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Our Fabulous Hoosier Cabinet Restoration

Restoring a Primitive Hoosier Cabinet

Restoring a Hoosier cabinet is an ambitious undertaking that’s going to take some time to complete. Of course, each Hoosier cabinet is different, has aged differently, had different treatments, and can require a wide range of different makeover repairs. I don’t want to prevent you from restoring a hoosier cabinet, I just want you to realize it’s a large old furniture refinishing project and in my case a huge labor of love.

I spent 9 full days working on refinishing my hoosier cabinet and each day I couldn’t wait to go work on it some more. Hubs told me he doesn’t get it, but he certainly could tell I was totally nuts about it.

What is a Hoosier Cabinet?

A hoosier cabinet is a stand alone kitchen cabinet that was a precursor to our modern day kitchen cupboards. Hoosier cabinets often included a flour bin, a built-in sifter, a spice rack, a knife drawer, and even a cookbook holder. The woodwork surface comes out from the rest of the cabinet to provide more workspace. The brand name Hoosier cabinet company closed in 1942, so they are definitely antiques. If you want to check out more about them here is a fun Hoosier History with Photos from Dusty Old Thing.

Although Hoosier cabinets are antique they are still functional. Even with a large set of cupboards, and a pantry this hoosier cabinet is a fantastic piece of furniture as another set of cupboards. I can always use more storage and bet you can as well.

A restore hoosier cabinet project with soft cream paint and stained top.

Setting Your Refinishing Goals

Hoosiers were often factory-made, some even came with built-in flour sifters etc. so you have to do a little investigating to find out what your cabinet was to begin with Look for furniture labels, dove tails, paint layers, stains etc. to give you some ideas on how to give it a new lease on life.

My Hoosier Cabinet Story

This particular hoosier cabinet was in very rough condition. It was shoved into a corner of the antique store and covered with all sorts of products. When I saw it was for sale instead of display, I had to have it. I luckily talked the price down as I would have gotten it anyway, but the store realized it was very damaged.

The first step is to bring it home, take the various sections apart, pull out the drawers, check out the finishing, the type of wood, missing pieces. Then decide if you’re going to make replacement parts, or leave it as is. Check out the hardware is it original? Is there any missing, if so look for replacements, they are available online.

A collage of a damaged hoosier cabinet. The before images with old paint, broken shelves and the back falling off.

Our hoosier cabinet is very very primitive. The back panels had come apart and somewhere along its lifespan someone had taken a 2 by 4 and screwed it to the back to hold the boards together. The images above show the bad parts.

But it has amazing good parts, I noticed that the tongue and groove fittings had been carved by hand. I mean seriously can you imagine the love that would have taken to create it? The drawers were fit together with various pieces of wood. It was much more primitive than I first thought but undaunted it just made me love it even more. I kept thinking about all the love and time that had been put into this cabinet. I bet it was a gift to someone made from using what they already had. There is no way to tell how old it is, other than it had to be from the time women wanted hoosier cabinets.

The upper and lower cabinets have the same style of backing so I think they are a set and not two separate pieces they “married” together. Also, they have the same outer paint that looks like it’s been there for years.

Check out the green painted interior. Someone had been rather harsh on the cabinet, it was painted poorly and looks like it had spent some years out in a barn or outside building. The back pieces of the lower portion that had been so carefully carved had fallen apart and were held in place with a crude 2 by 4 screws set across the back.

I now had a clear vision for this hoosier makeover. It’s being kept intact as much as much as possible. I wasn’t going to replace any current pieces but would add wood to the drawer frame. It was being re-painted where it had once been painted, and the top was being stained as I think it was stained originally. The back is not being refinished, other than regluing.

Supplies to Restore Hoosier Cabinet

Here is the list of all the supplies we used for our hoosier cabinet makeover.

