The Tiffany desk, a broken foot, and a nomination

Image has kindly nominated me for the One Lovely Blog award! Thanks to Larkin for the nomination. Now go show her some blog love.

I snatched up this desk when my BFF Craigslist told me about it.

wood vanity old desk before

She had potential

I sped over to the house, stopping at an ATM on the way, and pulled up where a man had placed it outside on the front walk. I suppose there’s always the temptation to pick it up and run, but I wouldn’t have been able to anyway because this. was. Heavy.

The man called a teenage boy in the house to help me load it in the back of my car. I drove off with it nervously shifting side to side in my trunk, and I shuddered at every thud I heard when I turned. Husband had to help me load it in the garage.

Later that week. I went to the garage to work on it, thinking it would be a fairly quick project since it was structurally sound and just had cosmetic damage, and that I would definitely be able to finish before leaving for our midwest vacation and the symphony started for me.

It was not to be.

broken foot leg


The foot had broken off completely. I didn’t know how I missed that. There was no way I was willing to sell this thing with a missing foot.

I initially dealt with this by ignoring it completely and addressing all the other cosmetic issues. Like the fact that it needed to be bathed in wood putty.

desk cosmetic fix wood putty

Desk and wood putty: head-on collision.

Then I sanded, sanded some more, puttied some more, sanded again, primed and painted several coats. Went on vacation, got my symphony music. And it sat in the garage, lamenting the fact that it was a fabulous color of blue but had no leg or drawers.

To condense a lot of boring details, I eventually decided to deal with the foot after talking to several “real” woodworkers by getting a rasp, a coping saw, and making the foot myself.  I did consider just prying off all the legs and replacing them with new ones, but after realizing how heavy this desk is and seeing how all 8 legs are heavily braced, this is the route I decided to take.

Here’s what I started with.

broken desk foot

The canvas I had to work with.

Here’s my arsenal:

Coping saw

coping saw

Arsenal of Insanity 1


rasp 2x4 leg

Arsenal of Insanity 2

I took a piece of scrap 2×4, cut it to the correct height, placed it against the other leg, and traced the shape. Then I took the biggest drill bit I had and started drilling holes into the end grain around the border of the leg, if that makes sense. I cut away the excess with the coping saw, then rounded the concave part with the rasp. I lost a significant amount of sanity while whittling shavings away. I assume most woodworkers who had no access to power tools are legally insane.

attached wood desk foot

I whittled away my sanity, but at least I had a leg.

Finally, I had this.

wood desk foot

The left half is the foot I repaired. The right is one I was trying to match.

I pondered for awhile what to paint the drawers. I wanted white but as I mentioned in my previous post, I was afraid of it being too 8-year-old girl. I considered keeping the blue and also silver, but the majority liked the idea of white. A commenter on my FB page opined that the white against blue looked very “Tiffany’s” and I was sold.

Here’s the final product from a few angles.

Refinished Tiffany blue wood desk, via Coffee Under The Umbrella

I have to say, I LOVE this color combination.

Refinished Tiffany blue wood desk, via Coffee Under The Umbrella

Refinished Tiffany blue wood desk, via Coffee Under The Umbrella

Look at these details!

Here’s the breakdown of steps and materials used.

1. Wood putty and spackle to fill in dents, gaps, other imperfections. Overfilled each one.

2. With my Bosch RO sander and 150-220 grit sandpaper, sanded off the excess putty after it dried. By hand in spaces too small for my sander.

3. Puttied again because inevitably there are always spots you miss, the putty shrinks more than you anticipated, etc.

4. This time, sanded by hand.

5. Vacuumed off dust, then wiped with a damp cloth or tack cloth, whichever was handy at the time.

6. Primed with Kilz latex. I am meh about this primer – it was on sale awhile back, but once this is gone, I don’t think I’ll be going back. It doesn’t wow me at all in terms of adhesion. It’s not horrible, but I think there are other primers that are better.

7. Sanded with 220 grit on the RO sander.

8. Vacuum, wipe, etc.

9. With roller, rolled on some Valspar oops paint I got awhile back that I’d been dying to use but hadn’t had a chance to. Added Floetrol and rolled on thin coats – thin as in, barely enough to cover the surface.

