The Furniture Cart

April 23, 2011

During a trip to KY to visit family we discovered Arhaus, which has totally rad furniture. While there, we found this:

Arhaus cart

It was gorgeous, and we wanted it immediately. But with its $700 price tag, we vetoed. Turns out, this refinished furniture cart is a thing. We saw them at several places around the Bay Area upon moving here. Restoration Hardware carries them for $1200 a pop, and the Alameda antique fair had a few for $500, which still seemed too expensive to us. Both of us have this tendency to think “Well we could do that” when we see stuff like this; we rarely act on that sentiment, but this time, we actually pursued it.

We found a guy selling unfinished carts on Craigslist and managed to snag two for $250. We thought that was a pretty damn good deal, until we actually got them home and inspected them. These things were filthy. Spiders living in them, flaky rust all over the back of my car and in our garage, loose rotting wood, heaps of exciting ways to get tetanus…they were kind of a mess. And we really had no idea how to go about restoring them.

The cart, disassembled

Before refinishing: paint splatters

Before refinishing: rusty metal

Allen’s dad, the handiest of men, served as our mentor through the process. We decided to start with the metal (iron) bits, which required us to take the cart apart. This took us hours and was a total bitch. Once apart, Dad gave us the brilliant idea to use a drill, fit with a wire brush, to zip the rust off the metal. This worked like gangbusters.

Sarah, de-rustifying

The screws and nuts and small brackets we soaked in vinegar to loosen the rust, then rinsed and dried them. We sprayed all metal with Rustolem Rust Reformer, a spray that basically causes the paint to bond and turn black on the rusty parts. After buffing the metal bits after painting, they looked rad. I then finished them with something called Renaissance Wax, which hardens after you apply it, doesn’t show fingerprints, and makes the metal feel kind of glassy.

The cart itself was covered in what we thought was paint, but what might have actually been plastic. It was a pain to remove, as was this black, speckly stuff that was all over most of the cart. A lot of people suggested at this point that we just leave the cart alone, that these stains added character. We disagreed; it didn’t feel finished yet. Dad suggested Oxalic acid, otherwise known as wood bleach, to help lighten the stains. This took several hours and multiple applications of the bleach but it eventually did indeed lighten up the wood and make it look much less ‘noisy’. This photo is before the application of the bleach.

Before bleaching

The dark stains we still found really objectionable though. We spent hours and hours sanding them down, before giving up with throbbing hands and achy backs. They definitely look way better, though the stains aren’t gone entirely.

We leveled the surfaces of the cart with another fun tool: a belt sander. This was a huge time saver, and as an added bonus, instantly makes you feel like a badass. Unfortunately it’s a tad bulky, so we did eventually have to sand the nooks and crannies by hand. The last steps were staining and adding a bit of personality with some stencils and a Sharpie.

We’re incredibly proud of how the final cart turned out. It’s gorgeous, really smooth, and is way more personal than anything we could have bought in a store. Plus, we picked up heaps of skills along the way, which felt really empowering.

Finished cart

Finished cart

Metal detail

Wood detail

Wood detail

Metal detail