Making it Work: DIY Fold-Away Ironing Board

So, I think I’ve mentioned that I’m an intern this year. Which, for all intents and purposes, is the closest thing to a big kid job I’ve ever had. I am absolutely LOVING it, but one thing I didn’t exactly foresee is all of the g-d ironing involved! Dress clothes require a lot of pressing, apparently. A while back (I’m talking maybe March?) I decided I wanted an ironing board so I could get occasional wrinkles out without having to setup shop on the floor with the iron and a towel.  Then, like happens all too often, I left the project in the basement for the next 6 months. I took my comprehensive exams, built the desk, we did the summer vacation thing, and, well, it made its way to the scrap pile. Well, thank goodness we never dismembered it, because with my new gig ironing has become an almost daily occurrence. Booo! But, it has become the catalyst for actually finishing my DIY ironing board, so that’s a plus. Waaaay back in March I started with a little scrap piece of 1/4” thick plywood and sketched out the shape I wanted.

See those clothes? It was still way cold out when I did that! I used that champagne bottle as the stencil for the round tip of the board.

After it was cut out, Mike used some scrap 2×8 to beef it up a little. Essentially, he just took pieces of the 2×8, laid the cut out ironing board plywood on top, and nailed and glued it down. So, from the side, it looks like this:

Sorry the pics are sparse, I don’t know what I was thinking way back when. Then, at some unknown later date I spray painted it along with some other projects I was doing. In this pic you can see the other (non-plywood) side of the board. The piece on the right is the leg, just a scrap 2×3 cut to the height it felt comfortable to iron at.

Mike attached the hinge (a simple hinge with one triangular side and one rectangular side), and that’s how it stayed until this weekend when I decided the ironing board had to come out of premature retirement.

I used some scrap fabric I had and traced the board onto the fabric using chalk.

Then, I cut it out about 1/2” outside of the outline. That piece then became my pattern for the next one and I pinned it and cut it out. I did this one more time so I ended up with three layers of fabric to give the board a little cushion.

Then, I just laid the fabric on the board

and stapled it up. Simple!

I hammered in the staples I didn’t punch in all the way,

and used a box cutter to slice away fabric that was overhanging the staples.

To cover the raw edges of fabric, I hot glued some blue jute around the border.

Then, it was ready to be hung! I attached the leg to the back side of the board using a simple hinge.

And, as per usual, I left the hanging on the wall to Mike. He measured it out so when the board was horizontal the leg would be straight up and down on the floor. He used these particular screws because it was going into an old brick/stucco wall.

We decided to hang it behind the door in the office because, well, it’s out of the way and that’s where my closet is. Some decisions are so simple :).

The top is held up using some jute going between an eye bolt and a hook. To let the ironing board down, you just unhook the jute loop and fold it down; the leg just sways out into place with gravity.

When it’s up, the board fits nice and snug against the wall.

And when it’s down, it provides a custom-height ironing surface.

Now I can remove wrinkles in style somewhere other than the floor :).

Mirror Re-Do: Fixing a Wooden Frame

It’s officially back to school season, which, for me, always evokes a sense of renewal. It’s like a fresh start and I’m always a sucker for a fresh start. It’s why I love cleaning the house so much. Anywho, this school year happens to be MY LAST YEAR OF GRAD SCHOOL (crazy!!), and I’m full-time interning, so those two things combined make me really want to start this year on the right foot. And for me, a big chunk of feeling good when starting something new is looking the part. That’s where this little project comes in. Hello large mirror that I purchased over a year ago at the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, started working on, decided I hated and stuck it in the basement for 12 months:

I bought it for 25 big ones. A little steep, I know, especially for the cheese factor, but the thing had no price tag and when I asked the price they told me $25. I kind of froze and didn’t bargain because I suddenly felt like paying less would be directly taking away from the good cause of the company. I mean, I technically could afford to pay $25, so why get them down on the price only to take away from the people they are helping? Ahhh, over-thinker much? Anyway, I brought home my enormous $25 mirror and got to work. I pulled out the frills and painted it, but it looked SHODDY. That’s when other projects took over and I had Mike put it in the basement where it stayed until this back to school/renewal business. My previous mirror is hidden behind closet curtains so there’s no light and I can barely tell if my shoes match my outfit. THE HORROR. This mirror is the path to being able to dress appropriately every day. We hauled it to the daylight and realized she needed some help.

