Furniture Renovation Part IV: Using Stain and Polyurethane

Time for the fun part!

Remember this table when I started? I still think it looks like a public library table from the 1970s. The wood is a little too orange and the legs are a little too modern for my taste.

So, I sanded the heck out of the top of the table, and my sweet husband replaced the old legs with these cottage-looking ones. Now, it's on to the rewarding stuff: making it pretty again!

Choosing a stain color can be overwhelming. That's why in Part I of this series I recommended that you go out and look for some inspiration photos before you head to the home improvement store and have a breakdown because there are too many colors. (The guys at Home Depot generally don't know what to do with a woman sobbing in the paint aisle.) Sometimes a little direction and inspiration can go a long way!

I have had a lot of luck with Minwax stain, but I know there are others out there that work well too. For this piece I used Minwax Dark Walnut, which I also used on my dresser. Just use a foam brush and brush it on in a thin layer, going with the grain of the wood. I prefer foam brushes because I am lazy and they are cheap and I can just throw them away when I'm done!

Let the stain sit and soak into the wood. If your piece of furniture is really old, or really dry, it will soak it up quicker. So I would recommend wiping the stain off (using toilet paper or an old rag) fairly quickly, just to check the color. If it's the color you want, great! If not, brush on some more stain and leave it on for longer before you wipe it off the next time.

Here's my table after about 15 minutes of soaking. I wanted it to be pretty dark, so I left it on for longer than I usually do. Let the stain dry overnight before moving on to the polyurethane.

Depending on how durable you need the piece to be, plan on adding 2-3 coats of protective polyurethane on top of the stain. I added three coats to this table, since it will take a lot of wear and tear. I am using a Clear Satin, which will give it just a little shine. You can go with just a Flat if you want it to be more casual, or with a Gloss if you want to be a little more fancy (at least that's how I rate them!). Just brush on with another foam brush, and allow it to dry for a day or two before you use the furniture. Also, it is good to sand the piece in between coats of polyurethane. Sometimes bubbles form when you use a foam brush and the sanding just gets rid of them. Just be sure to do it very lightly!

The last part of this series is coming up in a few days! It'll be all about painting and "antiquing" your furniture. See you soon!


Furniture Renovation Part III: Using Liquid Stripper to Remove the "Goo"

Are we ready to continue? (Wow, do I sound like an 8th grade teacher or what? Wait a minute, I did used to be an 8th grade teacher! I guess that explains it!) I'll try to make this a little more fun than 8th grade...

If you have a piece of furniture that is either a) too stubborn to be sanded down to the raw wood, or b) has lots of spindles, various other rounded surfaces or lots of little crevices that are hard to get with sandpaper, you may have to use a liquid stripping agent. It's not that scary, really!

First, head to your home improvement store and get some stripper. (Let's hope people don't Google "stripper" and end up here. This is SO not what they are looking for!) I would also pick up some acetone (also pictured above) for the post-stripping phase. Mineral spirits or denatured alcohol work just as well too.

You should also grab some steel wool pads and maybe some of these little metal brushes. The brushes work especially well if you are stripping stubborn paint. Then, head to the bathroom and get you a roll of toilet paper. My grandfather used to swear by it when he refinished furniture, and who am I to argue with tradition?

I have this little wooden trunk that my husband and I have lugged around to three different houses. We keep saying we are going to refinish it. I am hoping this tutorial will actually prompt us to do it! So we'll use it as an example.

First step: sand the wood as best you can. If nothing else, it breaks down some of the stubborn layers and might make stripping a bit easier. I sanded the heck out of this piece, though, and couldn't get down to the wood, so I knew that I would have to use the liquid to get the job done.

Next up: get to a well-ventilated area, and slap some of that liquid stripper onto your piece of furniture. I used a foam brush to apply mine. Word of caution: wear some protective gloves for this part. This stuff can hurt if you get it on your skin! And, of course, follow the directions on the bottle before you follow my idiot's version!

Let the stripper sit for as long as you have the patience, or whatever the directions tell you. Mine sat for about 30 minutes. Then, grab one of these little scrapey-tools (see photo) and just scrape the stripper off. You should have some kind of trash can or receptacle ready, but be sure it's not one you care about because it will get all gooey! In the photo above, I scraped most of the stripper to the edge, then used some toilet paper to soak it all up and wipe it off.

Then I went back with the acetone and my steel wool pad and gave the wood a good scrubbing. Steel wool works well because it gets into the grain of the wood and can remove more goo.

Then I went back with toilet paper and wiped with the grain of the wood to get the last of the goo. As you can see, it really works!

Finally, I let it dry and then went over the wood again with some sandpaper (starting with a 60 grit, then 100 grit, and then 150 grit). If you scroll back up to the first photo, you can get a good sense of how much crud came off this thing!

Stripping furniture involves a lot of elbow grease, especially if you are removing paint and planning to stain the piece. Somehow when you apply the new stain, it will reveal every last speck of that ugly green paint that you thought you had removed! But don't be afraid...you won't hurt the wood. It's very forgiving. Just get in there with your steel wool, metal brushes, toilet paper, sandpaper or whatever else you think might get the job done!

