I came so close. I really did. It was finished! Well, except for the paint job, but that would have been easy. So close. But I wasn’t satisfied. It wasn’t perfect. So I had to go ruin it. A good dining table makeover gone bad…
Back in the summer of 2015, The Navage Patch didn’t exist yet. Handan and I were planning a blog – in fact, I’d already bought a domain name in October of 2014 – but we were dragging our feet on launching. I had the name, The Glue That Binds Us (I still own the domain), and I had designed a couple of logos, but that was about it. Would you like to see those original logos? Well, I’ll show them to you anyway.
I thought the name was pretty clever at the time. But now? Blech. What a sentimental pile of crap! Thank god Handan wasn’t so keen on it and had the good sense to suggest “The Navage Patch” (that was the nickname of my San Francisco apartment). What did I know from good blog names back then? I’d never even read a DIY blog! In fact, my only experience with blogging up until that point had been a little recipe/lifestyle blog I kept while we were living in Doha. That one was called “Chef out of Water,” a name that I’m still proud of today. That was a fun little blog while it lasted. I’m sure my five readers were bummed when I stopped writing. I still have those posts saved. Maybe I’ll publish one from time to time, if you guys would like to read a younger and more flippant me. 🙂
Anyway, back to whatever the heck I was yapping about. Oh yeah, the summer of 2015. Since a blog was on the horizon, we had started to tackle projects with the notion that we would someday be writing about them and publishing them. So when we chanced upon an antique Victorian dining table at a weekly tag sale one Saturday, we knew we had a winner – both for our house and for the nascent blog.
What grabbed Handan about this table were the legs.
She’s a sucker for carved animal feet. She’s also a sucker for baby feet. Yeesh, you should hear her every time she sees a picture of baby feet!
No matter that one of the feet was missing a toe. That could be easily fixed by yours truly.
The table top was okay. Nothing to write home about, in my opinion, but a sanding/staining/sealing was definitely in order. Handan’s plan was to paint the legs white and distress them. That would make a nice counterpoint to the dark-stained top.
I set to work on it once we bought it home. Of course, I only remembered the “before” picture after I had started to sand the top, but this is close enough.
See, even back then I had the forethought to photograph my supplies!
The table came with an insert. Unfortunately it was cupped and unusable as it was.
I read up on how to flatten cupped boards. The technique involved wet towels and sunshine, so I laid it on a wet towel and left it in the sun. It kinda worked.
But it was just never flat enough to look good. I resolved to make an insert, though I had no idea how I would make it match. Anyway, that was a problem for later. I needed to focus on the main table top.
It was pretty dinged up. Not surprising given its age. Or maybe it belonged to wealthy aristocrats whose unruly brats gouged the table with their butter knives every time the cook tried to serve them beets. Or lima beans. Or fish.
“Chicken of the sea,” she called it. “It’ll be delicious,” she said. BAH! It tasted like oily fish!
Ahem. So yeah, this was how the top looked.
I sanded until my hands went numb. No really. It was the weirdest sensation. I turned off the sander, and it felt like I had two Polish hams attached to my arms.
When feeling had returned to my
hams hands, I wiped the table with mineral spirits and reached for the stain. I think I used a 50/50 mixture of Minwax Ebony and Jacobean. Oh, it looked perfect…
…Pity I hadn’t wiped off the excess stain yet.
After the big wipe, I had another look.
I’ve seen better stain jobs on my shirt after spaghetti night! A stain job like that outta come with free grief counselling!
As you’ve no doubt guessed, because each of you on your worst day is undoubtedly smarter than I was back then, I forgot (read: didn’t know I needed) to apply pre-stain conditioner to the wood before staining. Okay, look, I had a can of it, so it’s not like I was a total boob, but I don’t think I’d ever used it before. It just sort of sat there on the shelf, collecting dust – a silent testament to my woodworking ignorance.
I put on my hearing protection, donned my dust mask and fired up my
It was like deja vu all over again.
I blew the dust off the lid of pre-stain and pried it open with a screwdriver. Hey, this stuff smells pretty good. I took a couple of big snorts before reading the warnings about inhaling the vapors. Dangit. I stumbled over to the table and slapped on the pre-stain. I waited the obligatory 15 minutes and wiped off the excess.
This time around, I went with full Ebony – no mixing it with Jacobean. I wanted it dark.
The stain was as good as it was going to get, or more to the point – as good as I was going to get it. Handan and I carried the table inside so I could apply polyurethane in a cleaner environment than the garage.
I used my favorite glossy wipe-on poly, and after I had applied 3 or 4 coats, I had a pretty good finish. But “pretty good” wasn’t nearly good enough for this blue-chested doofus! Oh no! I wanted perfect! So I read up on how the pros get that mirror shine. Turns out they do all sorts of wet-sanding and then they apply car polish.
Wet sanding, eh? I could do that!
Hmmm, I think I need a higher grit! Time to ditch the machine and use my hands!
Dadgummit, where’s my mirror shine?? I was lied to! I’ve been had!
In the end, I didn’t get my mirror shine. The only thing I got was a swirly dull table and a broken heart.
Ah, well, onward and upward! Stiff upper lip!
I started over with the wipe-on poly.
I gotta say, it was looking pretty freaking awesome after the last coat.
The surface wasn’t perfect. There were waves and indentations, but to almost anyone’s eye, it would have been more than good enough.