The flourishes left about a 1/4” dado running along the full length of two sides, and 8 inches of the other two sides (that’s the groove on one of the shorter sides in the photo above).  I was going to just fill them with putty and be done (knowing the finished project wasn’t going to be spectacular) until Mike came up with a genius idea. He routed out all the grooves with a 1/4” straight bit:

See how they’re all cleaned out and even? He did that so we could tap in some shims to fill the grooves. I put a nice thick bead (as they say on Ask This Old House) of glue in the groove,

And tapped in the shims. It just so happened that the 68 cent Home Depot yard sticks fit PERFECTLY into the hollowed out grooves. Kismet! We filled in all of the grooves and let ‘er set up over night.

Yeah, see all that ruler (it took 3 yard sticks total)? That’s the extent of the groovage. Ha, and I thought putty was gonna work!

Then I broke out the jig saw

and cut the rulers off fairly close to the edge.

And then Mike used the flush trim router bit to bring the ruler even closer to the plane of the frame.

I sanded everything down,

and it got the putty/sanding treatment so everything was smooth before paint.

A coat of primer and grey paint (True Value paint matched to Benjamin Moore ‘Flint’) later, it was ready for hanging hardware. After a little google session, Mike decided that these D-rings hanging on molly-bolt-secured screws would be our best/safest bet. He carefully measured and attached the D-rings,

and hung it up. I’m in outfit picking paradise! Oooo…


And you seriously can’t even tell there was a gaping groove there!

Smooth as butter! Cheapy yard sticks to the rescue!

The Office: Before and (Almost) After

Ahhh…remember back in early May when I declared war on our office? I just couldn’t stand it anymore. Somewhere in the re-doing process I decided I was going to make a new desk for the room. As a reminder, here I am making the doors:

Well, that took longer than I thought, but after it was completed we were in business. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, and today we have a pretty darn updated room. Obviously, there are things to be done, but, aren’t there always ‘things’? There are always things. So in the spirit of taking stock in how far we’ve come in just about two months, let’s do some good ol’ fashion before and afters. (Note: The angles aren’t identical in the before and after pics mostly because I didn’t even think to mimic what I did the first time until I uploaded everything. Whoops.)

Here is a good before and after desk shot:

Man, I do love that desk. It has been really functional so far, and I just love to sit at it. It feels so fresh and calming (even though those wires underneath drive me batty). In this after pic you can also see the new drop cloth curtains, the color-blocked magazine file and the new planter I made. Yep, that lamp still needs work.

While sitting at the desk, this is behind your back:

The whole look is less messy mostly because we got rid of a ton of stuff. Mike and I really looked hard at what we needed in our lives and what was just clutter. I threw out most of my college notebooks. Ugh, it was hard, but I haven’t looked at them since college. I did keep my mineralogy notes and reference book I made. Couldn’t give that up now could I? I also really tried to take some time to accessorize those shelves. I know I’ve said it before, but accessorizing shelves just does not come easily to me, which is ironic because among my friends I am known as the clothes accessory queen. I love to get my Claire’s on. Don’t pretend like you don’t shop there anymore.

Moving on, here’s another desk view before/after:

I really love this view. Except those wires. They drive me coo coo.  The next Steve Jobs will be the one who brings wireless power/charging to the masses. Mark my words.  And finally, a few post-do-over glamour shots:

Good stuff. And just because I can never be sated, a list of things I’d still like to tackle in here before summer’s end:

1) That lamp.

2) Finials.

3) Wire management.

That’s IT. Not overly ambitious, right?

Revealed: The Desk!

Oh, this desk. Wow, I love this desk. So simple, casual and functional, if I do say so myself. It’s been an epic journey, but she’s finally done done done, and here’s the rest of the story of how it was finished. After the cabinets and doors were built, I glued some wood plugs from Homey Deeps into the outward-facing pocket holes,

then puttied the joints and crevices:

I’m terrible and hopeless at puttying. Every time I go to do it, I say to myself, ‘OK, take your time, use a steady hand, not too much putty.’ That sentence pretty much goes from my brain right out my ear (it that’s even possible?). I did make my best attempt though, and didn’t mar it beyond what the sander could fix. With the cabinets and doors all smoothed out thanks to the random orbital sander, it was priming time. I used this Zinsser primer to coat the side panels, the front, and the doors.

