I build a bench from reclaimed wood

[Please note that proper safety equipment is a must for projects such as this, especially when using Liquid Plumr, and the reader is responsible for his or her own safety, as there is no expert advice here.]

I built a wood bench and this is how every step of the project went: Oh, s**t, I messed that up. Damn, how did I screw that up? Oops. Oh, no, how did I make that mistake. ARRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH. 

Yep, that’s pretty much how the project went. I don’t have the expensive tools they do on TV shows, or the skills, so I have to improvise. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

However, at the very end of the project, when I had the bench upside down and assembled, I carefully lifted it off the saw horses and placed it upright for the first time and felt a great sense of relief upon seeing it: Wow, that turned out a lot better than I expected. Hey, that looks pretty good. All is forgotten, wicked bench. 

I applied the apple-cider vinegar and stainless steel stain I used on the table I refinished.. I also waxed each piece with Briwax clear before assembly.

Here are some photos.

Here is the raw wood I began with. It's at least 50 years old and very heavy and dense. The piece on the bottom is one of the legs. I thought I was going to have the trestle go through the legs at first. I drilled the holes and then chiseled out the wood. I thought, "this isn't that hard." Then I flipped the board over and noticed that I'd split the wood from trying to do all of the chiseling from on side. I should have gone halfway down, then flipped the board over and repeated. Oops. Argh. Damn.

Here is some of the raw wood I began with. I found it in my mother-in-law’s house before we sold it. It’s at least 50 years old and very heavy and dense. The piece on the bottom is one of the legs. I thought I was going to have the trestle go through the legs at first. I drilled the holes and then chiseled out the wood. I thought, “this isn’t that hard.” Then I flipped the board over and noticed that I’d split the wood from trying to do all of the chiseling from one side. I should have gone halfway down, then flipped the board over and repeated. Oops. Argh. Damn.

I used my apple cider vinegar and steel wool stain again. However, I messed up the ratio of liquid plumr to water and the stain came out very light on the first coat. The next picture shows the other side of the board.

I sand with 100 and 180-grit sandpaper, then used my apple-cider vinegar and steel wool stain again. However, I messed up the ratio of Liquid Plumr to water and the stain came out very light on the first coat. The next picture shows the other side of the board and how different the same stain can look.

This photo shows how sanding and a lack of Liquid Plumr can change the look of the same wood. I didn't spend as much time on this side and I didn't use Liquid Plumr. I really thought this side looked interesting and was going to use it as the top side until my daughter and wife voted against it. They liked the other side because it matched the table I refinished. They made the right choice.

This photo shows how minimal sanding and a lack of Liquid Plumr can change the look of the same wood. I didn’t spend as much time on this side and I didn’t use Liquid Plumr. I really thought this side looked interesting and was going to use it as the top side until my daughter and wife voted against it. They liked the other side because it matched the table I refinished. They made the right choice.

Here are the legs. They came out darker. Again, same stain, but slightly different look. I used my Kreg pocket hole jig to attach the legs and trestle.

Here are the legs. They came out grayish. Again, same stain, but slightly different look. I used my Kreg pocket hole jig to attach the legs and trestle. I used wood plugs to hide the holes and unless you look closely at the finished bench, you’d never notice them.

To darken the top, I used four coats of the stain. There's nothing like old wood. It's heavy and the grain pattern is much better than newer wood.

To darken the top, I used four coats of stain. Then I used Briwax clear, of course, and a beautiful brown shade appeared. Perfect. There’s nothing like old wood. It’s heavy and the grain pattern is much better than newer wood.

Here is the finished bench. The trestle is reclaimed wood that is over 100 years old and came from a railroad repair station in Los Angeles. I used most of it for a countertop in our house and this was a scrap I had left over.

Here is the finished bench with three coats of Briwax clear. The trestle is reclaimed wood that is over 100 years old and came from a railroad repair station in Los Angeles. I used most of it for a countertop in our house and this was a spare piece I had left over.

Here is the bench next to the table I refinished. It fit perfectly. And having a bench is cool. My daughter likes it and the table gets a lot more use now.

Here is the bench next to the table I refinished. It fit perfectly. And having a bench is cool. My daughter likes it and the table gets a lot more use now, as you can see from the mess on it.

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Homemade apple-cider vinegar and steel wool stain applied to a table I bought on Craigslist for $100

[This post is my repayment for all of the blogs I enjoy reading that discuss home projects and experimentation. This is my attempt to share my experiences so others can learn from my mistakes. The proper safety equipment is a must, of course, and the wonderful reader is responsible for his or her own safety, as there is no expert advice here.]

