The Cross House

Refinishing the Butler’s Pantry


Originally, the butler’s pantry was finished bright. Then somebody — argh!!!!!!!! — decided it would be a good idea to paint the exteriors in a two-tone paint job.


I have one door removed on the west wall. It is being refinished in the basement work room. Wanna see?


After removing the paint, I gently sanded, and then brushed on amber shellac. Wow. Wow!


WOW!!!!!!!! This is just one coat. NOTE: I did not remove the hardware (which I always do) because the old screws would NOT come out.


I am also working on the second TALL door from the south wall, which gets glass panels.


My plan is to work on the pantry in fits and starts. So, it will be beautiful…at some distant point.



19 Responses to Refinishing the Butler’s Pantry

  1. Hi Ross,
    – Another gadfly comment from one who has the face that has refinished a thousand ships. A needle file will usually make old screw slots clean and clear enough to remove hardware.The trick is to make sure that the shoulders of the slot are fully clear of paint and debris. One of the more frustrating things is when someone in the past has stripped the shoulders of the slot by using a screwdriver that did not fit the slot properly. In such a case, a needle file cane work down in the screw to create wider or new deeper shoulders for the proper turn of the screw. One can use a grinder on a cheap screwdriver that is larger than needed to make it fit the reground slot perfectly. Another reason that these screws will not budge is a combination of either/or …rust/ glue and a toothpick shim… , which can be neutralized by a pointed soldering iron, which can also be inexpensive. If you plug in the iron and rest the point on the screw head, the screw can become quite hot. This application of heat will usually break the seal on the screw to wood joint. At the end, one replaces the damaged screw with old undamaged ones.
    -I know that I am running on at the mouth( or keyboard as the case may be), but I feel that there may be some other purist out there who could be interested.
    -Quite often, back in the day, cabinetmakers did not have the correct length screws to fit the hardware. They often cut a longer screw to length, which resulted in a screw without its driving point. They would the use glue and toothpick like shims to make it work.
    -I could say this is pointless, but I have found that there is a point even if the screw no longer has one. As one who works with American Period furniture that was built before manufactured furniture came into style. I save every single old non-galvanized slotted screw that I can find. I have the collection of slotted screws that my grandfather, born 1893 and died 1990, put together… plus many screws from many pieces of furniture that I have bought or worked on since 1977 when I got into restoring Federal furniture. I am currently sorting this collection by size and length. I find that there are so many that have been cut down. When describing them to allocate them to a storage drawer, I put my tongue firmly in my cheek and call them circumcised screws.
    -I hope that this posts coming off as witty and gay rather than sad and pathetic!
    – Getting back to the part, which is meant to be helpful, I might mention that if you find, after removing the original screws, if you go to all of the work to do so, and find that they have been shortened, I have sufficient uncut, slotted, un-galvanized screws in most sizes that I would be happy to provide you with the right sizes and lengths so that your cabinet doors would be pointedly correct, (I am hoping to avoid hubris), without having to have a bris of your own.

    • Stewart, I always enjoy your informative posts. Especially I like your tip about using the soldering iron to heat the screw and break the glue bond. I enjoy refinishing old furniture and have run into this problem a number of times. I will definitely try your suggestion when the need arises again.

      BTW, I appreciate the chuckles I got from your humor!!

  2. Somewhere I missed what type of wood is used in the pantry. The door you have been working on looks much lighter. Not talking about the painted areas. Looks great so far.

  3. I just got one of those infrared heat strippers, and have been working on some paint grade pine. I have not had to strip to bare wood, just getting down to first coat or thereabouts to get a nice profile on the wood trim again. Are you using chemical stripper? I am new to the infrared heater. It is supposed to be safer than a heat gun (400 degrees versus 900’ish?). I know you are not a heat gun fan! The infrared is supposed to be non-flammable, but I am still a little worried about it – I still scorched a little of the paint, which makes me think I could still be getting things hotter than I want. I have gotten better at using it, and not letting it rest on one spot for as long, so my day two and three work is much better.

    Anyway, those doors look terrific!

    • I bought a Cobra infrared stripper last year, and have stripped about 5 miles of trim with it; it is the best way, at least for me. I practiced on some non-original trim that I was replacing so that I could “get the feel” for it before I started on my good trim, and I completely love it. I remove the paint with the stripper and a triangle scraper, then once it has cooled off, I go back over it with the scraper to remove any residue; I then wipe it with denatured alcohol, which usually gets it 100% clean. Some of the more detailed trim requires a dental pick. It is amazing how the details pop out, some that were completely obscured by the umpteen layers of paint.

      • I first heard about the Cobra on this blog, so I may be following in your footsteps! My wood was always paint grade, so I am not going down to original finish, just trying to get some definition back. I like the Cobra too.

  4. Those really did come out great! I’m impressed at how clean they turned out, even in the cracks and joints. Generally that’s where the really stubborn paint ends up (and often requires some color-matched paint or stain to hide).

    I’m also curious what removal technique you used on these.

  5. I too have removed miles of paint off wood and found this post to be very informative. I have used a heat gun for years but also worry about hot spots or fire. I am definitely going to look into the cobra. I have an old rocking chair that someone painted green, orange, and yellow. I wish I knew how to post a picture to show you. Question: How do I remove the paint from the leather in the center of the seat without damaging it?

    • Dawn, the Cobra works wonderfully, especially on wood facings, trim, and small areas; however, it is expensive, so probably not feasible for a few small jobs unless the rocking chair is a cherished family heirloom. You can still scorch with infrared, but it is much less likely. I practiced on scrap trim before I attempted to use it on the important stuff, and it turned out great!

    • Dawn, just curious, are you sure that is leather in the center of the seat? I have refinished a bunch of pressed back chairs and in every case the piece in the center of the seat that looks like leather turned out to be some kind of pressed fiber board. Originally the chairs had caned seats, but when they wore out, the fix at the time was to nail the pressed fiber board over the hole in the seat, usually with brass head decorative nails. If you look under the chair and there are holes drilled around the opening, the chair was most certainly hand caned. Alternatively, if you remove the “leather” piece and see a channel around the opening, then it was caned with cane fabric held in place by spline. I don’t want to take up space on Ross’s blog but if you would like to discuss, email me at [email protected] and I’ll send you my phone number and a couple of pics of what I’m describing. Best of luck!

  6. I just happen to be looking at a new Dunn-Edwards Paints Historic colors brochure and on the cover is a Victorian butlers pantry cheerfully painted in three color ways. Shame as the woodwork is stunning.

Leave a Response

Your email address will NEVER be made public or shared, and you may use a screen name if you wish.