Furniture SOS: Fixing a “Ruined” Wood Surface

We have four kids. So, I thought I had a pretty kid friendly space. I was wrong. For roughly oooh, forever, Mike and I had a crappy table. I’d paint right on top of it – no protection needed. Sew – sure, right on top of it, draw – you name it I did it right on that table top. I knew if I ever wanted to “fix” it, I’d have to sand the whole thing down and paint or stain it. The thing is, I had zero intentions of ever fixing that table because it had four legs and we have a built in banquet. What I wanted was to replace it with a pedestal base table. It took me a long time to find the “perfect” table and when I did – I bought that thing. I brought it home and I threw that old table outside. Then I started protecting it when I painted/sewed/drew/did crafts with the kids.

The thing is, I’m pretty sure I taught my kids some bad habits when we had the old table. Because while I was patting myself on the back for coming up with a great indoor activity, E was spilling nail polish all over my table. Then she was rubbing it in with a paper towel. There were tears shed and apologies made and a trip to the big blue box store in all under an hour. Me and my four satellites. I had lived so long with a crappy table I just wanted my pretty table back.

sanding tabletop

Step 1: Sand the mess out
I used 220 grit sand paper on my random orbital sander. Just a quick run over it, enough to remove the finish and a bit of the surrounding finish so your stain will be able to touch bare wood. FYI – this table is covered in a veneer in case you are wondering if this will only work on solid wood. As long as you don’t overdo it with the sander you can fix veneered surfaces.

I wish I had a picture of the table before I sanded out the mess. However, nail polish has acetone in it soooo….yeah. I think you can imagine what it looked like.

Step 2: Gather up your arsenal
fixing table top2

  • Steel wool grade #0000
  • Oil based stain(s) – color to match the finish
  • Staining rags – old shirts will work
  • Chip brushes
  • Minwax finishing paste or polyurethane/laquer/whatever
  • Microfiber towel or similar lint free towel
  • Paper towels

staining tabletop

Step 3: Apply the stain
To get a richer color I often use more than one stain when I am finishing furniture. Today I mixed Minwax ebony with Rustoleum dark walnut. Usually I mix ebony with kona and I use Rustoleum brand. However today the store was out of my favorites so I went with the closest match. Rustoleum can be re-applied after an hour – Minwax is 4-6 hours between coats. I applied the dark walnut first. I use cheap chip brushes to apply stain working with the grain. They work really well and I can throw them away when I’m done. After a 15 minute dwell time I wiped the excess stain off with a rag. After an hour I repeated this process with the Minwax ebony. When I wiped the excess I knew I needed another coat of ebony to get a better color match so I let it sit over night (it was bedtime). In the morning I applied one more coat, waited, wiped, then waited until the kids went to bed to apply the finish. If you are happy with the final color move on to the next step.

minwax paste

Step 4: Apply the finish
If you ever plan on painting the surface of what you are fixing you can just use wipe on poly or your favorite clear finish to go on the surface. Make sure you use something that has the same sheen as what you are matching up – or plan to coat the whole thing. If you are like me and do not plan on ever changing your table – because it is perfect just the way it was is, then use Minwax finishing paste. The beauty of paste is it protects the surface from spills and it doesn’t leave brush marks. But, like wax it resists a new finish – so if you want to ever paint the surface you will need to sand it off. It’s fairly easy to apply, leaves a sheen based on how much you buff it and – get this – the finish is so smooth it will match whatever factory finish your table already has.

steel wool minwax

Dip your steel wool into the paste and then start rubbing it onto the entire surface of the table.

table top applying minwax paste

I like to rub it in with the grain and I always do the edges of the table first – this way I know I covered them when I’m covering the center and not paying attention to my strokes. Some people rub it in with a buffing/circular motion – it’s a sanding tool so I follow sanding rules. If anyone has a reason why it’s better to do circular let me know!

table top with minwax paste

It’ll begin to dry and when it does it’ll look like crap. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes on the surface then start buffing it out. Do not let it sit longer – more is not better. It’ll get too hard to buff and you’ll have to sand it off.

finishing tabletop4

I used a microfiber towel for my first round of buffing. Then I finished with a combination of a paper and microfiber towel until I got to my desired sheen. You want to remove all of the excess paste. If you aren’t sure if it’s off just press your finger on the surface – like your making a fingerprint and if it leaves an imprint you’re not done.

When you’re done, it’s going to look like it did before – maybe just cleaner : ) Here’s some close ups of the finished tabletop and I swear I didn’t touch them up in Photoshop.

finished tabletop finished tabletop2


The first photo was taken when I got the table. The sheen is the same. I only refinished half of the table and the other side matches.

13 Relationship Tips to Survive a DIY Remodel


Mike and I woke up the morning we decided to tear apart our house and looked at each other and said, “Well, where should we start?” We didn’t really go into it with any specific plan – since we had to demo so much. Lack of planning definitely lead to disagreements and some heated arguments – but by following these tips our marriage not only survived an entire house over haul – it became stronger and richer.