Once a year my OCD sets its laser sight on Craigslist, and I end up cycling through ads looking for used furniture to replace our old used furniture. Example: I just replaced the dining room table and chairs that I bought on Craigslist with another dining room table and chairs I bought from – wait for it – Craigslist.

But why stop at one dining table when you can buy two?

Yes, I bought a second table to use in our new kitchen, which I still haven’t posted pictures of, as I think the experience of remodeling it drained every bit of my willpower and energy to think about anything related to kitchens at this point.

The good news: my wife loves her new cocina. She’s upped her cooking skills in it, resulting in some outstanding culinary experiences for us. Amazing what going from cracked tile and grout to nice new smooth quartz countertops can do.

My kitchen mission is complete. Next project, please.

Hello, beat-to-hell, left-outside trestle table with a crack down the middle of it.

This is the "before" picture. It's got water stains and the edges are in poor shape. Luckily the stain they used was very thin and came off with the sander.

This is the “before” picture.  Water stains covered it because they used it outside, and the edges were in poor shape. Luckily the stain they used was very thin and the sander ate through it quickly.

It was listed on CL for weeks at $400 than $300. I passed. But they were moving and needed to get rid of it. So, I offered $100 and got it. I figured at the very least I could repurpose the top for another project and use the trestle base with a reclaimed wood top. With that in mind, I decided I had nothing to lose on the table and could experiment. 

I discovered a homemade-stain recipe on the Internet using vinegar (white or apple cider) and real steel wool. What the heck. Why not. I like the smell of vinegar better than commercial stains.

Creating the stain was an interesting process: fill a sealable glass jar with steel wool and apple cider vinegar, shut the top, and leave it there for at least four or five days, or more (10 days for this table). The steel wool slowly dissolves and blackens the mix. And each day I gently shook the jar to mix it up, resulting in a blackish-gray liquid with little specks of swirling steel (it takes weeks for the steel wool to completely disappear).

Creating the stain was an interesting process: fill a sealable glass jar with steel wool and apple cider vinegar, shut the top, and leave it there for at least four or five days, or more (10 days for this table). The steel wool slowly dissolves and blackens the mix. And each day I gently shook the jar to mix it up, resulting in a blackish-gray liquid with little specks of swirling steel (it takes weeks for the steel wool to completely disappear).

hold

As we’re saving money in my family right now, the sanding of the table fell to me, which meant wearing a dusk mask, connecting the sander to the vacuum, and placing a large fan nearby to blow any dust away from me. I sanded the top three times, using 100, 150, and 220 grit. I was too tired to sand underneath the table three times, so I made two passes with 80 and 220. (I have since read a great book on wood refinishing and come to realize I’ve been over sanding furniture.)

sanded table

4 hours and a sore lower back later, I finished.

Lesson Learned #1: Use the same type of wood to sample the stain color. I used some small blocks I had around from when I shortened the legs of a table and added wheels. Not a good idea because they weren’t sanded at all and were probably a different wood.

Lesson Learned #1.5: According to some of the blogs, you can use brewed black tea to add tanins to the wood.  I tried this on a sample piece of wood but it colored the wood a shade of ebony. If you want black stain, this may be the perfect method for you. Some blogs said to add used coffee grounds to the mix for a deeper shade of black.

Lesson Learned #2. I used 50% Liquid Plumr and 50% water on the wood prior to staining. The sodium hydroxide works really well with pine to keep the stain from blotching on the wood. But I think it may have killed the gray/driftwood look I was shooting for. (Note about this technique: It’s potentially dangerous and you have to gear up with a mask and safety googles that protect against liquid splashing and you have to wear protective gloves and clothes you don’t care about. And it’s nerve racking applying it. Yes, it’s a pain, but safety first.)

The Liquid Plumr dries and turns the wood a yellowish-green. No worries.

The Liquid Plumr dries and turns the wood a yellowish-green. No worries. I let it dry overnight before staining.

This photo shows the apple-cider stain on the wood. Always work quickly and keep a wet edge. Don't stop on a surface and if you have a helper, have them help, which I did by enlisting my daughter and wife. Also, put a tarp down under the furniture because the stain does stain concrete. I learned the hard way.

This photo shows the apple-cider stain on the wood. Always work quickly and keep a wet edge. Don’t stop on a surface, and if you have a helper, have them help, which I did by enlisting my daughter and wife. Also, put a tarp down under the furniture because the stain does stain concrete. I learned the hard way.

This shows the stain after it has dried. It turned a pinkish tone and I started to worry. Luckily, the pink tone wiped off in the form of a powder. I recently built a bench (future post) and didn't have this problem. Not sure what happened. Heat of the day?

