yourself projects.   We all know that a chef or professional cake decorator does something above and beyond what most of us do on a daily basis in our kitchens.  I myself am a pretty good cook and I'm not ashamed to admit it.  My bread is amazing and each meal I cook ends up pretty tasty.  But I also know that I function on a level much different from someone who went to culinary school.  So I wanted to interject here and draw a parallel between the home cook vs. the master chef, and a dyi hobbyist who enjoys refinishing stuff v. Mike's craftsmanship.  Just as the master chef understands the interplay and nuances of each ingredient they use way beyond anything I do in my kitchen, likewise a professional woodworkerunderstands the subtle differences in wood types, their own natural tones and affinities for absorbing certain colors but not others.  This is what sets a professional finisher from what most of us can accomplish by watching HGTV.  Mike has a deep understanding about the way the wood was milled, the grain and texture of various woods, and how all of that influences the final color.  At a professional level the process involves so much more than picking out a color of stain at the local home improvement store and spreading it on the wood.  I'm continually amazed by the artistry that happens in our humble shop every single day.  Okay... back to Mike and his description of the final stage of resurrecting this desk).

     I was fortunate when we got to this phase of adding color back to the desk that Dennis chose a medium brown, a color which gives me room to play around.  I worked with three different stain colors to get what appears in the end to be one color.  I used one color for the desktop, another for the veneer panels and the new wood, and the third stain went on the original pieces on the side.   At this point the desk was ready for its first coat of varnish and then the refinishing step which I refer to as toning.  This can be done a variety of ways but what I did on this desk was to use an aerosolized color (or toner) to blend the disparate colors together,  along with doing touchup on nail holes and glue joints.  The project was winding down at this point.  I applied a second coat of varnish, did a final sanding over the surfaces, and then applied the final coat of varnish.    The last step was the assembly, which is generally painless as long as I've done the prep work correctly.   Luck was with me, and everything fit together nicely.  With a call to Dennis to set up a delivery time and another call to my strapping 21 year old son, we loaded up the completed desk in the trailer and returned it to Dennis's shop where, rather than a makeshift shelf, it can once again be used as the desk a long ago woodworker intended it to be.

Restoration of Antique Shadow Boxes

January 19, 2018

    A customer came to us with an unusual request. Tucked away in her mother-in-law's old farmhouse, she found something unique that struck her as worthy of restoration. A set of Vienna Art Plates from the turn of the last century. These tin serving trays with iconic portraits were often released as advertising or promotional items by companies like Coca-Cola. The plates themselves were in good condition and improbably all the original glass was still in tact. But the frames themselves and the boxes showed the wear of time. The gilded paint was worn away, molding was chipped or broken off in many places, and mildew had overtaken the surface. Our customer recognized the uniqueness of the plates, and wanted the frames and boxes restored to make them worthy of display. Mike, who enjoys the challenge and creativity involved in a task like this, happily took on the job. Take a peek at the transformation. We're eager to make this delivery tomorrow and see the customer's reaction to the transformation from moldy discovery to elegant collection.

Celebrating 100

December 31, 2018

  With just over a year since we made the Vintage Wood dream a reality and started up as an official LLC, we recently reached the milestone of invoice #100. Seeemed like an appropriate time to update our page and show pictures of this 100th project, along with some other notable projects with less notable invoice numbers.

Many many times along the way this past year, probably almost as many times as we have invoices in our records, Bridget has come out to the shop to find me presenting her with a beautiful finished piece and requesting that she take a picture of it for the website. She almost always beams admiration at my work and says, "That's amazing. Yes, of course I can take a photo". Then a pause, followed by raised eyebrows and her query as to where the before shots are that she so often reminds me we'll need as comparison. Bridget's advice hasn't quite sunk in enough yet, so generally in my eagerness to get started on something, I've had a piece stripped and well on the way to being restored before the thought of a photo crosses my mind. So, for now, you are going to have to rely on the written word and your imagination when you look at the "after" shots for these pieces. A great many of the pieces we work on start out looking quite rough, something most of us would pass by even if it sat free on the curb, thinking it was not possible to restore or worth the effort. Fortunately our customers have an eye for possibility and an appreciation of the quality of these old pieces that generally far surpasses what can be purchased brand new.

