Trial and Error

My general approach to new things is to just jump in and figure it out as I go along.

I could break this down a bit more like this:

1. See new idea

2. Think, “Hey, that’s cool, I should do it.”

3. Start new project/task with no real clue as to what I’m doing, only some vague memory and help from Mr. Google.

4. Realize I have bitten off waaay more than I can chew.

5. Spend a lot more time with Mr. Google.

6. Figure it out.

7. Final result not quite what I initially pictured, but looking fine.

I then repeat steps 3-7 with increasing ability and end up getting pretty good at what it is I’m trying to do.  Knitting, gardening, parenting, the triathlon–all fall into this same pattern.  I’ll walk you through the steps with my latest project.

My new thing (because, clearly, I need another project) is mid century modern furniture, like everyone else out there.  Actually, I realize that’s what I’ve always liked, I just didn’t have a good name for it.  I hate all things foofy and puffy in home design.  (Step #1)

Eric found a great vintage leather lounge chair at a local vintage store, and I went back to look for an end table and found this little guy.

As you can see in the picture, this was after I thought, hey, I can just refinish that! How hard could it be? (Why I haven’t learned that the mere thought of that question should be a big red light is beyond me.) (This would be Step #2)

Here’s a closeup of the bottom level–you can see where the paint was pretty well worn, and it looked sort of crappy.

After dredging up memories of junior high woodshop and some time spent on Google (Step #3), I was armed with varying grits of sandpaper, Watco stain and brushes.  I then learned that it’s damn impossible to get all of the old finish off with just sandpaper on a piece like this with little nooks. I could NOT get into all the corners with the electric sander, and even with hand sanding couldn’t quite get all the old finish off.  I didn’t get a pic of the table when it was all sanded, but here’s one of the drawer.  I got a bit worried because at this point, it was looking a little pine-y, like an Ikea piece.

I really didn’t want to spend all this time to have something that looked like it came from Ikea.

At this point, all the Google instructions I found told me to basically slop on the Watco, wipe it off a few hours later, repeat, and then do it again the next day.

I did this a few times over a 3 week period and ended up with this sticky mess (Step #4):

Now, the color looks okay in that picture, but if you look on the bottom level you can see patches of very uneven color and the whole thing was slightly sticky.

Back to the computer, I started Googling terms like “Watco finish sticky” and came up with a whole NEW list of instructions, which basically said NOT to do what I did.  (Step #5)

I then had to make a decision–either I could let it dry fully and live with it, or I’d just have to redo it.

What’s a perfectionist to do?

Out came the sanders again, and I completely redid the entire piece.  (Step #6) Here it is in its final resting place next to the couch.

And a closeup of the top, where the scratches are still there, but the color is much more even (Step #7):

If I was ever to redo another piece like this, the big change I’d do would be to use a chemical stripper instead of trying to sand it.  I was hoping to avoid using more chemicals, but I think it’s kind of necessary to get a great result.

Now, I just need to find a nice table lamp for it.

Maybe I’ll find one at the vintage store. Oh! I know! I think I saw something online to  handmake your own lampshade.  It didn’t look that hard.

And thus begins Step #1 allll over again.

2 thoughts on “Trial and Error

  1. jenn says:

    You did good!

    The basic path with refinishing found furniture-

    Clean it well with warm soapy water, and maybe a degreaser if it feels at all sticky. Dry it. If you aren’t going to be able to sand it easily, take it apart. Strip it (wasco is kinda nasty, and doesn’t always work so great) try Citristip.

    I get it at Home Depot. Use per directions (kills me how many people ignore simple directions, sigh). Clean the piece again to remove all the stripper. Dry it again.(hairdryer is helpful) If there are deep scratches or dings you are going to have to sand them out. If your surface is pretty good, a very light sanding to open the grain of the wood will do you. (sanding blocks are awesome) Wipe down with a tack cloth post sanding to remove dust.

    And after all that – now you get to varnish, stain or paint. After the first coat of whatever, go over entire piece lightly with super fine steel wool – dust well and add at least one more coat

    a good sanding guide-

    I can see you being a mid-century fan. I am to fickle to commit to any one design era-


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