This shows the stain after it has dried. It turned pinkish and I started to worry. Luckily, the pink tone wiped off in the form of a powder. I recently built a bench (future post) and didn’t have this problem. Not sure what happened. Heat of the day?

I like Briwax. I used Clear and you can see the side with the wax and without.

I like Briwax, even though I never seem to be able to apply it thin enough. I used Clear and you can see the side with the wax and without. I was relived when I saw the brownish shade appear once the wax was applied.

This is the finished table weeks later after my daughter beat it up, but I think it turned out very nice and as it cost only $100, some labor, vinegar, steel wool and wax, it would be okay to tap dance on it. Let it age, I say.

This is the finished table weeks later after my daughter beat up the wax finish. I think it turned out better than I thought it would.  And, as it cost only $100, plus my labor, vinegar, steel wool and wax, I don’t mind it getting pounded. Let it age, I say.

That’s the story of my Craigslist table and homemade stain.

Here is a list of lessons learned:

  1. Don’t wear your sunday best – it may be a natural stain, but it still . . . stains. 
  2. Use a strainer (I bought two made out of a mesh material at Home Depot) to pour from the master container into a smaller container. And use the small container to dip your brush.
  3. No puddles allowed – When the stain is drying, look for puddles and spread them out. These puddles will leave stains in the stain, like a water-glass can on wood. 
  4. Every wood reacts differently to the stain. If possible, test a sample piece first – of the same wood, if possible. Apply your finishing coat to the sample too. You want to see the entire look. When I applied the wax, the table turned brown. You may have to experiment with different protective finishes for the look you want. 
  5. Drying in the sun may affect the look. The table dried on a hot day. When I stained a bench on a cold night in my garage, it dried differently. 
  6. The vinegar stain needs to sit at least four days in a sealed container. Shake it every day. This was the first point when it started to color the wood. Some claim 24 hours, but it did nothing for me after a day. 
  7. Not sure if Liquid Plumr helped or not. Working with LP makes me really nervous and I have to gear up in my hazmat suit. Not sure I’d use it again. Maybe I’d use a pre-stain conditioner if I’m using pine. 
  8. Work quickly – avoid drips or stopping on a surface midway. Having a helper makes a big difference on large pieces like a table. 
  9. Stain gets everywhere. Use drop clothes. It’s very thin and drips all over the place. Well, maybe not for you. But I was working fast. 
  10. Don’t oversand. I learned this lesson afterwards when I read a book by an expert on finishing. 180 grit is the point where the human eye can’t see scratches. That’s where I’m stopping from now on. 
  11. Write down how much steel wool and vinegar you mixed together in case you ever want to duplicate the color, though I have a feeling it all ends up the same no matter how much steel wool you add. 

All the best to you on your project. Please share your lessons learned, comments and/or pictures.

More kitchen appliance shopping – death of a salesman 2012

I ordered all of our new kitchen appliances on the Internet.

And though I’m thrilled to be finished with this dentist-visit-like step in the kitchen remodeling process, I feel bad about it.

I passed on the three retailers I mentioned in the previous post. It’s hard to buy something from a store when you’re not approached by anyone. I do, however, give Sears some props because when I tweeted about it they were concerned and wanted to know more about the experience. And Lowes tweeted too.

But that’s not why I feel bad.

Here’s a sample kitchen we like. It’s a lot of fun trying to pick the right shade of green. Almost as fun as sticking your hand in a running garbage disposal.

Our contractor gave us a tip on a family owned appliance business here in the valley. I called the store and spoke to a very helpful and knowledgeable salesperson. Tom, we’ll call him for this post. He gave me a good price on the appliances I wanted and was responsive by phone and email. I did the math and they were around $400 more than what the appliances would cost me on the Internet, figuring in no tax, but higher shipping costs.

My wife and I discussed it and decided it was worth it to buy locally and have better peace of mind should one of the appliances break down.

After looking at tile and more granite (don’t ask), and quartz, we went to the appliance store and met Tom. Again, super nice. And I had my credit card out and ready to go. But the stove I picked out didn’t have the hood style we liked and back in my wallet went the AMEX card. We drove home to research generic range covers and new stoves, telling Tom we would be back the next day to purchase the appliances.

I spent more hours Saturday night looking at stoves and reading reviews, which by the way was a killer, going back again – how many stoves and stove reviews can one wade through? Food for thought: angry people always take the time to leave negative reviews. And they always tell people not to buy anything from the brand they’re upset with. I soldiered past these.

Sample number 2 with green and white.

Up early Sunday morning, I continued reading and researching, wading through comments to sort out key points, like if a stove had a fan noise problem, or the dials melted (some do), or if the LED displays petered out over time. My OCD comes in quite handy at these moments.

