Good morning and happy Hump Day! I have been working on a super special spinning related project over the last couple of months that I finally finished last weekend. This little upright wheel came to me in May of 2014. It was made in the early 1960’s by Anthony Cardarelle and became the inspiration for the Clemes and Clemes Traditional that is still in production today. From the day it came home with me I did a lot of work to it, or had a lot of work done to it.
The Cardarelle upright is a well built and very attractive little wheel but the one thing that has never quite sat well with me is how it was finished. The dark stain and heavy varnish was very unattractive to me. I was not sure if I wanted to try and sell it or keep it and put the work into refinishing it. After the treadle incident, there was really not much choice about refinishing it. I certainly could not pass it along to another spinner looking as it did, nor could I stand to look at it in my own herd of wheels. So, refinish it was.
I began by seeing how difficult the varnish and stain would be to remove with sandpaper alone, and if that proved to be too tedious I would have to look into using a stripper to remove the varnish. It did not take much sanding on the flat surface of the table to realize it was futile, especially when it came to the fine details of the drivewheel and spokes. But what stripper to use? I remembered that Chuck Miller had refinished an antique cabinet and had excellent results, especially with the finely detailed front, so I decided to give Citristrip a try on the Cardarelle.
The first piece to get sprayed was the lateral bar for the distaff. If this Citristrip stuff was not going to give me the results I was hoping for, I needed to know before I applied it to everything. If this one small piece came out all wrong or somehow got ruined by the toxic goo I was about to coat it with, it would be much less work to make right again or much less expense to get replaced. Fortunately, the Citristrip lifted that varnish up amazingly well leaving the stain behind, which only required a moderate amount of sanding with very fine grit sandpaper to remove. With that test a success, I began applying the stripper to the remaining smaller removable pieces, and once I was satisfied that the Citristrip was performing consistently, it was time to apply it to the main body of the wheel itself.
Sanding the smaller pieces went quickly. They got several coats of clear lacquer soon after, giving me a glimpse of what the rest of the wheel would look like when it was finished. Sanding the rest of the wheel took much more time. The smooth flat surfaces were easy enough, but the drive wheel and all of those spokes was a challenge. The fine detail of each spoke required folding and manipulating small pieces of sandpaper to get into the fine lines and turnings. My fingertips were getting raw from handling the sandpaper so I had to take a break for a couple of weeks to let them heal.
As the stripper liquefied the varnish it left behind some dried spots that were easily removed with a small blade. There were many parts where it was impossible to sand all of the stain off. I knew this would be the case, especially with the drive wheel, and I purposely left some of the detail there, especially on the spokes, a little less cleanly sanded. I was counting on the clear lacquer I chose to finish this wheel with to accentuate the darker spots of the wood, whether its own grain or stain that was left behind, and it did not disappoint me.
As soon as I was satisfied that enough sanding had been done, I carefully sprayed 3-4 coats of clear semi-gloss lacquer on the wheel, touched up the lacquer on a couple of the other parts, and gave it all sufficient time to dry. In a couple of days I was able to put everything back together and finally see what all that work was for, and I was (and still am) absolutely gobsmacked at how amazing this wheel looks now. It looks better than I imagined it would.
To say I am glad this project is over would be an understatement, and not just because the end result is so incredibly beautiful. I have never stripped and refinished a spinning wheel before. Did I enjoy the process? Mostly, yes. It was certainly an interesting experience and I learned a lot on the way, but I am not likely to repeat it any time soon. I am glad that I can finally use this wheel again too, and I was able put it through a pretty thorough test drive on Monday just to make sure that my refinishing efforts didn’t have any affect on its performance.
The Cardarelle is a special little wheel to me and it was well worth the time and effort on my part to see it through this transformation. I have always loved it even though I kinda hated the finish on it. Now I look at it with amazement and awe, and I’m thrilled that this cute little wheel which had sat neglected for so long before it came to me, now has a new life.