Ask Mr. Furniture

Refinishing furniture can be a fun–and profitable!–hobby for those who have a creative side and enjoy inhaling toxic fumes.  Mr. Furniture answers your questions and helps you turn “gunk” to “glow” and “crap” to “crapola.”

Dear Mr. Furniture–

I have a bone to pick with you.  I have been after my husband for years to refinish the chifferobe in our bedroom.  I inherited it from my mother, just barely gettting it out of her house before my sister-in-law had a chance to grab it.

Well, “Floyd” (not his real name in case his sister is reading this) finally agreed to start on it Labor Day weekend but he is not very “handy” so he asked me what he should do.  I read Chapter 3 of your book “From Junk to Jewels!” where it says it takes about a quart of alcohol to remove the finish from an average-sized chifferobe.  I told “Floyd” and went to the regional meeting of the Daughters of Ruth at our church, figuring I was entitled to some time off after hectoring that man for the better part of a week.

Well, when I come back he was asleep on the couch, passed out with a fifth of Old Crow in his hand.  I shook him until he woke up and I said “This is how you repay me for having sex with you once a week, regular as clockwork, for 29 years?”  It was a rhetorical question, I wasn’t expecting any real answer.

He blinks and says “Sorry, honey.  Burton’s Liquors didn’t have the quart bottle, so I had to make do with a fifth.”  This is all because of you Mr. Furniture, and I am going to complain to your newspaper syndicate.

(Mrs.) Opal Lee Vacca
Camdenton Mo.

Dear Ms. Vacca–

I must plead “innocent” to the charges.   I said use “wood alcohol,” not bourbon whiskey.  Had you followed my directions closely, your husband would be dead and this argument could have been avoided.

Dear Mr. Furniture:

I bought an old commode–I suppose there is no other kind with indoor plumbing being nearly universal now–which I would like to refinish and turn into a decorative conversation piece for my front parlor.

I considered a sewing table, then a buffet, then a coffee table, but it really is not suitable for any of these uses.  I have decided to make it into a baby grand piano and was wondering what color stain you think would go best.

Eve-Elise Brisker-Norton, Shrewsbury, Mass.

Dear Eve-Elise–

What a great idea–you certainly have an imagination!

I would use a darker stain, such as mahogany, English chestnut or Minwax #2718, “Espresso.”  Be sure to add plenty of white and black keys and your little project will be a “hit” the next time you have your artistic friends over.

Dear Mr. Furniture–

My husband Evan and I are practicing vegans, and strictly abstain from the use of animal products, even those that may have dinosaurs in them, such as motor oil.  I read the column in which you said “shellac–the traditional finish of the old cabinet-makers–is still the most widely used by the home refinisher.”  You said nothing about any animal products being used in its manufacture, did you?

Well, when we had our fellow vegan friends Tim and Lisa over for dinner of lentil soup, lentil bread, lentil loaf and and macrame pudding, I told them I had used shellac on an end table I found on the curb where a student had discarded it, and they were horrified.  “Don’t you know shellac starts out as a resinous substance deposited by the female lac bug on the trunks of trees in India?” Tim said.  He has been on Jeopardy! and won over a thousand dollars, and so is very smart.

Female lac bug, making a resinous deposit.

Well, of course word got out–Lisa is like that–and now we are no longer invited to the “nicer” vegan affairs and our children are shunned by other vegan children on the playground.

I have a hard time being sarcastic because I am a nice person, but any suggestions, Mr. Furniture?

Miriam Konitz, Evanston, Ill.

Dear Miriam–

Don’t get your animal-friendly underpants in an uproar!  No lac bugs are killed in the making of shellac, and they survive the process quite well unless you paint the stuff over them–which I’m sure you wouldn’t do.  In order to get back in the good graces of your vegan friends, why don’t you go through Tim and Lisa’s garbage and see if you can find a Burger King Whopper wrapper!

“Haven’t you got something a little more damaged?”

Dear Mr. Furniture–

This question may be more legal than refinishing, but here goes.  I import new furniture from my native Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, and sell it at a mark-up as antique.  There has been an anonymous posting on my store’s website making the absurd claim that this is unfair and deceptive–I suspect a disgruntled law student who tried to return a coffee table kit because he couldn’t figure out how to put it together.  “Mycket svar!” I told him, because it was more than 30 days after purchase and he did not have the sales receipt.

I am now afraid that he may take legal action.  Is there something I can do to bring myself in compliance with your annoying U.S. “consumer protection” laws?

Sven Bjorklund, Croton-on-Hudson, New York


Welcome to our country, where commercial chicanery is now somehow suspect after two hundred years of robust economic growth under the motto “Caveat emptor.”

In order to satisfy the Fair Trade in Antique Furniture Act of 1994, you should follow this “safe harbor” procedure: Take all new furniture as soon as it is uncrated, and fire a shotgun at it.  Attach by a log chain to the back of a vehicle and drag around an asphalt parking lot for fifteen (15) minutes.  Drop down a basement stairway, then place in an open pickup truck bed and drive through a carwash.

Your “new” furniture will look as “good as old” when you get through, so don’t forget to mark it up another ten percent!

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Take My Advice–I Wasn’t Using it Anyway”


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