I left the back and insides raw to save myself the painting. I’m never one to let a viable short cut slip by!

After the primer dried for a day, I sanded it a bit to take down the brush strokes as much as possible.

I painted the cabinets ‘Van Deusen Blue’ from Benjamin Moore. I looooove this color. Exactly what I was going for with the desk. I used Benjamin Moore Advance paint, which was great, except it took 16 hours to dry before I could re-coat! For an impatient painter like me, this was torture! I waited it out, though, and put on the second coat the next day and it was perfect. I guess good things do come to those who wait.

For the finish, I wanted something that looked hand-rubbed and wouldn’t be too fussy. After a bit of research, I found that paste wax was just what I was looking for. Added bonus? All you do is wax on, wax off. THAT’S IT! No worrying about brush strokes, no worrying about dust in the finish, NADA. Just grab a rag, channel your inner Karate Kid and go. Needless to say, I’ll definitely be using wax again!

Inside the cabinet, we installed a sliding shelf for the printer.

Now, this was almost a disaster because the printer fits inside the cabinet veeeeery snugly. See what I mean?

There was no space for the drawer slides to fit beside the printer. Just as I was muttering my first curse word of the day, Mike came up with the idea of risers that would screw to the drawer slides, and then we could put the shelf MDF on top of that so the printer would have full rein of the cabinet width. Genius, I tell you!

With that crisis averted, we attached the hardware (all from Lowe’s) to the doors, and the doors to the cabinets, mostly by eyeing where things look best. Let’s be honest, the cabinets are not the most square things in the world so going for square would probably look worse than eyeing it.

With those in place, we brought them into the house and set up the desk! The top, as I’ve mentioned before, is a piece of Ikea butcher block counter top. The piece was going to be a corner desk, but we had a change of heart when we saw the whole thing together as a straight desk. I couldn’t bear to cut that pretty chunk of wood! For now, the top is just setting on the cabinets until we make up our minds on the corner desk business. Once we do, we’ll latch it down for good. In the mean time, I sealed up the wood with some Watco Teak Oil. I just poured it on,

brushed it around,

waited 30 minutes, and wiped it off. Again, easy-peasy finishing. Double score!

Phew,  and that’s the story of finishing the desk! I still can’t believe I built/designed it!…Oh, what’s that? You want glamour shots? Why yes, I can show you those! A hardware/cabinet/top close up:

The filing-cabinet cabinet (I still can’t believe that all my measurements worked out):

The printer cabinet:

The left cabinet basking in the sun:

And the whole shebang:

Parfait! Now, if only I had an ounce of accessorizing talent I could really make this desk sing. Outlook not good, but that won’t stop me from trying!

The Desk!

Ahhhh!!! The desk is COMPLETE. And I am in LOVE. Before I reveal the whole shebang (the finish is still drying so it’s not accessorized or anything), I wanted to tell you guys a little bit about how it was constructed. You may remember that I designed it from scratch. Let me tell you, it was worth it! After I had my plans and dimensions, I found myself at home with this pile:

After using the chop saw to cut it all to size, I had this:

The general design was of an open-front cabinet with an overlaid door. Each cabinet had two side panels, a back and bottom of MDF and a front door. I started with the side panels, as they were the most labor intensive. The general idea for them was to have a 2×4 frame with 1x4s in the middle to create a recessed panel. I laid everything out before I started drilling so I could make sure the good side of the wood was facing out.

I used the mother of all jigs, the Kreg Jig, to drill in pilot holes for connecting the boards to each other. I also drilled pilot holes that will eventually connect the cabinet to the top. I am so thankful I thought of this, because it’d be hard to get the jig in there after the cabinets were already assembled! Foresight to the rescue!

After all pilot holes were done, I clamped together the center 1x4s and inserted the screws. Yep, I did this step in the living room. What? Celeb Apprentice was on! I couldn’t miss it ;)!

then assembled the outer frame:

and then attached the two! Viola! 4 panels:

I also used the jig to pre-drill holes for the pieces that attached the two panels.