  • Paint Stripper – Citrus Strip
  • paint scraper
  • 80, 120, 150 grit sandpaper
  • Wood glue
  • Air nailer or small nails
  • Small level
  • Hammer
  • Small paint roller
  • 1 1/2 inch paintbrushes
  • Zinsser 123 primer
  • Fusion Mineral Paint in Limestone
  • White latex paint for interior (Sherwin Williams Extra White)
  • Minwax Stain in Weathered Oak
  • Minwax Polyacrylic sealer
  • rags, vinegar, soap

Cleaning the Hoosier Cabinet

Start by giving your vintage cabinet a really good cleaning to remove the ick factor. Vacuum out all the cobwebs, underneath, inside and on the back. Wipe down all the surfaces with soap, and warm water. I prefer to use wood soap for this, but you can also use Dawn dish soap with a couple of drops of vinegar.

Making the Hoosier Functional

Once I took the drawers out and started cleaning I wasn’t so sure we would be able to keep the drawers working so I returned them to their slots.

The Hoosier Back

We very carefully took apart the back of the lower cabinet by numbering each piece in pencil and then removing the two-by-four screws holding it all together.

I took out all the loose pieces of tongue setting them carefully aside in order. We were able to keep the last four pieces in place. We noticed some of the wood backing pieces didn’t have a tongue and groove. I suspect it was an earlier replacement, but we kept them and made it work.

We replaced each piece one at a time, cleaning the dust out of the cracks and adding wood glue. In the first picture, you can see the parts that were still solid. We worked from left to right fitting them in one at a time, making sure it was straight with a small level. Luckily we didn’t need to clamp anything as there were slots in the front and the bottom. The ends of the cabinet pushed back in to hold it all together and Hubs glued and air nailed the ends back together. Thankfully the back of the upper cabinet was good.

The back of a broken hooiser cabinet showing the interior with broken pieces.
An antique hoosier cabinet with a repaired back.

Unfortunately, someone had cut a hole in the back, so we left it as is, as we might use the hole to plug in lights.

Fixing the Drawers

The first thing I did when I saw the Hoosier at the antique store was check the drawers. Every one of them worked and didn’t stick. I don’t know how that was possible given how broken it was when we opened it up and assessed the issues.

The inside of a hoosier cabinet showing the different repairs needed with arrows and text.

After seeing everything that was wrong we left the drawers alone until we had the back repaired. Only then did we take the drawers out and hubs leveled all the uprights, replaced missing wood, and did it one drawer at a time. The original maker had to be extremely talented. He was able to see how it was originally built so duplicated the woodcuts to replace only the missing pieces. The remaining pieces he reattached with wood glue and air nailed.

The fixed internal part of when restoring a hoosier cabinet. There are arrows pointing to the replaced sections.

The Drawers

Check out how the drawers were originally put together. I find it unbelievable, that whoever designed this primitive piece took so much time using what he had. The drawers were painted inside and outside and then lined with nonskid drawer liners.

The drawers of a hoosier cabinet before and after. The before shows the broken wood pieces the after shows the inside painted and lined with drawer paper.

Repairing the hoosier cabinet only took about three hours, once we put everything together and let it dry overnight. Now the refinishing.

Preparing the Hoosier for Paint

Now we can get dusty, stripping the furniture down is a long step but so important for a nice long lasting paint finish.

Remove the drawers marking the back with their location. If you can remove your hardware, again label them and place them in a container so they don’t get misplaced. I did that for the drawers only, I kept the door hardware in place, I just wasn’t willing to risk the original fitting.

Raise the furniture off the ground. It makes it much easier to work on your piece and especially the bottom..

Stripping and Refinishing

Stripping and refinishing a hoosier is done the same as any old furniture refinishing. Wear a mask!! Be aware that you could be dealing with lead paint, you can test to make sure.

Strip off the paint first using whatever stripper you like. We’re out of the Citrus Strip from the USA, which is my favorite, so pick any brand you like. Once stripped sand with 120 grit paper, repeatedly, and I do mean repeatedly, until smooth. If you’re staining sand it until you’re back to wood. For a paint finish it doesn’t have to be sanded to bare wood, just sand it smooth.

I used a power sander to begin with and then finished it by hand starting with 120 grit. I repeated sanding everything by hand with 150 grit.

Using a tack cloth wipe the furniture to remove the last bit of the dust. We also own an air compressor so I air sprayed mine.

Vacuum all the dust up before painting.

The sanded and stripped top of a hoosier cabinet, showing three cabinet doors, and a long spice rack shelf.
The bottom section of a hooser cabinet makeover. The cabinet has been sanded and you can still see some paint.