Be Flexible
This tip is number one for a reason. There will be days when your real life will take precedence. There will be many set backs – you won’t pass inspection, your special order items are on back order (and then when you get it, it’s too freaking big), your friends aren’t available to help, you get really sick, or worse you get pregnant (j/k best thing ever). In all of it choose to be flexible. Rome was not built in a day – and neither will your house – especially when you are doing everything yourself. Don’t tell yourself, “Well I can’t relax, that’s just not how I’m built”…no one is born an anal retentive weirdo. Just imagine yourself on a beach somewhere, with a mojito in one hand, your sun glasses on and your favorite music playing in the background while someone is rubbing sunscreen on your shoulders. See what I did there? That brings me to point number 2.

Lie to yourself.
I mean it. Go ahead. This is the one time in my life I think it’s okay to lie (well to be honest, I also lie about Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and where babies come from…but I digress…) Tell yourself you are awesome (even if you probably aren’t). You’ve heard it called positive affirmations. I call it what it is – flat out, bold faced lying. Believe you are stronger than you are, that you aren’t afraid of heights, that you can nail in one more truss clip, and that you have just one more day until you’re all done (even if it’s the first day of demo – or the 1,000th). It took us almost a year just to draw up the plans and get the city to approve them and it took us almost twice that to tear down and rebuild our house. But each day I told myself just one more day – even when we were living in the world’s tiniest trailer I’d say, “Just one more day”. The human mind is a powerful thing.

Communicate better with your partner
With the final stamp of approval that our planner gave us she simply stated, “Don’t let this project break you. Make sure you communicate with each other.” So, I will also pass on her advice. Communicate – without playing mind games, without trying to be the victim, the martyr, the “insert stereotype here”. Be honest, straight-forward and always kind. At times your partner will be doing an awesome job – make sure you tell them…at others they will be failing – be honest, but kind. Do not belittle, call names or cast blame.

Repeat: Do not blame
It may just be your fault when something goes horribly wrong because A) maybe you didn’t do it right or B) maybe you didn’t do it at all. When you both are doing everything yourself, chances are, at some point everyone is going to be at fault for something. So, when you open the black hole of resentment and blame – close it up, because tomorrow it could be your turn to take the blame and if you give your partner a break – maybe he’ll give you one too. And when did assigning blame ever get anything done? Remember the immortalizing words of the great orator Kimberly “Sweet Brown” Wilkins, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Accept that sometimes you don’t have all the answers and neither does Google
Mike likes to remind me – often – about an ongoing fight we would have (more like bickering or a squabble but I hate how those words make me sound like I’ve pulled out the thesaurus). The basis of the fight was that I believed our addition could be done a certain way and Mike, knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that 1) it could not possibly be done the way that I said it would and 2) that he was right and I was wrong. Gawd. I hate being wrong. Anyone else out there hate being wrong? Doesn’t it just feel so good when you prove yourself right? But boy…was I ever wrong on this one. He didn’t gloat too much (but he does bring it up an awful lot. I hope he’s reading this so he can see where he needs to be a better partner. j/k he’s awesome). The counterpoint here – and I think it’s what saved us, I am okay with being teased, corrected and taught – so it kinda cancels out how much I can’t stand to be wrong. Be okay with not being right all the time – it’s how we learn. And if you love being right, chances are you probably also love to learn and crave knowledge. Let people teach you.

Take time out for eachother
The remodel will still be there tomorrow. We took a week-long break to go to the Dominican for a friend’s wedding sans kids. It ended up being smack dab in the middle of our remodel and it was probably the best thing we did for eachother and our relationship and our remodel.

Spend time with friends
Remember, if you shun your friends they aren’t going to help you on your project. And you need their help. Plus you need a break from your reality.

If you have kids
Give them tasks to do. Make them help you – so long as it’s safe. The girls helped paint, carry wood, E even chipped off mortar from some blocks so that we could re-use them. They were our gophers and helpers and because of that they actually have a lot of pride in the house we built together. Also, remember, they are kids, and they are only young once. Take time as a family to let the kids be kids.

Just Do It. I know it sucks. I know it’s up there with not being right. But guess what, it feels good (eventually) and it’s going to come back – in a good way. It’s like karma.

Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt
I can’t count how many times Mike would collapse into the trailer after endlessly hot days of working on the house when I’d been at work in an air conditioned room the whole time and it would seem like we weren’t getting framing done as fast as I’d thought we could. Don’t be a jerk. Remember, they want it done just as fast and just as right as you do. Give them that. They are working really hard and a lot of times it really does look like nothing is getting done – especially when you are framing everything because there are so many little freaking metal plates and straps and crap that have to be hand nailed in. And that takes time. Too much freaking time.

Don’t let this project consume your happiness, your love and your relationship
Nothing, no project, no event, no person, no thing should ever have the power to mess up the good thing you’ve got. Use this project as a way to grow closer not pull you apart. Laugh about your failures and short comings, celebrate your accomplishments, compliment eachother – on your new tans, sexy bods, great work, whatever. Be a team. Remember why you are doing this project – to benefit your family. Period. So don’t let it destroy it. Your partner is your greatest ally – treat them like it.

