Monthly Archives: September 2014

Modern White Coffee Table

We finally finished the coffee table we’ve been working on for months! Nik bought this table or $50 over the summer and was under the impression that it was covered with wood veneer. The people who sold it to us said it was from West Elm, and while I really like the style of furniture sold by this company, whenever I go into the store and look more closely at the furniture there, I realize it is made out of poor quality materials – rarely solid wood, and more often than not particle board that doesn’t even have good quality veneer over it. And then they’re asking $800 for a dresser! Or $500 for a plain coffee table! No thank you!

Anyway, we found out that the coffee table certainly wasn’t solid wood and wasn’t even real veneer, it was actually laminate veneer that couldn’t be sanded and restained. The laminate wasn’t great quality either, so even trying to remove and smooth out all the kid goop and crayon marks and sparkles from the previous owner was unsuccessful.


After a little scrubbing Nik at least got it to this point:


But the finish looked bad, and I finally agreed to Nik’s suggestion to paint it bright white. We spray painted it with gloss white spray paint, and after a few coats it was indeed white, but it was not an even smooth finish.


We finally went over it with 3 coats of gloss water-based polyurethane and sealed it up that way. All that troubleshooting, but its finally done and up for sale, and I think it came out nicely:

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Finished Wood Side Tables

We finally wrapped up these two side tables we’re doing for a friend, so I’ll post some before and after pictures. This wasn’t a huge transformation, just updating the stain color to a darker and less orangy color and fixing nicks in the finish by re-sealing it. Here’s how they started:

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And we stripped and sanded them down to raw wood:

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And then we stained them with 2 coats of Minwax dark walnut stain. We sealed these with a product we hadn’t tried before, wipe on oil-based polyurethane. Oil based polyurethane has a nice finish over stained wood, but we haven’t used it as much recently because cleaning up the brush is a pain since you have to use mineral spirits which never totally gets the poly out of the brush. But you can just use disposable rags with wipe on poly! So we put on three coats of this, since it is on the thinner side. Here’s how they turned out:

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The color looks a little different between the two, but in person they match relatively well. The wood patterns on the tops are a little different, though, but it makes the character of each side table more unique:

IMG_1022In the pictures, the finished product doesn’t look very different from the original, but in person they’re much darker and richer looking and they have a brand new finish. The wipe on poly left a smooth, luxurious finish so I’d recommend it. It took about 10 minutes to do each coat of poly on both tables with the wipe on which was a huge time saver. Hopefully we’ll be dropping these off with their new owner this week to make room for some new projects!

Pistachios and New Projects

After my previous lengthy, descriptive post, I promised I’d make a post with updates on our ongoing and new projects. I’ll start off with a fun crafty project that is totally not furniture-related. Nik and I LOVE pistachios, and find ourselves going through a Sam’s Club-sized bag every month or two. On one of the blogs I read,, she posted about an idea to use up all the shells left over from pistachios.

I love this, and had all the tools to get started – tons of empty shells (which I rinsed a few times with water), glue gun, and downtime in the evenings when I like to do mindless things to relax. I’ll still need to figure out a frame or shadowbox to use, and get some dye to make them colored.


The first one I tried to make ended pretty terribly (its the one that’s laying on its side in the picture above because instead of making the petals on the same plane, each layer added height to the flower and it ended up more like a pine cone). I decided this was a stupid activity and was about to give up, but then Nik tried one with more success and renewed my motivation to keep going. Each one got easier to make, and now I probably have about 10 flowers of varying sizes. I’ll get some dye and a frame this weekend and finish this up.

Next, I posted about the ugly little side table we picked up from a yard sale a couple weeks ago:


Since then, we’ve strippped, stained, and sealed the top of this.


And then we primed the body – we’re trying to figure out which of these handles left over from other projects to use on the drawer – any preferences? I’m leaning towards the round ones…

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We were planning on going with cream paint that we were thinking of antiquing with stain, but then we got this awesome clearance color for 50 cents at home depot that I absolutely love. Unfortunately it didn’t have the color label on it, so it was probably a color match reject from someone else.


So now I’m debating antiquing over that color or just leaving it pretty as it is. I might do some practice antiquing on junk wood painted with the color, to see how I like it and that will help me make a decision.