10. Brushed on where it’s too small for the roller.

11. Sanded with 220/320.

12. Lathered, rinsed, repeated steps 9-11 3 times.

13. Sprayed Minwax’s spray-on water based polycrylic in the blue can in semi-gloss. I’d had problems in the past with this product looking splotchy on darker colors (as in, anything darker than white), but I made sure to keep at least 10 in. of distance and went really light. It looked better after sanding with 320 grit by hand. I have mixed feelings about Minwax products at this time.

14. Scrap 2×4 for the foot – cut to size, traced the shape, drilled off the excess wood with a drill, cut off extra with a coping saw, then used the rasp to smooth out the curves.

15. Glued and clamped to the foot after filing the broken edge down, filled the crack between the two with putty, and sanded. Attached a block to the inside like the others with glue and wood screws.

16. New hardware from Hobby Lobby. Fixed the one drawer bottom with water damage by breaking it, then sliding in a replacement piece of plywood. Painted and top coated drawers.

This sits patiently (for now) awaiting a buyer. If you are local (Austin) and are interested, drop me a line through my contact page.

So the end of summer is finally upon us in central Texas, and while my output was slow last month, I have a garage full of furniture, a head full of ideas, and a house full of crap with nowhere to go, so the projects will again be forthcoming!

Update: I applied General Finishes’ water-based polycrylic to just the top in gloss. Hard as nails.

Linking up at Liz Marie’s linky party!


Vanity Refinish the III/I do not make these things up

I love the lines of this vanity. It reminds me of something you’d see in the office of a private detective in the 1940s.

Slick lines

It was another CL find. $20 and painted peach. I deposited my son at my neighbor’s house and hightailed it over to the address I was given.

“I didn’t think anyone would want this old thing,” the seller told me. “But I got 10 emails for it the first hour.” Score.

Vanity before refinishing

Vanity in its peach incarnation.

She had replaced the hardware as well with these card catalog handles, which I liked well enough. It looked kind of industrial, which I guess is all the rage in design right now. Which means they will be this moment’s avocado green next month. It was really light and I was able to unload it by myself. So no legs were broken in the unloading of this piece.

She had done a decent paint job, but hadn’t really puttied any dents. I was curious to see how many layers of paint there were, so out came the Citristrip.

Turned out it wasn’t covered in layers upon layers of gunk. I managed to scrape off most of the paint/primer on the desktop. Then sanded. And sanded more. Then puttied. Then sanded again. Then puttied again. And sanded again. Then sanded some more.

I don’t know if it is just me, but I find that I spend most of my time sanding and applying wood putty when I do refinishes. I know, “the prep work is the important part.” Anyway, there were several hairline cracks, probably from age, maybe from the wood not being dried long enough, and my garage temperature in the middle of the summer in Texas doesn’t help. The top consisted of planks that appeared to be edge glued and probably joined with biscuits. One of the planks had shifted slightly to be millimeters higher than the adjacent plank.

Then there was the issue of one of the drawers. The drawers had dovetailed joints. They’re old but still solid. This particular drawer’s bottom was in poor shape – it looked like it had gotten wet at some point and had some deep cracks that ran nearly the length of the board, never mind the raised grain. A groove was routed in all 4 sides of the drawer so that the bottom just floated in it. And because of that, I didn’t know how to get it out.

You can see in this picture that the bottom of the back had a clean break right behind the groove. It looked like I could feasibly just break it off without any trouble and pull out the bottom. But this is my life and those kinds of things don’t happen to me.

Drawer back

Drawer back. Notice I refrained from using the word “crack” in the same sentence as “drawer” and “back”.

My woodworker neighbor had been out of town, so I was happy to see their car in their driveway (because I like them, not just because I could harass him about furniture). He pointed out a dot in the back that was apparently a nail and suggested I carefully pull out the nail, pull off the back, then the bottom.

So I got out a crowbar and started pulling very gently. It came out, but it wasn’t a nail. I ended up breaking that little piece off the back after all. And it was a clean cut! I didn’t break the drawer this time!

Drawer back after I broke it

Drawer back after I broke it.

The problem was that the bottom wouldn’t come out. One side was loose, but the other wouldn’t budge. I was sick of dealing with it, so I did what any sensible person would do. I got out a pair of pliers and just ripped the bottom into little pieces until it came out.

Broken drawer bottom, pliers.

This is where I really broke it.

Some 1/8” scrap wood, probably from another old vanity, done. Prime. Sand. Putty because priming showed more imperfections that I couldn’t see before. Sand more. Paint. Not done.

