I bought my first real piece of furniture, new, when I was single and in my mid 20s. I agonized over the decision because it was my first real big purchase. As a freelance musician, I didn’t have a lot of cash to burn, and while I won’t divulge how long ago that was, I didn’t know anything then about refinishing furniture.
It was a dining table with 4 chairs and solidly built. I have no idea what sort of wood it was, but it was solid wood with a tile inset in the table top. And it was freakin heavy because of that tile top. My friends hated me when it was time to move.
My 1st real piece of furniture! With dirty grout!
I asked my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, what he thought, because I really thought that it was going to be ours. He muttered that it was ok, but that the grout would be difficult to clean. And that I should just get it if I really wanted it. I was not as practical of a person then as I am now, so I just thought I’d learn to deal with it. I loved it, so I bought it.
And I owned it for 9 years. It saw cats being shooed off and a baby smearing stuff all over the top and into the grout. By now, the grout always had gunk in it. And I grudgingly admitted that my husband had been right. And he graciously didn’t respond at all when I told him that.
My tastes had changed considerably over the years. I no longer liked the swirly pink tile look. I wanted something clean that would fit in our little breakfast nook. I didn’t want to go through all the effort to build a table that wouldn’t accommodate more than 4-5 comfortably. More on that in a later post.
One Saturday morning we spied a garage sale on the street behind us. We wandered over and I spied a dining table. It was wood and a very common farmhouse sort of style with an atrocious honey sort of shellac-y finish on it. And it was $25 because the owner just wanted it gone. Sold! She loaded it into her SUV and was nice enough to drive it over to our house.
And like a lot of projects at my house, it sat in my garage for A Really Long Time. Here it is in its original finish with, as every other surface in my house, a bunch of crap on it. Including the second Skil sander I owned that lived a very short life.
My $25 garage sale table in its honey shellac-y glory
I finally got around to sanding it down. And I used my Minwax Mahogany Gel Stain again. And it looked horrendous.
What I should’ve done is apply wood conditioner. It had a “fishy eye” appearance in which most of the surface looked fine, but there were these odd little blotches here and there about the size of a fish eye, which apparently is rather common, as Google told me.
So I stripped it again after it sat in my garage and served as a work table for a while. And I applied wood conditioner this time. And decided to try a water based stain. I tried Minwax’s Express stain that comes in a tube. And here was the result.
Take 2. Ugh.
Yeah, I wasn’t a fan, either.
By now I was crying at the thought of stripping it again. My husband told me to just “spend the money! Stop being a tightwad! We’re going to use this for 20 years and it was $25!” I was told to spend money?! Wahoo.
I went to my local Woodcraft. I heart those guys. It’s 5 minutes from my house and staffed mostly by old-timers who never look at me funny when I show them pictures of my projects that I just broke and ask what I need to fix it (with the understanding that I’m going to actually buy something from them, of course). I showed the guy there a picture of the horrible stain job. He refrained from laughing hysterically at me and politely asked what I used, and he never batted an eye when I told him. “Not good?” he asked. “Not good,” I replied. I threw a barrage of questions at him, including whether I’d have to strip the table again completely. “Not necessarily,” he replied. Which made him my hero.
I told him I wanted to use water-based stain. Mostly because I can’t throw away oil-based stains or staining rags in the garbage. I’d have to take them to our city’s hazardous waste facility and it’s a 25 minute drive from my house (laugh all you want, big-city dwellers. We complain about commutes longer than 15 minutes in these parts). He showed me General Finishes water-based stain in Espresso. “I use this for clients all the time,” he told me. I asked him if water-based stains were all that much worse than oil-based. “Ten years ago, they were,” he said. “They’ve come a long way since then.” I asked what he would use for his own house. “Oil. I’m old school,” he replied.
Since this is already way too much detail, I bought the GF water-based Espresso stain. I gave the table top a light sanding and applied the stain right over the existing mahogany with a rag. And it looked amazing. 4 coats, then 4 coats of poly, a fresh coat of white paint on the legs, sold the tile top dining table, and done.
Isn’t she slick?
Because you have to see it in context.