Finally, I upgraded the stove, which made my wife happy because it’s all silver, no black, has a griddle feature, which made my daughter thrilled for the future pancakes she’ll try to flip but miss, turning them into taco shells.

This is the most I’ve ever spent on an appliance. It better cook like a charm and come with a personal chef to make me my McGriddles each morning.

I looked up the price of everything on the Internet. The local store doesn’t match internet prices. And the difference was at least $900, with 2/3 of that tax. I thought about calling the local store and seeing if they would match them, but I didn’t, as they told me the day before they didn’t match online-only prices. So, I ordered them off the Internet. And I felt very bad, but was thankful the Internet wasn’t around when I was a salesperson, which leads me to a question that may seem anti-American.

How are brick and mortar retailers supposed to compete with no-tax internet retailers?

It doesn’t seem fair that I can order a Whirlpool refrigerator from ABT and save sales tax, but if I order it online from Sears I pay tax for my state. I understand the early argument about wanting the internet to succeed in its infancy. But it seems well established now. I also understand why sales people stand around in these stores. They’re tired of spending time with customers who are milking them for research, then purchasing the items off of the internet – ask Best Buy how this is working out for them.

We’ve now moved to the “picking out countertops and backsplashes” stage. It’s even more painful, but in a different way. There are a lot of moving pieces. And I now understand why people resort to white subway tile backsplashes – simple, easy choice, and less chance of a mistake.

I wish it were that simple for us, but we like making things in life more difficult than they have to be. And we’re really good at it.

We are not granite people

Zion, Aurora Borealis, Orion, Cosmos, Golden Sun, Copper Canyon, Golden Crystal, Espírito Santo, Purple Dunes, Emerald Green, Kashmir Cream, and Lapidus.

This was one of the most interesting granites we found. But even we don’t have the courage to go with a style choice like this. Fear of looking outdated overruled this choice and the fact we’re going with browns, oranges, yellows, etc. But still, this is one cool-looking slab of rock.

We spent Saturday walking granite yards.

It was dirty work and in areas of Los Angeles my daughter has never seen before. Areas with large power-line transformer towers, graffiti, murals on the sides of buildings, railroad tracks, and apartment buildings with cool-sounding names leftover from the 1950s and 60s.

I tossed  in a teaching moment and reminded her how good we have it compared to others. But it was a really a reminder for me, as I’ve been feeling envy of others in Los Angeles lately – the million-dollar home owners and those who can afford exotic granites with names like some of the ones I started this post with.

I should have no complaints about what we have and our good fortune. Driving through LA yesterday reminded me of this. We are lucky to have what we have, despite life  in Los Angeles and advertising constantly screaming that we don’t.

Another thing I realized yesterday is that I don’t like granite. Or, more accurately, I don’t like granite in kitchens.

Looking at large slabs of it is like looking at nature’s artwork. Beautiful, complex, deep – I love a 6 x 10 feet piece of rock. And if we had a kitchen island the size of a slab, we’d have granite. But we don’t even have a kitchen island. And granite when it’s cut into pieces looks busy to me, which makes me an oddball here in LA where granite countertops are ubiquitous.

If you listen to our real estate agent, everyone wants granite and that’s the only thing to put in for the best resale values. But we’re not going to because both my wife and I came to the same conclusion yesterday: we’re not granite people.

We don’t live in a house fancy enough for granite countertops. It’s not us. And we want a clean white kitchen, which is going against the grain of stained cabinets. Busy granite needs a mellow or white subway tile backsplash. We’re more backsplash people. And we want one that looks mind-blowing and is as colorful as an Andy Warhol painting or English garden in spring.

We want something fun. Not something serious and maybe a bit too proper or adult.

This slab is more in line with the colors we’re thinking. Goldfinger (completely random reference to James Bond who probably wouldn’t give a sh** about granite countertops, as he lived he life on the road away from home and ate in restaurants all the time.)

So, we going with quartz,  the number one choice of Consumer Reports for countertops. A nice neutral shade and solid color. And it will be nice and smooth like granite, which we don’t have right now with a crumbling-grout tile countertop.

If I had any courage at all, the quartz countertop would be colorful – orange or red. Or we’d paint our cabinets a color. But that’s not going to happen. We’re still adult enough to realize we will have to sell the house one day, which could be tomorrow knowing how much I want to move every time I deal with some of our neighbors and their demons.  We need to create a kitchen that appeals to a wider range of buyers. Or so conventional wisdom goes.

So, white it is with quartz countertops and an eye-catching backsplash. And though I’m not enjoying the remodeling process this time, I’m doing my best not to sweat it because I know how lucky we are and how many others are not. Kitchens are, after all, just kitchen cabinets and stone. They are not life.