Fill in any holes, dents, etc. Although this piece was too rough to fill in every little bit, I filled in as many as I could, and tookthe time to fill in any that I had missed as I did each layer of paint. Sand the wood filler with 150-grit paper until smooth.

Painting, Priming and Staining

Although I recommend removing all the hardware, on this piece I left the hardware in place, I wasn’t willing to risk destabilizing it. Refinishing is a joy for me, and I didn’t want the stress. Instead, I painted around each piece of hardware with a tiny brush to begin with, more about the hardware later.

Priming Old Furniture for Refinishing

For any painted surfaces once sanded I recommend using a paint primer. I like Zinsser 123 brand. Let the primer dry completely timing according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Paint all the surfaces both inside and out with the primer. For the drawers, you may not want to paint the sliders as they can get sticky. I painted ours and sanded it until smooth. After the primer is dry, sand lightly with 120 grit sandpaper and check for silly paint drips, sand any you find off if necessary.

The upper part of a hoosier cabinet being restored with primer on both the inside and outside of the cabinets.
A Hoosier cabinet bottom thats been primed inside and outside. You can see the drawer of the hoosier being refinished in the background, and the top is bare wood for staining.

The inside of the cabinet was painted in Sherwin Williams Extra White Latex. For the outside, I used Fusion Mineral paint in the colour Limestone. The bottom took three coats at the top took four to cover the yellow huge of the upper cabinet. I applied the paint using a small roller and a 1 1/2 inch brush and sanded it lightly with 150 grit sandpaper between every coat.

I hope you can see the end in sight, as I sure could as was beginning to get very excited about the hoosier.

A restore hooser cabinet project finished. The hoosier is painted a soft warm white with an weather oak stain top.

Staining the Top

I wasn’t confident that I could get the top of the hoosier cabinet down to plain wood. There were all sorts of little bits of paint deep in the grooves of the wood, that were resisting all my stripping efforts I used a small wire brush and cautiously removed the streaks inside the wood, and sanded some more. Eventually, all the little bits of paint were gone.

To sand the top of the hoosier cabinet I used Minwax penetrating stain in Weather Oak. I applied it with a brush and wiped it off with a soft rag.

As a final touch, we sealed just the top with Minwax polyacrylic.

Finishing the Hardware

Once the hoosier cabinet was painted and stained I tackled the hardware. Each piece was removed one at a time, and then sanded the area behind it smooth. Gave it a thin coat of paint with an artist’s brush, let it dry (it took 15 min approximately) and then replaced it.

To clean the hardware I soaked it in 50 percent vinegar and boiling water with Dawn dish soap. I let it soak for 10 minutes and then used a soft cloth to remove the paint.

Two pieces of hoosier cabinet hardware. One is clean and shiny the second one is covered in paint.

I think these knobs are very cool, I have never seen them before. They are made out of brass and fit onto the upper cabinet doors. You twist the handles to lock the cabinets closed.

The inside of a hoosier cabinet restoration showing the all white interior , with shelves. The cabinet is holding various white vintage decor pieces and linens.

This is one of those projects that I emotionally leapt into and am so glad I did. As each layer showed itself and then came back together I got more excited. Its filled with my mother’s vintage linens, small kitchen decor pieces I use on the blog, and my good dining table linens. I hope you’re inspired to try one or to buy one.

Other Old Furniture Makeovers

Old Secretary DIY Furniture Makeover

The fold out desk interior of a vintage secretary that received a painted furniture refinishing.

This vintage secretary served as my desk in our old craft room. I sold it when we moved because the woman who bought it loved turquoise.

How to Repair Paint and Organize an Entertainment Center

Fixed and painted white DIY Entertainment center makeover, in white with storage baskets.`

This entertainment center is brightening up our basement family room in our new home. Its held up well inspite of moving. Although I wasn’t thrilled with having to refinish it, I admit I love it now and it was worth the work.

Veener Coffee Table Restore

A greige restoration hardware finish on a DIY coffee table makeover. The table top is greige and the sides are bright white.

Had I not been able to get our hoosier top sanded down to the wood, I would have done this type of finish on it. This veneer coffee table restoration has also held up well, and in this home it’s part of our basement family room furniture.

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