Create an Heirloom With Grandma's Old Letters

4 Materials
5 Hours
I purchased this pair of almost matching nightstands at an online auction for $25 at the beginning of March. When I bought them I thought they were exactly the same. I carried them out of the basement where I purchased them, lugged them into the car, unpacked the pair then set them in my garage. It wasn’t until a week later that I tell my husband, you know, those nightstands don’t match. What do you mean they don’t match? After all, he was there when I picked them up too. Then we proceed to pick out all the differences. The most glaring difference is the base. Who wouldn’t notice that? The one on the right has paneled sides and square corners, the one on the left has plain sides and rounded corners. The drawers on the left are slightly wider than the drawers on the right. Almost exactly the same.
 In my defense 1) I wasn’t looking for a difference 2) It was a dark basement 3) I was looking at the tables from the top, obviously not very closely 4) The wood was the same 5) the drawers were the same 6) I’m blind.While I like the knotty pine there is not one thing in my house that is this color. So if you hate people painting natural wood, I’d advise you to look away. For everybody else, this pair of nightstands is about to get a makeover.
My first inclination was to have the top left natural just stained darker. After much sanding with an electric sander and a hand sander the only thing I was doing was clogging up my sandpaper with what appeared to be wax.
I wasn’t getting very far with sanding the top so for the time being I just ignored it and went on to the drawers and sides. The entire bottom part of the nightstands got 2 coats of gray chalk paint.
Now for the transforming of your piece into an heirloom. Find some old handwritten letters preferably from your own family or just google handwritten letters and adopt a family.  I’m using a couple letters, the one above was written by my great grandmother in 1893. She would have been 13 at the time writing to her nephews and niece and describing a trip to the Chicago World’s Fair, riding the Ferris Wheel (first ferris wheel in the world), paying for an elevator ride which was only a few years old at the time, walking thru the Manufacturing Building and seeing the Streets of Cairo, an exhibit at the fair.Scan your letters into your computer and use your editing software to turn it into a black and white print.  
Enlarge your letters and, if needed, combine with other letters to take up a full sheet of paper. Print out on tissue paper.Since the inside of my drawer frames were 3 inches high and 15 inches wide I would need two halves for each drawer, so those 2 sheets of paper above would be enough to make 3 drawer inserts.I’ve printed on tissue paper before so that the texture of canvas would show thru an art print or the tissue paper would bend when modpodging a plate. This time I’m printing on tissue paper so that my dark gray background color will show thru.So I don’t have to go thru the steps of printing on tissue paper, please refer back to my   clock plates.Once the tissue paper has been printed with your letters cut them out the exact width and height you will need for each drawer.
Paint on a layer of Modpodge then gently lay down the tissue paper pressing out any air bubbles. You'll get a few creases but that just makes your paper look that much older.
Gently seal the tissue paper with a second layer of Modpodge.
Let the Modpodge dry, some of the gray should show thru the tissue paper.Lightly sand the edges of the drawer for a time worn look.
Finish with a coat of vintage wax painted on and the excess rubbed off.While you’re at it, give the entire lower part of the nightstand and the knobs a coat of the vintage wax and wipe off the excess.
If you were able to get all of your old varnish or wax off of the top I would recommend a nice stain that seeps into the wood and an oil or poly finish. Since I couldn’t get all the old wax off, I decided to go with my old standby of vintage wax and black paint.  This is the Waverly brand of wax, available at Walmart since that was the only store open when I was doing this project.I’m sort of using the wax as a paint, a thicker coat than on the body of the nightstand and instead of wiping off the excess I’m allowing it to dry. While the wax is still wet add a little black chalk paint, blending it into the vintage wax.If your finish shows the paint brush strokes, smooth it out with a sponge brush.If you would like your finish darker, repeat with the wax and black paint. Make sure you blend the black in well so it doesn’t look like a paint stripe. Finish with the clear wax. You may want to give all the surfaces of the nightstands a coat of the clear wax for added protection, especially the edges of the drawers.Note: This finish may scratch, so if you think your piece will be getting a lot of wear, start with a layer of chalk paint, either dark brown or black.
Once the wax is completely dry, and I do mean completely, let it dry overnight or in the sun if it’s taking too long, buff all the wax with steel wool. The visual difference is slight but the feel is amazingly smooth. The right side above has been buffed with the steel wool.
My finished heirloom nightstands. Probably nobody will ever read the letters but I'll know their history.
The nightstands replaced my old ones which only had one drawer.If you would like to see a couple more projects with old letters and lots more photos from this project visit me over at
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  • Susan Susan on Jun 21, 2020

    Great job!! You're very fortunate to still have these letters as sadly most people thrown them away. Not only are they beautiful, but you now have a family heirloom!!!!

  • Erin Erin on Jun 08, 2021

    Great job! Night stands don’t need to match.

  • Joy Wisener Joy Wisener on Jun 11, 2022

    I’m assuming you print on a laser printer not ink jet?

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