And once your piece of furniture is stripped, it's on to the fun part! Next week I will show you how to make it pretty again. :) Have a great weekend!


Furniture Renovation Part II: Sanding to Remove the "Goo"

**Updated to add: the legs were in the unfinished wood/crown molding section of Home Depot. They are actual legs that are meant for a table, not something we had to manipulate to make work. They just screwed right in to the existing table, and were even the right height. Yippee!

OK girls, are we ready for Part II in this series? I've been busy over the weekend, working on a few furniture rehab projects so that I could show you step by step what to do!

Below is a work table that we inherited from my husband's parents. It's served many different purposes, but I've been wanting to renovate it so that it can become my sewing table and live in our upstairs loft. Right now it's a pretty basic (read: boring) table. I think it looks like it came from a public library in the 1970s! I want it to look more "cottage-y." So, away we go!

If you are planning on staining a piece of furniture like I did with my recently rehabbed dresser, you first have to get all the "goo" off (by "goo" I mean the existing paint, stain or polyurethane). There are two ways to do this. The much easier way, if you can do it, is to just sand it. The other alternative involves using a liquid stripper, which I will talk about in my next post.

Sanding furniture requires nothing more than sandpaper and some elbow grease. Just jump in and start doing it! I found that this Norton brand sandpaper, pictured below and bought at Home Depot, is really great for starting the process. It's a 60 grit, which basically means that it is really rough, so it will really get in there and lift off the coats of goo, which is what you want.

I highly recommend using an electric sander for this. Of course, you can do it manually, but it will take much longer. Electric sanders are super-easy to use, and can cost about $50 at home improvement stores. I used an electric sander on this table, and even so it took me about 1 1/2-2 hours to get it done. Below, you can see where I stopped at the halfway point. I think it's pretty clear which side has been sanded!

There is no exact science to this! Just start with a really heavy grit sandpaper, and graduate to a finer grit as you go along. I usually try to sand along with the grain of the wood, as opposed to across it. As I said, I started with a 60 grit, then went over the whole thing with a 100 grit, and finally a 150 grit. (The grit gets finer as the numbers go up.) By the time I finished, the existing stain and polyurethane coats were gone, and the table top was almost as smooth as my baby boy's bum! :)

The goal here is just to reveal the raw wood, so that it will readily accept a new stain, polyurethane or paint. (Of course, if you are planning on painting it, rather than staining or polyurethaning it, you don't need to worry about removing every little bit of goo since you'll be covering it up anyway. Just "rough up" the wood enough so that it will take the paint. More on painting in a future post!)

You may notice that while I was at it, I (ah, my husband, actually!) changed up the legs for the table. The new legs cost about $12 each and I found them at Home Depot. I am planning on staining the top a dark color, and painting the legs and apron a robin's egg blue. I can't wait to see this project finished!

In my next post I will get into the (slightly more complicated) alternative, using a liquid stripper to remove the goo. Stay tuned!


Furniture Renovation Part I: Choosing the Piece and Finding Inspiration

Welcome to my series on Furniture Renovation!  Let's just start by saying this: I am a total hack.  Everything I've learned about this subject has been by trial and error.  I have never taken a class, read a book or talked to a professional on this subject.  I just put on my husband's old cutoff shorts, cinch up my belt, and start messing around in the garage.  

However, that being said, I will happily share with you what I have learned along the way!  Which brings me to Part I of this series: choosing your piece of furniture and deciding what on earth to do with it.

We will take my most recent project as an example.  You remember?  Here it is again:

There are a few ways that I go about choosing a piece to refinish.  In this case, we just stumbled upon this dresser in an antique shop.  The owner wanted to get rid of it, and was willing to part with it for $100.  We had no idea where we would put it or when we would even have the time to work on it.  But the price was right.  So, that's one way to go.  If you find something and you think "This could be cool!" and the price is right, just grab it!

If you have a specific piece in mind, or area of the house you are trying to fill, my best advice is to hunt around on Craig's List or garage/estate sales.  I once found a simple but pretty dresser for $20 at an estate sale (more on that later).  Especially if it's a piece that needs some TLC, people are willing to practically give it to you just to avoid having to haul it to Goodwill on their own!  Another option, of course, is to re-do a piece that you already have.  Just be sure that you (or whoever you inherited the piece from) are brave enough to mess around with it!

OK, next.  Once you have the furniture in your garage and your husband is grumbling about how his only work space is being taken up by your crap, you are ready to get started!  This is the scary part.  And this is also why I would not recommend spending a ton of money on your first project.  You don't want to be so worried about the money you spent on some precious piece of furniture that you are terrified to touch it.

If you can, find yourself an inspiration photo (or ten).  I can't tell you how helpful this was to me.  As you're going along in the project, you will have to decide things like stain or paint colors, new knobs, handles, even maybe changing out a major piece like the top of a dresser (from wood to granite in my case, see this post for details).  I found this photo in the November 2008 issue of Country Home magazine, and I kept referring to it along the way.

As you can see, my dresser (below) is not an exact replica, but I copied the color and the knobs as much as I could.  It gave me courage and direction when I was standing in Lowe's or Hobby Lobby and hemming and hawing about all the little details.