The board sizes used for the 4 pieces were dictated by the file cabinet that needs to fit inside. So, because the total height of the desk was restricted by the chair and a pre-fab center support from Ikea, the top front cross bar had to be small to maximize the open front dimension. Make sense?? Probably not, but in a nut shell, I had to make the cabinet fit, and that size wood was the only option! Next step was the front and back. Cue the MDF. Here’s the bottom, it’s made of 3/4” MDF and is glued to the front and back crossbars for support:

The bottom piece left 1/4” of width so the back panel could be set on top of it, and sit flush with the back of the cabinet. Here’s a detail shot of how the back is attached:

In the photo above, the bottom is the side panel, the left vertical piece is the top rear cross bar, and the right vertical piece is the back piece of MDF. As for the front of the bottom piece, it got a tiny piece of trim to cover the raw edge:


And with that, we had cabinets! Apparently, I forgot to take a good picture of the raw, finished piece. This is all I got:

But you get the idea. It’s a cabinet! Woohoo!

As for the door, it’s similar to the side panels in that there is a frame and center. For these, however, the frame is of 1x4s screwed together using the Kreg Jig:

and the centers are just 1/4” pieces of plywood glued and nailed to the back of the frame:

Again, I must have been so excited to be finished I forgot to take a photo! Bummer city!! But yeah, those are the desk cabinets! Coming up: how I finished them!

A Few Furniture Design and Construction Considerations

I am in no way an expert designer. I’m just a crazy girl who likes to build stuff in her free time, so take my advice for what it’s worth. With that said, I am someone who started at the ground and kind of taught myself using the resources around me (namely, family and Google, my two favorite worldly entities). I’ve had plenty of “Oh eff it!” moments, but I’ve also had some “Thank goodness I thought of that before I cut the only piece of wood long enough to make what I need!” moments. So, to help save your from having to go back to Homey Deeps in the middle of a project (so frustrating!) or cursing a blue streak at the miter saw (feels good, but not so helpful), I’ve compiled a little list of things to think about when designing your own piece of furniture/anything made out of wood.  Unfortunately, it won’t prevent you from finding yourself like this while trying to figure things out:

1) Dimensional lumber sizes vs. actual sizes:

Okay, fine, if you’re thinking of building something, you probably already know this, but just to make sure you do, I included this tidbit because it really is that important. The dimensions on the signs for the pieces at home depot do not equal true measurements! Here are some general rules copped from this website:

  • subtract 1/4 inch for dimensions under 2 inches (51 mm)
  • subtract 1/2 inch for dimensions under 8 inches (200 mm)
  • subtract 3/4 inch for larger dimensions

And you can see a full chart of the conversions here. A lot of times when building it doesn’t matter what the dimensions are, but that they are the exact same across pieces. Easier said than done.

2) Screws Hitting Each Other: 

I’ve learned this the hard way. If you’re constructing something that will attach to two or more things, consider HOW (what direction, the screw size etc.) they will attach to each other before you drill pilot holes. I have most definitely gone to put in a screw only to hear that unsettling sound of metal grinding against metal. Don’t be like me, and plan where and how things will be attached before even screwing the first thing together!

3) Available Lumber Sizes:

Seems simple enough, right? Get your Google on, or visit your local hardware store/lumber yard to find out what’s available and design around that whenever possible. It’s a lot easier, quicker, and leaves less room for error than trying to shave off a 1/4 inch from a 3/4 inch wide, 6 foot long board. True story.

4) Where the piece will fit and what will fit inside of it:

I know what you’re thinking: ‘Duh!’ I know, I know, but give yourself a little wiggle room, too. If you’re a tried and true un-perfectionist like me, you know that a piece never ends up exactly as it was planned. Things squeeze together, and boards aren’t cut exactly to length. Ces’t la vie, but things will still be salvageable if you’ve left room for error. ALWAYS LEAVE ROOM FOR ERROR.

5) Tools you have:

Plan what you’ll need for cuts: miter saw, circular saw, table saw etc. Do not try to cut all pieces for a nightstand with a jig saw. There is not enough putty in the world to fill those gaps.  If you don’t have the tools necessary, have the hardware store do the dirty work or plan to borrow from a well-equipped friend. Not that kind of well-equipped. Get your mind out of the gutter!

