- Refinisher, Craftsman, Columnist, Author and Televsion Host
I undertook my first refinishing project nearly forty years ago, when one Saturday afternoon in June my grandmother showed me how easy it is to remove an old, dark finish using nothing more than denatured alcohol and some old rags. Minutes later we were brushing on a coat of orange shellac and before the sun had set that day, she and I had transformed our basement castaway - a hard maple, four-poster bed - into a beautiful family heirloom my oldest son still uses.
Today, however, I would take a different approach, for since the 1970s we have learned to appreciate, restore and protect ? no more dip-and-strip! ? an original finish. I made many other mistakes along the way, but, as you know, we learn more from our failures than we do our successes. As a boy I ruined the finish on the Arts & Crafts dropfront desk my father had given me when I covered the lid with decals of my favorite major league baseball teams. Years later I retrieved it from my parents? attic and carefully restored it. Seven moves and four decades later it is still with me, a daily reminder of how important it is to save and restore our family heirlooms for future generations.
After a five-year career as a high school English teacher, I traded my classroom for a workshop, but never stopped being an educator. Two years after opening Knock On Wood Antique Repair & Restoration in Iowa City, Iowa, I started writing a newspaper advice column and eventually wrote a book by the same name - Knock On Wood. My business grew to include custom woodworking, a floor refinishing service and an antiques mall located in an historic linseed oil building that I had remodeled. A second book followed, as well as a new column, ?Antiques Across America,? for Country Living magazine.
My love for antiques introduced me to the Arts & Crafts movement and the furniture of Gustav Stickley, the Roycrofters and Charles Limbert. I moved to North Carolina, restored a 1926 bungalow, and continued writing books, including The Weekend Refinisher, The Wood Finisher and Fifty Simple Ways To Save Your House. My interest in the Arts & Crafts movement manifested itself in additional books as well, including The Official Identification and Price Guide to the Arts & Crafts Movement, The Pegged Joint, Built for the Ages: A History of the Grove Park Inn and The Arts & Crafts Furniture of the Grove Park Inn. About this time I switched from writing my Country Living column to writing an advice column for Arts & Crafts collectors in Style 1900 (Style1900.com) magazine, which I continue to do.
In 1988 I organized the first national Arts & Crafts Conference and Antiques Show at the historic Grove Park Inn Resort and Spa overlooking Asheville, North Carolina (Arts-CraftsConference.com). Built in 1913 and furnished in the Arts & Crafts style, the 510-room resort hotel proved to be the perfect setting for this annual conference and antiques show. Each February since then thousands of Arts & Crafts collectors from across the country have gathered at the Grove Park Inn for a weekend of antiques, new works by contemporary craftspeople, book sellers, magazine publishers, educational seminars, discussions, house tours, workshops and, most important, good friends.
My experience standing in front of a classroom of high school seniors was the best training I could have received to prepare me for standing front of a television camera. In recent years I have been invited to appear on such shows as This Old House, The Today Show, Creative Living, HomeWise, Easy Does It, Our Home and The New Yankee Workshop, where I have demonstrated just how easy it is to use stains and finishes to improve the appearance of your home and furnishings. After guest appearances on several HGTV shows, I was selected to host the very first show to premier on the new DIY Network ? Do-It-Yourself Refinishing. I followed that with several episodes of Do-It-Yourself Woodworking, then hosted two more series, Build a Log Cabin and Log Cabin Interiors, as well as Ask DIY.
Today I continue to make television appearances, organize the annual Arts & Crafts Conference, write books and articles on wood finishing, home improvement and the Arts & Crafts movement, and provide consultation with the Minwax and Sherwin-Williams companies. I also try to keep my 1973 MGB running, stay in touch with my two sons, and tackle home and landscaping projects with my wife, trail riding partner and veterinarian, Leigh Ann Hamon-Johnson.
More recently, I have started ArtsAndCraftsCollector.com , a website dedicated to creating a network among collectors, antique dealers, contemporary crafts firms and related businesses. This source book for Arts & Crafts collectors provides not only the latest Arts & Crafts news but myriad of other resources including a traveler's guide, shopmark directory, A&C business listings and how-to videos.
I hope you find AskBruceJohnson.com helpful as you tackle your next project. If you have a question which is not included, please feel free to submit it, along with the understanding that time won?t always permit me to make personal replies. Pertinent questions will be added to the site, along with my answers and suggestions.
Three Important Rules: Always follow the manufacturer's directions, take all safety precautions and first test every product in an inconspicuous spot.