Monday, January 4, 2010

A Whiter Shade of Pale

Actually, just the opposite. That title would more appropriately address my complexion. Over the holiday break, I took some time to turn our coffee table into a slightly darker shade of brown.

For some reason, I convinced myself that only an oval coffee table would do for our living room, so when I snagged this one off Craig's List for only $20, I was pretty stoked. Not only does it fit the bill shape-wise, it is perfectly on the demure side for the limited space we have. The only problems were the plethora of scratches and ring marks and the not-so-yummy honey colored stain that was clashing with our mahogany entertainment console a mere 2.5' away. My solution was same one that I bring to most problems: paint it glossy white! All scratched and banged up? Paint it glossy white! We're ending fiscal year 2009 in a $110K deficit? Paint it glossy white! You get the picture.

Will? Not so much a fan of all the glossy white in our home. He really wanted to keep it the original wood and thought it would be nice to match the entertainment console. And so, in an act of selfless love and devotion, I let him get his way on a decor thing just this once, and set out for Cole Hardware for varnish stripper, a drop cloth, stain, and varnish. Regrettably, what I did not buy was a facemask. Still getting sawdust out of my ears and nose. Amazingly healthy.

With cats properly secured away from my work area (the kitchen table - ironic?), my drop cloth in place, and the mouse sander on stand-by, I went to work .....

BEFORE: when will people learn to use coasters???

STEP 1: letting a thick coat of varnish stripper do what it does best. Later I noticed that a little of it had eeped out around the bottle and eaten off the label. Very glad I had some yellow rubber gloves on hand.

STEP 2: no picture of this one because I probably forgot due to being loopy off the toxic fumes .... Though this varnish remover was an absolute miracle potion/toxin, it took some serious elbow grease to scrape off the varnish. It was actually decently effective to get it off the tabletop, but it was almost impossible to get it off the curvy (but adorable, nonetheless) legs, which meant extra sanding later.

STEP 3: bring on the sanding! While the stripper effectively removed much of the varnish, it of course does not remove the wood stain. It needed to go! Enter more elbow grease. Here's the table after over two hours of sanding. It took about another hour to get it completely polished off around the legs. Poor naked coffee table...

STEP 4: this is just one coat of stain! In the store, I was actually unsure whether or not the stain would be dark enough, but it sure as heck as was due to my sanding method (see "Lessons Learned" below). Please note that it is dark outside ... still working ...

STEP 5: in the morning, once the stain is nice and dry, I applied the first coat of varnish. Then I continued to do that every morning for the next two mornings, for a total of three coats.

Overall, I am extremely happy with the final result and so glad I did not take the easy way out by painting it white. Sure, it has a few imperfections, but they are reminders of a novice project well done.

1. They are not kidding when they say wear a mask and ensure ample ventilation.
2. Varnish stripper is good at removing stuff. Like skin. Wear gloves!
3. Using coarse sandpaper for the entire project takes less time, but the rough surface soaks up more stain than a smoother one, yielding a darker color than you may have intended.
4. Sometimes boys are right.


Janis said...

Nik - that table looks FABULOUS!

brooke said...

Nice work! I've never played with varnish's so SHINY!! Also loving the ikea hanging in the that for my sister for her birthday. :)