Finally, we went to the flea market with some friends on Saturday, and we bought a new piece to work on that is a really really old secretary/dresser. This piece is in rough shape and will need a lot of sanding and cleaning up and possibly some repair to the back panel to get it in working condition.

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I’m clearly dedicated to this piece, because I battled these awful spiderwebs and eggs to get it onto my porch. Gross.


Nik’s idea for this piece (assuming the wood drawers actually yield decent quality wood when we strip them) is to do an ombre pattern with stain on the drawers, kind of like this dresser. I like the gray tones in that, so we’re going to check out the options for gray stains, which we’ve never tried before. Rustoleum and Minwax both make a variety of gray stains, so we’ll have to pick some out to try. The rest of the body might be painted, we’re not sure just yet.

That’s it for right now. I’m looking forward to a weekend with great weather so we can actually wrap up these projects in progress!

Tips for Starting Your Own Furniture Project

Apparently my last post didn’t motivate me as much as I was hoping, so we still have a bunch of projects in progress. They’re so close to being done, but I have no official “finished product” pictures to show you today. We have started some new projects though, so I’ll write about those in my next post. What I really wanted to write about is how to get started refinishing furniture if you’re new to it, and this post is inspired by a friend who has been itching to start working on her own projects. Since it took me and Nik a few years of troubleshooting to get to where we are now, we’ll share some tips on the best type of project to start on, what supplies to buy to get started, and the basic steps for refinishing something with stain and/or paint. If you’re on the fence about trying to refinish your own furniture, hopefully this will convince you that it’s something worth trying! This will be a LONG, detailed post, but if you’re really interested in doing your own furniture, its worth it to read. For your starter project here are some good rules: 1) Get something cheap. There is great stuff on craigslist for <$40, so this will decrease the pressure if you screw it up (which you won’t, but just in case!). 2) Make sure it is actually made of wood. Only wood can be sanded down and stained (including wood veneer, which is a thin layer of real wood that covers some sort of cheaper composite material, but if the veneer is in good shape it can be sanded and stained like solid wood). If you’re planning on painting, other materials like laminate or particleboard will be fine if you rough it up with sand paper enough for the paint to adhere. 3) Flat surfaces are easier to deal with than detailed things. Dressers with long flat sides and simple drawers, or side tables that don’t have a bunch of hard-to-reach-into-shelves, or simple coffee tables are good starter projects. I’d stay away from chairs simply because the chair back and legs are tricky smaller surfaces to work with. Supplies to buy (I’ll try to list brands/stores that I buy these, and pictures of products you might not recognize): For projects that you plan to stain wood: Chemical-resistant gloves, 15 minute stripper (Kleen Strip – we only find this at Home Depot), cheap chip brush for applying stripper, plastic scraping tool, steel wool (something in the mid-range of “scratchiness”), 100 and 220 grit sandpaper, face mask to keep out sanding dust, tack cloth, stain (we usually use Minwax), good quality paint brush (Purdy and Wooster are great if you want to spend the $, and a shorter handled 2″ brush is a good size to start with), paint can opener tool.

For projects that you’re painting: 100-grit sandpaper, tack cloth, plastic drop cloth, water-based primer paint (I use Behr latex drywall primer and sealer, but there are other good brands out there like Kilz), paint (I recommend latex because it is water based, cheap, and easy to use, but there are other options out there like enamel, chalk paint, milk paint, oil-based paint), Floetrol (optional; this is a paint additive that extends drying time of paint, and helps reduce brushstrokes), good quality paint brush, paint can opener.

For sealing your project: For stained projects, you can seal with polyurethane. The classic oil-based poly we use is Minwax, which requires clean up with mineral spirits and is pretty smelly. You’ll want a separate brush for applying oil-based poly since it will never be 100% clean enough to use with a “water based” thing like latex paints afterwards. We recently tried Minwax wipe-on polyurethane and it seemed to work fine, and you can just discard the rag you use afterwards. Oil based polys will amber as they dry, so only use them over stained wood projects! We’ve also tried lacquer which works similar to polyurethane and has a similar clean up process.