6) Remember, patience, more than skill, is required in carpentry:

I wholeheartedly believe this. And yet I still have trouble following it. I actively try to consider sanding, wiping, dry time, etc. as part of the process. I try to find my inner zen in the back and forth brush strokes of the forth coat of poly. I am almost never failed by the superior results after taking the time for proper prep, but oy, but I still get bored doing it. Thank god for podcasts!

So those are my 2 6 cents. What are your design considerations??

P.s. The desk’s first coat of paint is on! It’s Benjamin Moore’s Van Deusen Blue:

And I know  you can’t get the full effect, especially against our navy living room walls (it looks grayer than it really is), but this is what it looks like right now.

Progress! If it ever stops raining, we’ll be well on our way to a new desk in no time!

Designing a Desk

You’ve probably heard that I’m attempting a simple, low-cost makeover of our multitasking-superstar-in-need office/closet. The piece de resistance, the crown jewel, if you will, of the makeover is going to be a brand new, DIY desk I have designed (and am currently building) myself. Fun, right? Yes, I do have a skewed view of a good time.

The current/soon to be old version of the office has a hulkin’ desk on loan from Mike’s company, and while it is super nice of them to let us use it, the piece isn’t exactly (what’s cookin’) good lookin’. The countless notebooks and binders shoved under there doesn’t help much, either.

Because we can’t alter (read: paint) it in any way, I figured, hey, why not build our own? Again with the skewed view of a good time. What can I say, I’m DIY crazy ;).

I’ve never designed a piece from the ground up before, so this has been a new process filled with trial and error, and plenty of ‘oh yeah, I forgot!’ moments. I started by trying to figure out the general gist of what I wanted in the final product and whittled the requirements down to:

- Corner desk (for better use of space)

- Incorporates the small file cabinet and printer (to visually reduce clutter)

- Relatively easy to build with the tools we have (for obvious reasons)

- Relatively inexpensive (again, for obvious reasons)

I focused on deciding on a surface for the top first, since that would probably dictate what the cabinets should look like. After throwing around a few ideas, I settled on this $60 8′ butcher block counter top from Ikea. That’s a lot of block for not much buck! (har har) We’ll eventually cut it so it spans the corner.

Originally, I was going to go the cheaper route and use a few 2x10s attached in a plane kind of like this one from Young House Love, but Mike draws lots of maps for work (how cool is that?) so any less-than-perfectly-flat surface was a no go.

With the countertop decided, it was on to the cabinet design. And let me tell you, it included a whole lot of what can only be described as what my grandpa would call “figuring.” Figuring clearly goes better when snacking on Tostitos. You can thank Mike for thinking to capture this real moment with my calculator iPhone camera.

The sketching, calculating, considering board dimensions, the dimensions of what will fit inside, and available board sizes took a good while. There was a lot of scribbling and dramatic scrunching up and throwing of papers on the ground, but I eventually came to a design I was happy with.

There will be two cabinets, one holding up each end of the desk, and a table leg holding up the middle/corner. The main design element is the side panels of the cabinets, which are based on the panel construction seen in this sideboard.

I liked the style, and easy adaptability to meet our size needs. Statue of Liberty Bear says hi, by the way.

Supports are used to connect the two panels of each cabinet together,

and the backs and bottom shelves are just MDF (a cheaper plywood alternative). Oats also says hi.

The door design is still a work in progress. Again, a lot of trial and error involved in designing on your own, but for now I’m happy with the fact I took an idea swirling around my head and somehow translated it to a pretty good looking box. Crazy!

Details on the construction process and my own design tips coming up. Stay tuned!

A Direction for the Office/Closet/Greenhouse

As I’m sure you’ve gleaned from the title, this posty post is a little mood board preview of what I’m thinking of for the office. If you remember, our multipurpose office room is cluttered and DARK, so the main goals are to make it sleeker and lighter. A comfortable, easy place for office work and picking out something to wear. Here’s what I have so far:

Man, my mood board skills leave a lot to be desired. Practice makes perfect!

So, for the feel, we’re sticking with our design favorite and go-to of casual, relaxed, and ahem, folksy. Funny how that happens ;). The main elements are:

1) The desk. In my last post I left you with a picture of a pile of wood. Surprise! That trunk full of pieces is currently making its glorious transformation into a butterfly (can’t help myself with the strikethrough humor) hopefully awesome corner desk for Mike! (btw, I have that desk picture pinned, but the link takes me to google reader so I don’t know the source. Sorry!)