So there you go: my first advice about furniture renovation is 1) find an inexpensive piece that you won't be afraid to play around with and 2) get some kind of inspiration photo to guide you.

Next week I will get into the actual process of manhandling your furniture.  Don't worry, it'll be fun!

Back from Vacation!

Hi everyone!

We are back from vacation and trying to climb out from under a mountain of laundry! Why is it that a week at home will produce a normal amount of things to be washed, but a vacation of the same length seems to create a small village of dirty socks, sweatshirts and baby onesies? Just wondering.

I am working on Part I (yep, this is gonna be a series!) of my tutorial about Furniture Refinishing. Should have it up later today. In the meantime, here's one of the few photos we managed to get of the four of us in Grand Teton. Brent had just taken Nina out canoeing, and Henry and I had...well...slept in and then had some coffee. (Me, not him.) That's what I call a vacation for mama!

I'll be back later today with more!


Got a Question About Furniture Refinishing?

Oh, you girls are good for my ego! I am writing from a hotel room in Casper, Wyoming, after our first full day in the car. My kids are asleep just a few feet from me, my hubby is reading a magazine, and I was just browsing the comments about my dresser renovation and giving myself a big old head!

Just wanted to answer a few questions about the renovation, and also promise that I will definitely give a tutorial on refinishing furniture when I get back at the end of next week. Sorry to make you wait so long! I'll be at my sister-in-law's wedding this weekend and then we're tooling around Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons until next Wednesday!

OK, so the breakdown on costs for the dresser goes like this: $100 for the dresser itself, about $50 for supplies and $200 for the granite. That was a little more than I expected for the granite, but they did custom cut it, and rounded the edges like I asked them to. We went to a granite wholesale place that just had a "graveyard" of pieces left over from other, bigger jobs (like entire kitchens). And I do absolutely LOVE how it finishes the look of the dresser!

So here's what I propose: while I am gone, if you have any questions about refinishing furniture, leave them in the comments section of this post, and when I get back to write my little tutorial, I will try and address everything! I am completely self-taught, so I will preface this whole thing by saying that you get what you pay for! :)

OK, now I really am signing off. Thanks so much for all your sweet comments!


My Dresser Renovation!

Happy Monday!  I hope you all had a fabulous weekend!  What I couldn't tell you last week is that I spent the weekend throwing a surprise birthday party for my husband.  Since he visits my blog, I had to keep silent about all the frantic preparations I was doing...but that explains my infrequent posts.  The good news is that he was really surprised and we had a fabulous time!  Now it's on to packing for our vacation, which starts on Wednesday!

In the meantime, this is a project I have been dying to share with you all!  Months ago (as in, pre-Henry), we bought this old dresser for $100 at an antique shop.  It needed a lot of work, cosmetically and functionally. 

It's been a fun project for my husband and me to do together.  He re-worked the drawers and did some other not-so-fun things, and I got to sand and stain and do all the pretty stuff.

Here it is!  I can't believe it's the same piece of furniture when I look at the before and after photos.

The top was completely warped from water damage, so we had to order a new granite top for it.  Since it is sitting in my dining room, it will be nice to have the heat-proof surface when I serve big dinners in there (OK, so we've eaten in there TWICE in two years, but still)!

I lined the drawers with inexpensive wrapping paper from Hobby Lobby.  It's a cute little toile pattern that I can also use for wrapping gifts if I get tired of it, right?  

The knobs are my favorite!  $3.99 at Hobby Lobby, and of course I waited until they went 50% off!  Don't they look so pretty?

Yippee!  When I get back from vacation, I am planning to do a "how-to" post on refinishing furniture.  (The super-easy way, because I am NO expert!)  Until then, have a great week, and I'll be thinking of you all from Yellowstone National Park! 

For more fun thrifty finds, go visit Rhoda at Southern Hospitality!


The Best Bedroom Blue!

Good morning!  I know, it's been awhile, I am sorry!  We are leaving on our first vacation as a foursome next week, and I've been busy getting our life together.  But I had to take a break from my organizing and packing to come to Melissa's "My Favorite Paint Color" party!

I am always drawn to warm colors.  So it's surprising that one of my favorite colors in my house is this pretty robin's egg blue in my bedroom.

It looks so pretty with the different wood tones in the room, and the silver frames and other little goodies look great against it.

I've added some warm-colored fabric, brown leather, and a cozy cream blanket so that the "cool" factor doesn't come through too strongly.  And I bought some amazing brown and cream toile fabric to make window "mistreatments" (a la Nester).  Yeah, we'll see how long it actually takes me to get those done!

This color is actually my own creation, mostly because I bought a color that looked WAY too dark on the walls, so I just kept adding white paint until I liked it!  But because Melissa is one of my favorite bloggers, I wanted to be able to give you chickies a name for this color, in case you want to get it for yourself!  So I headed off to Lowe's and got this paint sample.  It matches my color exactly.

To copy this lovely blue, go out and get Valspar (Lowe's house brand) in "Rising Tide."  Hope you love it as much as I do!

And now, head over to 320 Sycamore to see lots of other favorite paint colors!