Water based polyurethane looks milky and dries perfectly clear, so it works great over latex-painted projects, and also seems to work fine over stained wood even though the stain itself is theoretically oil-based. It is applied with a brush which cleans up with soap and water so you can use the same brush for this that you use with latex paint. We’ve tried Minwax polycrylic which is about $18 per quart, and recently switched to Rustoleum water-based polyurethane which is only about $12 per quart and works great. At this point, this is mainly what we use to seal stained and painted projects simply because it is easy to clean up and has much less vapors so it isn’t too smelly to apply inside (where there is less ridiculous North Carolina heat/humidity!).

Wax can be used as a sealant as well. We’ve only tried Minwax furniture paste wax, and it is a little orange-yellow looking so if you’re sealing a project with light colored paint, it could tint it a little. Wax is applied with cheesecloth and is rubbed all over the piece, allowed to cure, and then buffed off. It is less heat-resistant than other finishes and should be reapplied from time to time. Wax works best on porous surfaces, such as wood that has been stained, or wood that has flat paint or chalk paint on it – if the wood is painted with paint that has a sheen (like satin or semi-gloss) there are less “pores”, and instead of curing into the wood to harden and seal it, the wax will form more of a film that is not as durable. Wax is trickier but can lead to a beautiful “buttery” finish on stained wood projects, so there are definitely times where it pays to use wax!

Finally, if you have a project that is painted with paint that has a sheen, a sealant might not be necessary. For example, if you have a dresser painted with satin or semi gloss paint, I will usually use water based poly on just the top since it will get more wear, but I’ll leave the sides be. Any sort of sheen in paint adds protection to the finish, and if it is a low-use surface, the sheen will be protective enough on its own. The more sheen, the more protective the paint alone will be. Flat paints should always be sealed, since they have no sheen and can practically rub off with a little force. Steps to refinishing your first project with stain: Once you have everything purchased, its time to get started! For staining, you always want to get down to the raw wood, which means stripping off any varnish and sanding down till you get nice smooth raw wood. First, put on chemical resistant gloves since stripper will sting if it gets on your skin. Use a cheap chip brush to glop on the stripper in a decently thick layer, and wait a few minutes until the finish starts to bubble up.To give you and idea, stripper looks like thick clear-ish mucus, so don’t be alarmed the first time you see it out of the can! As the varnish comes off, that will color the stripper – as you can see in the picture below where the stripping glop looks brown after applying it. Use your plastic (not metal! it will scratch the wood!) scraper and scrape off as much varnish as you can. I usually don’t wait the 15 minutes since if the stripper dries before you scrape it, you’ll need to reapply more.


You might need to reapply a second layer of stripper in some spots. After the stripper is removed, put on your face mask and use your steel wool (and some gloves) to remove any stripper sludge and residual varnish. Then use your 100 grit sand paper to sand away and get the raw wood more “uniform looking”. Finally, wet the whole piece with water and a rag to raise the grain, let it dry, and do one final sanding with fine (220 grit) sand paper. It will feel super smooth now! Vacuum then tack the whole piece with tack cloth to remove all dust.


Shake the stain can well, and use an old rag to apply stain evenly to the piece. You can apply the stain liberally, but make sure you do a final wipe-down to remove any excess pools or drips of stain because this will dry unevenly and sticky. Let it dry outside (stain is stinky) for 8+ hours.


Then decide how you want to seal it (see recommendations above), and put on your first layer of sealant. If using water-based poly, I recommend doing 2 coats, then fine sanding followed by a rub down with tack cloth, and then doing a final coat of the sealant to make it extra smooth. If you’re using oil-based poly, they recommend fine sanding in between all coats. Whenever you sand, make sure to wear your face mask. If you’re using wax, apply the wax, wait about an hour then rub the whole piece down with 0000 grade (very fine) steel wool to remove residual wax, then buff with a wool buffing pad and a lot of elbow grease.


For projects that are being painted, it is usually not necessary to completely strip down the old varnish or paint, unless there are lots of layers or the finish/paint is very uneven or chipping off badly, like this dresser was:


If the surface is relatively smooth, I usually just rough it up with some 100-grit sand paper, tack off the piece, and prime it with my primer paint. Primer will not cover perfectly, so if you see brush strokes or the color of what is underneath coming through, that’s perfectly fine.