2) Accent colors. The easy, country feeling of these three are striking a chord with me right now, so that’s where we’re headed.

3) Light. Um, the old office is dark, so what’s a better way to lighten it up than to add a light. I’m a genius I tell you. (light from

4) Closed storage/clutter wrangler. We have some doors like this salvaged from Mike’s grandparent’s house, so I was thinking of using them in a similar piece custom built for the office. It could hold all the office accoutrement and possibly a grow light in the spring. However, this guy is going to have to wait. It’d take a while to design/build, and I don’t have the patience to build it before we start moving stuff around in the office. Eventually! (pic clipped from

5) Oh yeah! Almost forgot, the background is a tip of the cap to the drop cloth curtains that will be a cover for prying eyes. No creepers looking into my closet, thankyouverymuch.

As for wall color, I still can’t bring myself to be cool with white walls. I can’t get over the stark/institutional feeling of them, but maybe I’m just not envisioning it well. I figured I’m going to try to take this re-do slowly (new for me) so I can make informed decisions instead of ending up with an, ahem, DARK office again, so it isn’t imperative that the wall color be chosen now. I’ll wait to see how the desk turns out and go from there.

So, thoughts? opinions? Have a mood board tutorial for me…I could sure use it!

Put a top on it!

(Yes, the title is a reference to Portlandia’s sketch “Put a bird on it!”. If you don’t watch that show, go do it now!)

Ok, so you’ve seen the finished bar, and I’ve shown you the how-to on the copper tray, so today I’m gonna show you how my $2 piece of yard sale wood went from fug to oh-so-fabulous, if I do say so myself.

The ol’ slab was beat down and broken by what looks like having been left outside to weather the elements for far too long. But I knew it had potential…it even had the raw bark still attached, how bad could it be?

Well, before I got to sanding (MY LEAST FAVORITE THING EVER), I removed the bark and the brackets. Some of the bark was peeling off, so I just decided to go with it instead of trying to rehab something that is likely to break later on. I used a paint scraper ever-so-carefully and it ended up working pretty well. I found some fun surprises under the brackets, namely what looked like abandoned spider nests. Nothing living, though, thank goodness!

After the goods were removed, I wiped it down and it was time to get my sand on.

I used the usual 40-60-120-220 sequence of coarse to fine grit papers. The stains seemed deep so I started with the extra course 40-grit to get more material off the top quicker and worked my way finer from there. If only there was a sanding fairy that just swept in and made everything smoothe…ah, we can all dream!

The sanding did not exactly happen in the blink of an eye. I sanded for a good 2 hours, and then Mike tagged in. Some of the stains were just not coming up, so we decided to bail on keeping what was originally the top the top, and made the executive decision that the bracket side would now be the top. If it means no more sanding, fine by me!

After the course of sanding was finished, this is what we had:

On the left there is the original top, and the right is the old bottom, which was now destined to be the new top. Have I lost you yet? ;) Either way, you can see that the right side is in better shape, so that’s what we used as the top. :)

I went through the old staining rigmarole, starting with the pre-stain and moving to one rubbed in coat of Minwax Golden Pecan. If you want to more about how I get my stain on, see this post where I went into more detail.

Once the stain was dry, we brought the hunk-o-wood into the kitchen for polyurethane. I know, I know, not a great idea. We had all windows open and kept them that way for two days. Promise! You know poly is a finicky beast, so we couldn’t do it outside in the cold where it would’t dry properly. (Read more about my poly-ing style here)

Have you gathered yet that I’m a head lamp junkie? Shhhhh please ;). After one coat, it looked like the picture on the bottom there, shiny, but still not high-gloss. This happens, I think, because the wood isn’t perfectly smooth so the poly settles on an uneven surface and doesn’t uniformly reflect light. That’s my theory anyway. Thankfully, a second coat of poly filled in the ups and downs, and we had a shiny, protected, bar top!