Bond over other people’s mistakes
Instead of fighting or pointing the finger (that’s your friend or your dad etc) we joined forces and laughed about the short comings of our friends. When my dad got in a fight with our roofer and he almost walked off our job, we laughed about it. When Will built our stairs with a slope and we had to shim/sand/square up every.single.step, we laughed about it. We still laugh about it because our stairs are squeaky as hell. When our professional tile setters nailed holes into our shower pan we laughed fought about it…see we fail. But, we totally joined forces and got a free steam room/shower for it.

Accept help from others or pay someone to do it
We did our addition for $70/s.f. That’s about $130-$150/s.f less than if we had paid a General Contractor to come in and do it for us. We did a lot of it ourselves. However, there were things we paid someone else to do either because we needed a break (DR and our annual Yosemite trip), needed to go to work (two weeks on a fire for Mike), or we just could not do it ourselves (hot mop shower pan, concrete finishing, finishing drywall). You will still save money and your relationship will be better for it that you didn’t fail on a big ticket item that has to then be fixed by a pro (our fail – Red’s balcony deck).

Remember, you will get through this project – one way or another. You want to be able to look back on it and laugh with a happy heart – filled with great memories of over coming challenges while building your home and your relationship. You don’t want it to be the thorn that ripped your family a part.

DIY – Muslin Swaddle Blankets

Before the twins were born I was on strict bedrest…for about ten thousand years. Pure torture by boredom. For part of the day M would let me sit up and during my “sitting time” (as opposed to my laying time – and there was zero walking or standing time) I would get to sew, draw, paint, whatever task I could do as long as I was sitting.

Here’s one of my favorite projects, I hope you like it!

stamping-fabricStamped Muslin Blankets

When I first read the tutorial on MADE (how to sew your own muslin/gauze swaddle blankets) I wondered if it would be possible to use stamps and an ink pad to “print” on the fabric. The beauty of stamped ink is it has a softer feel than most fabric paints. It is also semi transparent so it gives it an airy, artsy vibe. The bummer about stamped inks is sometimes they are only permanent when they get on your clothes by accident. I’m not sure why this is – but it seems to be a universal law. I made about 10 of these blankets and the ones that I stamped with Hero Arts Shadow Inks seemed to work the best. They faded to just the right color and I heat set them in my dryer. The ones I heat set with an iron and my dryer were a different brand are barely visible after washing.

Step 1:
Buy gauze fabric – the same fabric that you see on those popular muslin blankets are made out of gauze. They call it muslin in other countries like Australia. Here, muslin is something else. At Joann’s gauze comes at 44″. Wash and iron your fabric, then cut it to 44×44″ squares – I say roughly because these things don’t have to be perfect the fabric is so wrinkly that there is a lot of room for error.

Step 2:
Sew all the edges under 1/4″. On MADE she says to iron all the edges. I didn’t do this, later on she says she rolled the seems under – this worked great. Do it that way. Once you have all your edges sewn it’s time to start stamping!

Step 3:
Get out your stamps and ink pads and use a scrap piece of fabric to test them out. Make sure you place a piece of cardboard or newspaper under your fabric so you don’t ruin whatever surface you are stamping on.

Step 4:
Iron your scrap and throw it in the washer. This step is optional. I didn’t do it and I’m happy with how mine turned out. But, if you have extra time on your hands or are planning on selling or giving this away you may want to know the final product first. To be honest, I stamped, waited 24 hours for the ink to dry, and then I threw them into the dryer on the highest and longest setting x 2. Then I washed/dried them. And by them I mean the actual blankets, not the scrap.

Step 5:
Stamp your blankets. For two of my blankets I chose a feather stamp. I placed it very randomly and you can see that on the navy feather blanket the feathers are closer together than the peach feathers. I think both ways look great : )

muslin blanket1

Make sure you stamp on the edge of the fabric and let your stamp hang off the edge – this makes the pattern look more natural and gives a better final product.
muslin blanket2

Step 6:
Pop the blanket into the dryer for two rounds on the highest setting.

Step 7:
And this is a tough one! Hang it up, lay it flat, do whatever you need to do but leave it alone for at least 24 hours. Letting it sit really lets the stain take hold and helps cure the ink. Let it sit up to a week if you like. Then wash and dry it for use.

Note: if you happen to have a t-shirt press then just heat it up to 350° F and spend 2 minutes on each press until you’ve pressed the entire blanket. Mine is sitting in my parent’s garage an hour and a half drive away…since driving wasn’t part of my bed rest (or ironing forever) my dryer did the trick.

The beauty of this project is you are only limited by your imagination. You don’t have to just stamp these sweet little swaddle blankets. You can stamp many other things like bibs or even a favorite t-shirt. You also can make your own stamps out of potatoes or foam or whatever your mind thinks up.

muslin_swaddle_blanket muslin_swaddle_blanket2