Restoring a Primitive Hoosier Cabinet
A hoosier cabinet restoration 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 treatment 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 its a large old furniture refinishing project and in my case a huge labour 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, and a built in sifter, a spice rack, knife drawer and even a cookbook holder. The wood work 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.
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 withl Look for furniture labels, dove tails, paint layers, stain 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 anyways, 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 your 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.
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 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 period 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 its 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 and screws set across the back.
I now had a clear vision for this hoosier makeover. Its being kept it 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 painted where it had once been paint, 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
- 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 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 and screws holding it all together.
I took out all the loose piece 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 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 their were slots in the front and the bottom. The ends of the cabinet pushed backed 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.
Unfortunately someone had cut a hole in the back, 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. Everyone 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.
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 wood cuts to replace only the missing pieces. The remaining pieces he reattached with wood glue and air nailed.
Check out how the drawers were originally put together. I find it unbelievable, whoever designed this primitive piece took so much time using what he had. The drawers were painted inside and outside, and then lined with non skid drawer liners.
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 your able to remove your hardware and again label them and place 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 your staining sand it until your 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 a air compressor so I air sprayed mine.
Vacuum all the dust up before painting.
Fill in any holes, dents etc. Although this piece was too rough too fill in every little bit, I filled in as many as I could, and taking the 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 manufacturers 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 until smooth. After the primer is dry, sand lightly with 120 grit sandpaper and check for silly paint drips, sand any your find off if necessary.
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.
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, then sanded the area behind it smooth. Gave it a thin coat of paint with an artists 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.
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.
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 mothers vintage linens, small kitchen decor pieces I use on the blog, and my good dining table linens. I hope your inspired to try one, or to buy one.
Other Old Furniture Makeovers
Old Secretary DIY Furniture Makeover
How to Repair Paint and Organize an Entertainment Center
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
Had I not been able to get our hoosier top sanded down to wood, I would have done this type of a finish on it. This veneer coffee table restoration has also held up well, and in this home its part of our basement family room furniture.