Some people will fine sand after the primer coat to ensure a smooth finish before they start with paint, but I usually skip this step and move forward with applying 2-3 coats of paint. Finally, to seal it, I usually use 2-3 coats of water-based polyurethane, although as I mentioned above, you can use wax on flat paint, or you can choose not to seal it if it will be a low-use area and you have paint that has a sheen. So these are the basic steps that we use to refinish a project with latex paint and stain. If you search around, there are tons of other blogs and sites that may make different recommendations, which goes to show there are many ways to end up with a nice piece of refinished furniture. There are also a number of ways to antique things that have been painted, which I didn’t go into for this post, but if you search around you can get plenty of ideas. I hope this guide is helpful, and feel free to post or email me any questions if there’s something I didn’t explain well!

Weekend Projects

If I post about some projects in progress today, maybe we’ll work extra hard to actually finish up some pieces this weekend so I can show the final product next week. There are FOUR things we’re working on currently, and my goal is to have 2 of them done by the end of this weekend to clear out some space in our apartment.

The first I gave you some teaser photos of in my last post, which is a set of side tables for one of Nik’s coworkers. She just bought a new house, and is trying to phase out of her “grad student furniture” into “real people furniture”. We found these great solid wood side tables on craigslist, and told her if she didn’t like the way they come out, we’ll keep them because we love them! Here are original pictures of one of the tables, minus the drawer which Nik was already busily sanding.

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Both tables were in pretty good condition, but the finish was a bit dated and orange-y. We stripped them down and sanded both tables:

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She wants a dark stain, so we went ahead with dark walnut. In this next picture, the table on the left has dried stain on it, and the one on the right is freshly stained, so the stain “lightens” as it dries. Now the two tables look about the same. I think we’re going to do one more coat of stain to darken the rich color a bit more. Finally, we’ll do a few coats of poly and these tables will be done.

IMG_0934Our next project is this West Elm coffee table that I posted about a long time ago…it has been slow progress since it ended up not being made of wood that we could sand and re-stain. So we ended up spray painting it a high gloss white. The spray paint looked pretty streaky and terrible (from the humidity? from our lack of experience with spray paint? because the coffee table is huge and flat and streaks show up more? who knows…) so our plan is to sand the white coats smooth with very fine sandpaper, and then to do a spray paint clear coat. We tried this out with much success on the drawers, so now we just have to clear coat this beast (hopefully without gnats landing on the sticky surface…they can’t seem to resist the bright white), reattach the frame, and put the drawers in:

IMG_0930Ok, on to the next project. On our way home from the beach this past weekend, we found this little side table at a yard sale for $20. I thought it was cute, and Nik thinks it will be a good piece to experiment with some antiquing techniques like sanding and glazing that I’ve been wanting to try. I want to strip and stain the top, and then paint the rest, and the painted areas will be where we try the antiquing. We might also replace the hardware with something more modern.

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The final project (ongoing for almost one and a half years now…) is this quirky contemporary coffee table made by the famous designer, Edward Wormley. I can’t remember if I’ve written about this table before, but it is a piece that has potential to be worth a lot of money (a slightly larger version of this table that was in original pristine condition sold for around $3500 in NYC when we were looking up information on the designer.) Of course our piece is refurbished, but we’re trying to keep it looking as it did when it was new. This is what we started with:

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Unfortunately, after sanding we found the top level veneer was very water damaged, and when we tried to sand it off, we started sanding through the veneer.


So, we started by at least staining the undamaged area a golden oak color:


After testing colors extensively with test swatches we bought from Capital Lumber in Raleigh, we finally purchased some veneer that matched as best as possible to the veneer on the lower level. We ended up with rift cut red oak, and we have a 3’x4′ piece of it that is sitting in my bedroom waiting to be adhered and stained.

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Nik is nervous about cutting the veneer, which is thin enough to do with a razor blade. It wasn’t cheap, so we’re procrastinating since dealing with  veneer is uncharted territory for us. It shouldn’t be too difficult if we take good measurements and make straight cuts, so once we get up the courage, this is on our list of things to do.

So hopefully, one or more of these projects will be wrapped up this weekend and I’ll show the final pictures next week!