The Pew Project

Today I had planned to show you the “before and after” of the pew I need to restore. Problem is, it’s still sitting in the garage waiting for someone to do something with it.

Anyone raising their hand?

No? I guess that just leaves me. Sheesh, where does all the time go? Although to be honest (and keep it real here at An Oregon Cottage) I probably have had the time. What I lacked was the energy or motivation.

But I feel it coming on…

I love this pew. It came from our former church when they replaced pews with cushy chairs. We bought it for $20 and I did a little happy dance.

Until I realized it was 9 feet long. Not exactly bungalow-house sized.

So it cost another $50 for a friend to cut it down for us to 5-1/2 feet. Not as great as $20, but $70 was still a good deal for an oak pew with nicely carved ends.

It lived in our big-city bungalow kitchen where our children spent many hours on it while coloring, eating, and playing at the kitchen table. It always needed to be refinished, but somehow was never at the top of my to-do list.

When we moved to our little acre, there wasn’t a place for the pew inside, so I put it on the covered porch after we remodeled. I though it would be OK because it would be covered from the elements.

Wrong. Remember how I said it needed to be refinished? As in, there wasn’t hardly any finish on it, so the poor thing had no armor against the cold, fog, and freezing temperatures. I also thought it would be temporary while we finished our garage where it could spend the winters.

Temporary turned out to be four years. So, what happens to a basically unfinished pew after four years outside?

1. The seems start to come apart on the back.

2. A robin takes up residence on the back while it courts the bird in the window. Those white streaks? Stains from bird poop (sorry- was I supposed to say droppings?). We couldn’t get that bird to leave. It was awful, actually, listening to that robin throw itself repeatedly at the window for weeks. We tried scaring it away, shooting a BB gun at it (no, we didn’t hit it…), and finally covered the windows with paper for days to get the bird to leave.

The fresher white streak is from a recent visitor. Isn’t it nice of me to share this with you?

3. The nails start to discolor the wood surrounding the holes.

4. The smaller seams in the seat shrink and expand and become noticeable (I actually thought it was one piece of wood before this…)

5. The horrible fog we can get here in the fall (don’t get me started- it’s depressing and stays for weeks sometimes) created so much moisture that it didn’t matter that the pew was under cover. The seat grew black mold after one particularly nasty spell of fog. I was able to scrub most of it off though the seat was left with grayish stains.

6. The cool carvings on the sides start to come unattached. Like, you can completely see through the seam to the back.

So I feel like a complete schmuck for not taking very good care of this pew I love and letting it get to this stage. And I need to do something now to ensure it doesn’t continue to deteriorate.

I know it’s a beautiful oak, but it’s so stained and damaged that I feel the only solution is to sand, fill, shore-up, and paint it. I don’t want it to be damaged any further because it will still have to live on our porch in the summer and the unheated garage in the winter.

So, here’s my question: what would you do? Paint? Refinish? If you’d refinish, how would you get it restored?


This is linked to:
Frugalicious Friday
Show and Tell Friday
Frugal Friday @ The Shabby Nest
Finer Things Friday





  1. says

    Hey, I’m with Heather. People pay a fortune for ‘distressed’ furniture! Just make sure it’s structurally sound (so someone bigger than a robin can sit on it without it crashing to the floor), then simply clean it up a bit and ‘seal’ it.
    Or…what about painting it white?

  2. says

    I’d sand it down to good wood, glue whatever needed it, put several coats of tung oil on it and enjoy my treasure. A little shrinkage between boards wouldn’t bother me unless a sliver found its way to me when I sat down :)

  3. says

    I have the stain glass windows out of a church. I lightly sanded them and slowly put one coat of oil paint on after another. I was amazed at how much oil paint the wood drank up. Hope this helps

  4. Dan@retrooregon says

    I do quite a bit of furniture work. It is tough to get it back to the original look by sanding, staining, and refinishing. Hard to remove weather/water stains. If it were mine I would probably do a light sanding to remove old finish and smooth edges and spray paint a dark color like satin black. That would hide some of the seam separation. Good luck, show us what you decide.

  5. shopannies says

    very much remember the old wooden pews and the hours we spent sitting in them at church. Yours looks great

  6. says

    I don’t know about restoring furniture…not at all..but putting some sort of a glaze..or is that called a sealant…something to keep the wood nice and smooth…with no cracks or splinters. Also fixing it so it won’t break when someone sits on it!!! Otherwise from time to time using a good oil for wood, so it stays well-conditioned. A friend of mine used linseed oil on a wooden bed once to keep the wood in tip top shape…but I’m not sure why. Good luck with the project :) :) Love and hugs from Oregon, Heather

    p.s. When you create a blog button, let me know. I’d happily post it on my blog!!!

  7. Amy @MaisonDecor says

    I would glue it or make sure it is sound and then I would paint it a fun color like turquoise or orange or hot pink!!

  8. Deborah says

    I think you got some good tips. I second sanding, gluing and wood filler in the spots that might need it then either paint or stain it and seal it. It will probably never be the same but it will last longer. Use outdoor paints and sealers. Remember wood decks are meant to withstand weather so look in that area of the hardware for some ideas. Good luck with your treasure!

  9. Anonymous says

    I would sand and prime and paint and distress the edges. The distressed look is great! you can poly it over the top, add some pillows and have a nice bench for an entryway, front porch, or end of the bed.

  10. The Tidy Brown Wren says

    A few years ago I saw a pew on the side of the road and begged my hubs to grab it. It was in bad shape and had been exposed to the weather for some time. I sanded it with steel wool and used an exterior poly stain to finish it. All of the dings and stains still show but I love the history those scars provide. We enjoy using it on our screened porch and I simply wipe it down with a cleaner a few times a year to keep the mold and dust off of it.

  11. Kimkarlene says

    Jami, I went on a Garden Walk in my area a couple of weekends ago. I also have an old pew…yours is beautiful! As I entered a backyard during the walk I noticed two long church pews sitting side by side outside behind the garage decorated with beautiful pillows. The garage has a ledge from the roof sticking out over the pews which protects them from the rain. I asked questions and found out the pews have been brushed with “boat varnish.” Small holes have been drilled in the seats every 2 feet so that any water will drain down below. The pews sit out side year round even during our Michigan winters. They look fabulous where they sit and I am sure make a wonderful area for chatting during visits with friends.
    Have a Great Day!….Kim

  12. Anonymous says

    I think it’s worth the work too, and the “scars” will tell the story of those busy years. It will be beautiful.

    I have the same stories on my granite kitchen countertops! Cast iron not washed right away leaves a rust stain, while the splashed (ok, exploded) salad dressing leaves dark rings. But, those were awfully busy years…

    But, how about protecting yourself while you sand off the mold? Scary stuff. Would a simple dust mask be enough?

    Enjoy! Kerry

  13. Debbie says

    All I know is I love the PEW whatever you do with it it will be great. We have a pulpit, and I would love the pew to go with. That was big though and I would have had the same problems.

  14. Blake says

    Any final results come of this? Are there any websites with step by step repairs? We have an old church pew from our grandmother, some hard areas to sand on the sides due to the style carved into the wood. Any one have more detailed step by step how too?

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