The Microwave Cart

It’s amazing how some things can go unnoticed for so long, and then once you realize what’s going on, it must be changed. IMMEDIATELY. Enter the microwave cart, which has stood next to our stove since about a week after we moved into our apartment. It has faithfully held our nukin’ machine ever since, but the other day, I noticed that the wood was dirty and unfinished. Suddenly, I just absolutely could not live with it in that state anymore. Here’s how it looked when I started:

I cleared everything off, and pulled it away from the wall. I was met with the pleasant surprise of a greasy floor that I think I probably knew was there, but I just couldn’t admit it to myself. Do you have places like that in your house…the ones you kinda know are dirty/dusty/grimy, but don’t really want to check for fear of feeling obligated to clean? So, added bonus (if you can call it that) of the cart re-do is I went from lurking dirty floor to clean and sparkly covered floor. Here’s a TMI before and after:

Muuuuuch better. Back to the cart. I look at the refinishing process as three steps: 1) Prep, 2) Stain/Paint, 3) Finishing. I’ve had to conceptualize it this way so I view them all as equally important. I used to rush through prep and/or finishing and ended up with nothing but frustration and fugly pieces. SO, in my wise older age, I try to enjoy each step of the process. Try being the operative word there.

The prep for this piece was delightfully simple as it was already pretty smooth (smooth = good for staining). I started with good ol Murphy’s Oil Soap to get as much of the dirt and grime off the top (#1). A little wipe and rinse was all it took. We don’t have a hood over the stove, and the cart and the floor have paid dearly for that. Once the wood was dry again, I used the random orbital sander to get up the rest of the grease off the top surface (#2). This was an important step because the grease would have changed the way the stain sunk into the wood, making it look blotchy. You can see how the grease gunked up the 100 grit sandpaper in #2 up there. I finished the sanding with a finer, 220 grit and then wiped it down (#3) so it was all clean clean. Then, it was stain time.

I always start with the Minwax pre-stain (#1). It supposedly preps the wood to accept stain more evenly. All you do is brush it on and wait 10 minutes before staining. I honestly don’t know if it does anything, but I used it one time with fantastic results and haven’t had the courage to go without since. For the color, I went with one coat of Early American and one coat of English Chestnut (#2)…mostly because I didn’t have enough of either one to do two coats. #3 is how it looked after the first coat of Early American, good stuff. In #4, I’m wiping on the second coat, which was English Chestnut. It brought in some reds and made the piece look a little richer, in my humble opinion.

Now, I know a lot of people brush on stain and then wipe it off. I NEVER do this. For some reason this method gets away from me and not only do I make a hot mess of splatter, but it seems like the stain doesn’t go on as evenly as if it’s hand-rubbed in. I highly recommend trying it if you’ve had bad luck with staining in the past. Just dab on some stain like you’re putting nail polish remover on a cotton ball, and then wipe away. You probably want to wear gloves…I need to just buy a box of them already to have around the house.

I let the stain dry over night, and went on to refinishing step #3: finishing!

Oh, finishing, you take so much patience. To lessen the need for a clean lab to do finishing in, I used the wipe-on satin poly for the body of the cart (#1). I rub it on the same way I do the stain, and after two coats, it’s good to go. Easy peasy.

For the top, which will get more use and abuse, I went with a high gloss brush on poly (#2). That stuff takes patience and a clean clean clean smooooth surface. Did I mention it should be clean? Well, it should be clean. Oh yeah, and DO NOT SHAKE THE CAN EVER. You want the poly to go on as smoothly as possible, and shaking introduces air bubbles which will mess up the finish, big time. I use a sponge brush to apply the liquid (no bristle strokes!) and make sure it is soaked with poly and devoid of air (#3). This is a quick tip Mike’s dad told me, and it’s serve me well. Brush on the poly, and hope for no dust storms. I brought the cart into the mudroom to complete this step, less chance of rogue dirt/lint/bugs that would stick to the finish. That’s what I mean about the clean lab, the cleaner the environment the better. After one coats is pretty dry, you’re supposed to lightly sand to improve adhesion, but I live on the wild side, and just put a new coat right on the first coat. I warned you I was trying to be patient with all steps. Either way, it came out great, look how shiny and pretty the top looks (#4 and #5)! I left it for 24 hours to dry, and booya, finished microwave cart!

And mission accomplished. No more unfinished, greased up wood in our midst. Phew, I can rest again!