But “pretty freaking awesome” wasn’t “perfect,” was it? “More than good enough” wasn’t “perfect,” was it?
Oh, no ho ho sirreee! Not nearly perfect enough.
And the more I looked, the more imperfect it looked.
Ripples! Ripples everywhere!
I threw my rags to the floor in disgust and shouted at the ceiling about the unfairness of it all.
Handan thought I had lost it. She thought it looked great.
But I knew better.
Oh, I knew much better!
“It’s crap!” I bellowed into the stale, vapor-filled air of my office. “I need to do it over!”
“Whatever, babes. Do what you want.” Handan said, as she shook her head and left me there alone with my rippled and pock-marked failure.
I needed to do it over, but I couldn’t keep spinning ’round the same old track. I needed a new angle. I had read somewhere that professional furniture finishers used lacquer for that perfectly smooth and mirrored shine.
How hard could it be?
I did a little more research and learned that the pros sprayed the lacquer from fancy spray guns in positive-pressure clean-rooms, so there was no chance of dust contamination.
I could get the same results with some Home Depot brush-on lacquer in my garage!
I kindly asked my long-suffering wife to once again help me move the table back out to the garage. I really didn’t want to sand back down to bare wood and start the staining process yet again, so I sanded off the poly as best I could. Once I had it sanded to where I thought it needed to be, I prepared myself to use lacquer for the first time.
Everything I read planted doubts in my mind like little mines. Every thought or idea I chased led me to another explosion of promised failure.
“You can’t brush lacquer. It must be sprayed.”
Then why does the can say “Brush-on Lacquer?”
“You must apply the lacquer in a sealed tent with a positive-pressure system.”
I’m pretty sure my garage is ummm…positive?
“Lacquer is like ambrosia to insects.”
I’m in the garage….I’m sure they won’t find me.
“Lacquer vapors are extremely harmful. Use only in a well-ventilated area.”
Hello! I have the garage doors open!
(But what about the bugs..?)
Doubt flooded my mind, so I did what any reasonable person would do: I switched off my brain and jumped right into the work.
I unwrapped my fancy new lacquer brush. It was made from the spring growth of a Gypsy Vanner Stallion’s mane or some such nonsense.
It promised a smooth and even coat of lacquer with less shedding than, say, the brush made from a Clydesdale’s fetlock fur. Whatever. Just gimme the lacquer and let’s get on with it.
I opened the can of lacquer and took a tentative sniff. I couldn’t help it. I smell everything. Especially if I’m told it’s harmful or fatal. The lacquer had the strong smell of impending doom.
Yikes. This stuff was no joke!
I took another sniff for good measure and got to work.
The lacquer brushed on easy enough. The brush marks self-leveled in no time. As I progressed across the table top, I started to feel pretty good. This may have been the job I was doing. Or maybe it was the vapors. We’ll never know, for sure.
About halfway through though, I looked back and saw something sticking out of the lacquer. So it was true, what they say. That bug must have had one hell of a rush before he died. I plucked him out with my finger and spread a little more lacquer on his place of death.
The table looked good when I finished. I was cautiously optimistic.
I started to think that all those rules and warnings about lacquer were a bunch of hot air bellowing from the mouths dolts and dummies.
I had outsmarted them all! In a garage! With a brush!
I left the lacquer to dry, figuring I’d slap on one more coat a little later.
Well, when I came back a little later, the volatile organic compounds had all evaporated, leaving the lacquer a lot less smooth than it had seemed before. Okay, no big deal. I would put on another coat and all would be fine. You see, the great thing about lacquer, as opposed to, say, polyurethane, is that a second or third coat of lacquer will melt the layer underneath, hiding any imperfections that may have crept into the previous coat.
I applied the second coat with a will and a whistle. This table would outshine the gods themselves!
It was about then that I remembered that I hadn’t sanded the polyurethane off the table’s edge. That should be okay though, right? I bent closer to have a look.
It was not, in fact, okay. Turns out lacquer melts polyurethane, but not in a good way like it melts other lacquer layers. No, it melts polyurethane in an ugly and bubbly way.
I looked up from the edge and inspected the table top again.
DOUBLE CRAP! A bristle from my fancy horse mane brush had dislodged itself and gotten hopelessly trapped in the table lacquer!
And furthermore, why is the lacquer all ripply and pock-marked?? It doesn’t look any better than the poly! In fact…
…it looks far worse! GAH!
I stood there for a long time just staring at the table. My mind had gone blank. I think it had seen enough. It wanted no further part in this charade, this bumbling circus of fools, so it retreated to a deep, dark, quiet corner of my brain, leaving my useless and lifeless body to stand next to the failed table, swaying slightly and drooling.
Some minutes or hours later, my mind returned to survey the damage.
It was bad.
It would require yet another full sanding, down to bare wood. And those intricate edges would need to be hand-sanded of lacquer, polyurethane and stain.
My brain crunched the numbers and returned a verdict:
The hell with this!
I found a piece of plywood, placed it on the table, and pushed it to the back corner of the garage.
And there it stood for over two years, a storage area for crap we never use.
This January, we came up with a new plan. A bold plan. A break from tradition that would propel that antique Victorian dining table (or parts of it, anyway) to glorious new heights!
Even as I type, this new thing takes shape in the basement.
Soon, we will unveil it to the world.