Thrist Store Find to Steampunk Showpiece

During a remodel of the family room, I determined that the current entertainment center needed to be replaced with something cooler. The existing center had already been through one makeover, so I started to look for a new piece. I am not sure why I have such a hard time just buying something out of a store, but I just like having something I created.

I started getting enamored with industrial and steampunk themes during my search. I began searching through the thrift stores, Goodwills, and used furniture shops. It seems like everyone must be reclaiming furniture because finding a good starter piece was challenging.


Steam Gauge and Thermometer

While searching for the donor piece, I also started looking for some mechanicals for the build. I was able to score some copper piping and valves at some local yard sales and picked up a nice local steam gauge and thermometer off craigslist and eBay.

After obtaining the hardware, I found an old dresser at my favorite thrift store and began researching refinishing techniques. I looked at basic antiquing techniques with stains and paints, but because the surface was so smooth, I decided to to paint the unit flat black and “wear” the finish. I was also hoping to finish the top with a dark stained wood look.



I started the repurposing by trying to get to some wood beneath the veneer. This proved to be very time consuming. The veneer was more plastic then wood. I burned through a lot of sandpaper getting through it and the glue that was holding it on. When I finally broke through, I found a reddish wood. Putting a few coats of stain/varnish on top, sanding in between, gave me a rich looking smooth top.


top with veneer finally removed

beginning the staining process

beginning the staining process

top when finished

top when finished

Next I cut out places for the cords to run and for the gauges to fit. I also cut the holes for the copper piping to fit. After some debating on how to actually attack the pipes to the dresser, I decided to drill holes 1/2 into the cabinet and bolt end-caps to the piece, with the open ends facing outward, as mounts. I’d then solder the pipes to these mounts.


painting the piece

I painted the inside teal for contrast and the outside flat black. The only other work I did was to place a board for support where I had removed the original draw. To give the piece a feel that it had been around forever, we sanded off in places ( electric hand sander) like the handles where wear would show over time. This was much easier to do before the actual mechanics were in place.


Once aged, placing the gauges were pretty painless. One gauge I found, actually counted running hours. If I had more time, I would have liked to hook this meter up to the power that supplied the video games, just so I could track hours spent playing games.

Making the custom copper door pulls, side piping and thermometer holder proved to take more time and skill than I originally thought. Lucky for me I was looking for an aged feel ( my solder joints were far from perfect) and they did not need to actually hold water.


finished piece outside

side view of its steampunk glory

side view of its steampunk glory

steam gauge insert

steam gauge insert

teal inside

teal inside

in action

in action

The finished piece now sets in the family room looking perfect. The only modification I plan to make is add two cooling fans. The enclosed electronics produce some serious heat. I’ve been looking at some thematically controlled fans that should do the trick.



About brainstormrodeo

Engineer, Craftsman, Tinkerer
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