Our milestone 100th project was a walnut, figured-maple bedroom set that included a four-drawer dresser, a vanity with mirror and a full-size headboard. The set had belonged to our customer's parents but had been languishing in her garage unused for many years. The headboard had a cigarette burn all the way through the maple veneer. The top of the vanity and dresser had many spots that had been damaged by leaking batteries. Between cosmetic touchup and reveneering the center shelf on the vanity, the damage is now unnoticeable. The set came together beautifully. Besides the nostalgic affection we had for this job as our 100th, it was also an excuse for a somewhat romantic getaway since the customer had moved to Madison since the set came into the shop earlier in the year. On delivery day, we made an excursion out of our "work day", thoroughly enjoying our visit with the customer and her family, then spending the rest of the day enjoying Madison and some strolls down Bridget's college memory lane.

I'd like to mention a couple other notable projects that also came our way this year. We had a beautiful set of birdseye maple bedroom furniture that came to us via a recommendation from the Harp Gallery (Thanks Ken) in Appleton. The set had a few layers of finish on it. Thirty years ago the owner had recoated the set by staining it a dark black/brown and then putting varnish over the top of the existing finish. This set was fundamentally in good condition but the veneer needed quite a bit of reglueing back on to the subsurface. Over the years, as often happens with old furniture, the veneer had pulled away naturally and even more from stripping the old finish off. I particularly liked the curved-top dresser on this set and the quality of the materials used, including the solid maple drawer sides and the mahogany veneer drawer bottoms. Once restored and refinished, all that original quality and craftsmanship was revealed.

A small drop-leaf table came into the shop in serious need of veneer repair, especially on one of the drops. The customer wanted it finished gray to match her decor. After discussing the possibilities and options to attain the look she was going for, we settled on a process that I had previously developed to acheive a similar look on vintage/reclaimed material furniture for Scott Boncher and the other folks at a local innovative business called Urban Evolutions. This process involves painting over wood with a grey primer, glazing it with a black gel stain, and then topcoating it all with a couple of coats of varnish. The result was exactly what the customer was hoping for, the grey finish accenting the design elements she already had in the home office where the table was placed.

Thank you to everyone who has supported us over the past year. First off there were the 99 customers who came before #100. On our completed project list there is kitchen cabinetry, dining room sets, trunks, passage doors, exterior entryway doors, bathrooms, and custom-built furniture. Our customer list consists of professional contractors who need cabinet and trim finishing work done on their customers' kitchen remodels and other interior prorjects, many family and friends who have supported me as I've dabbled with woodworking and learned this finishing trade over the years (including my parents and other family members who now that I am officially in business pay me for my work on their home improvement projects), and the many many folks out there who simply appreciate old and beautiful furniture.

Thanks especially to Mark Hameister at Der Meister Cabinetry, Troy Mueller at Finding Time Contracting, Grant Thompson at Grant Thompson Construction and Matt Hurteau at Polar Bear Construction. We wouldn't have got this far without the support of a great network of friends, including my old boss Dan Nelessen at Nelessen's Custom Finishing for all the referrals and help, my friend and former coworker Dave Van Valin for taking the time to teach me how to do this work, Ron Colling for spending his retirement out in his garage recaning chairs, and Craig Lutz at V and L Stripping for the finest stripping services in the Valley. Also thank you to Dean and Ellie Papendieck at Chilton Upholstery for encouraging me to get out on my own , for helping Bridget and me set up the business end of things, and for continuing to send all the referrals our way.

As we ring in 2019, and think ahead to our hopes for our second year in business, we look forward to another year working with our existing customers and getting out there to meet new faces. Of all the joys this venture has brought us, we cherish those days full of appointments, when we travel around the Valley, knocking on doors and being welcomed into people's homes. If asked to explain what we love the most about this work, at the top of our list is the time spent getting to know our customers, hearing their family stories, and ultimately returning with a restored family treasure or unveiling an updated new look in their living space. Bridget and I thank you for the opportunity to share these experiences with you. Blessings and joy on your upcoming year.