Complete Church Pew Restoration

by Dus17403359
11 Materials
70 Hours
This pew was quite literally falling apart. The owner of the pew wanted it to be usable and beautiful again. Being a family devoted in the strong christian faith, the pew was a symbolic testament to their beliefs. They asked me to restore it for them so it may be used again for years to come be everyone in the family. I was honored to do so.
Unfortunately, photos did not accurately describe the severe instability that the pew suffered. Over time the glue that was trying to hold the pew together, had broken down and lost its holding power. The underside supporting runner was much too small for the size of the bench and had been incorrectly constructed and fastened in order to provide optimum support to hold the bench together, let alone a person. Despite the inaccuracies and the instability of the old glue, I saw this pew for what it was! A BEAUTY! A four foot long bench seat, decorative molding and trim, not to mention the walnut veneer on the raised panel! Drool worthy!  
DEMO DAY!!!! Doesn't quite seem like there's a whole lot to it when it's apart does it? Just a few pieces make up this symbolic bench. Getting it disassembled was not difficult since the glue wasn't holding much together to begin with. A few knocks with my hammer and I was ready for the next step. Took about an hour total.
There was quite a bit of build up on the whole piece. I wasn't so much concerned with any existing topcoat as I was with the gunk. Stripping with kutzit and lacquer thinner was a must. If you would like to see the video series I made using these products on this project, I'll post a link down below for you to click and visit!
I started with the bench seat and back. This is an image of them stripped and cleaned up with lacquer thinner followed by a little soapy water. If you follow the link to watch the video series, it goes into a lot of detail on how I get the grain clean.
I mentioned previously, there was a lot of gunk and build up on this piece. The photos above are of the bottom of the bench seat, before it was stripped and cleaned and after. WOW! Even I was super duper impressed when this came out soooooo beautifully! So, if you haven't already picked up on it.....Stripping and cleaning this pew was one of the most important parts of this project. There is very little room for laziness when refinishing wood. I hold the utmost respect for all wood species and treat them as such.
Let the dust fly!!!! I started out with 100 grit. Since the pew was solid wood it wasn't going to hurt it to get a little abrasive! After 100 I moved on to 120 and stopped there for the time being. I sanded all parts in this sequence.
LOOOOKY what I found!!! A little figured walnut veneer for the win! This made me heart so happy when I found this. I knew just what I wanted to do with it to make the finish of the pew just come to life! The client put their full trust in me and said, "do whatever you think is best!" Don't you just love clients that say, "go for it, I trust you."?
On these decorative bits, I sanded them in the sequence listed above, but I also when over them with 0000 steel wool to get into the nooks. Just make sure you're always running with the grain! It makes it a little harder on parts like this, but it is very possible to accomplish, even on challenging surfaces. I was never more proud of these decorative molds!
I mentioned previously that many of the components of the piece weren't quite doing their job to their full potential. This supporting rail happened to be one of them. the photo on the left was the original component. You can see the seat does not exactly fit as it should and thus the seat did not fit as it should. The photo on the left is the new support rail I fabricated for the existing seat. I used a jig saw for this and very little sanding as I got pretty close to accurate with just my cut.
Next up! The supporting rail that holds the entire pew together was much too small and was not jointed properly. The sides already had an existing mortise, so all I had to do was get a piece of lumber large enough to support the piece and fabricate the tenon to fit the mortise. I did this all with hand tools. After, I got the tenon cut, fitting it was a bit of a challenge. Each tenon had to be customized to fit each mortise, so they were both a little different. I enlisted the help of a woodworking buddy to assist in getting the fit perfect! Eric Kramer is his name and he owns Cowboy Cut Woodworks. If you're on instagram, give him a follow!
Once I was certain I got the fit perfect on the mortise and tenon joints I went back and started prepping for finish. Home stretch at this point! I filled in any non visible imperfections with wood filler. This is also a really great image of the mortise. After filling holes, I also glued and clamped any areas of the pew that needed a little extra strength.
I did several practice fit tests before it was finally time to glue up! This was an excited moment for me to get to this point. All my hard work was really starting to come to life! It had been in pieces for so long until this! GLUE UP!!!! I had my dad come give me a hand with this part. I was never going to be able to do it alone! We were up till the better parts of 3 am fitting this and making sure it was perfect. Tweaking here and there and making the joints tight!

Once the glue set and dried for a few days I went back in to finish sand everything and make sure it was ready for it's finish! The client opted for a cerused finish on this pew, to which I was super excited about! My first cerused finish I had done.
I finished this pew with a cerusing technique. My first step was Howard's feed n wax. Next I applied briwax liming wax and finished with a clear wax.

This restoration was definitely an undertaking! But, I would do it again and again! I learned so much from this piece and I will forever cherish the time we spent together!
Suggested materials:
  • Howard's feed n wax   (amazon)
  • Briwax liming wax   (amazon)
  • Waverly clear wax   (walmart)
See all materials
Frequently asked questions
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  1 question
  • Dana Dana on Aug 25, 2017

    Hi you did a magnificent job! Could you tell me why the board under the seat, running horizontally, looks like a board that came off of a prefab bookshelf ?

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