After 3 thin coats, I just needed one more light coat before applying poly. I went back to the garage and picked up my paint can to shake it. And discovered that I had forgotten to seal the lid back on.

What ensued looked like something out of a Wheaties commercial from the 80s where the camera zooms in on some liquid that’s supposed to resemble milk splashing over all the flakes. But instead of pouring out of a pitcher, picture it placed in a blender without the lid and hitting the On button. About half a gallon of Antique White Valspar paint flew everywhere. Like, on me, and on (and in) my Bosch sander. I yelled a few words, then yelled for my husband. No answer. I ran to the door leading into the house, poked my head in, and yelled again. No answer. I grabbed a few rags and sort of soaked up part of the mess.

When I got my head back on, I realized that paint was soaking into the innards of my sander, so I’d better wipe that up. I yelled for my husband again and this time he answered. I yelled that I really, really needed his help.

He grabbed towels and started mopping up the spreading puddle. He handed me some wire to clear the paint out of the holes of my sander. The scene was actually quite boring.

Sander covered in paint

My poor sander after the first clean off

Husband calmly asked me to get some garbage bags and more towels. Having splashed paint on one foot, I hopped across the living room on the other foot to the kitchen. “At least you’re ok,” he said as I handed him the materials. “It’s just stuff.”

Husband cleaning wife's mess

My patient hero.

I sadly picked up my sander, covered in paint, with a heavy heart. “I’m afraid it’s gone,” he said. “But maybe, just maybe, if we turn it on, the centrifugal force will keep the paint from congealing.” This is how nerds think.

I turned it on, fully expecting it to sputter and die a dramatic, expensive death. And it came on. And sounded and looked completely normal!

As of this writing, my sander is bravely soldering on. Oh, and I finished the vanity.

Vanity after refinishing

Vanity after

My garage sale dining table

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

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

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.

Table refinish 1.

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.

dining table refinished espresso

Isn’t she slick?

dining table after refinish espresso

Because you have to see it in context.


Storage for the kiddo’s toys and mama’s toys

I didn’t have much toy storage, and the clutter was giving me hives. I built this plan and I’ll detail the modifications, plus how I had to take it apart and redo it.

ana white pottery barn knock off bookshelf

Kid toy storage for now; big people storage for later.

Instead of fastening the shelves directly to the sides, I fastened 1×2 stretchers to the insides to place the shelves on. I try to avoid butt joints when I can. I would love to try mortise and tenon joints. Let me know if you’d like to contribute to my “Buy me a router” fund.

I also made the shelves 36”. Then I also constructed a frame out of 1x2s to fasten to the front because the lack of frame bothered me for some reason, and also to reinforce the shelves. I used some leftover beadboard for the back, which I cut with a circular saw. I sanded and painted it before fastening it to the back, which I had learned by this point to do.

I had the box constructed. I had nailed the shelves to the stretchers. Then I walked into the garage one night to finish. And it leaned. A lot. And I cried.

In my hurry to finish, I had neglected to use a square at a crucial step, which was to make sure the shelves were square to the sides when fastening to the stretchers. Yeah, lesson learned.

I can’t quite remember my rationale, but I just used pocket holes to reinforce the shelves to the sides, which pulled it into almost square. Then I fastened the pieces of the frame to the front, instead of just constructing the frame first, mostly because it’s not 100% square. Putty, prime, paint, poly, yay.

Here’s a breakdown of how it went/should have gone (refer to Ana’s plan for exact steps):

1. Started with the sides made of 3/4″ BC grade plywood and sanded the heck out of them.

2. Cut 4 1×2 stretchers to the depth of each side and fastened them to the insides with glue and wood screws. Used a carpenter’s level to make sure that the shelves would be level when fastened to them.

3. Cut the shelves to 36″. Set them on top of the stretchers, double checked with the level, and using a carpenter’s square to ensure as close to a 90 degree angle as possible between the sides and shelf, fastened them to the stretchers with glue and wood screws. Used pocket holes as well for some.

4. Measured the back’s dimensions, and with a circular saw, cut the beadboard. Sanded, primed, and painted.

5. Nailed it to the back. Tried to avoid cursing the fact that I don’t own a nail gun.

6. Cut the top out of MDF, drilled pilot holes, and, with glue and screws, fastened it to the box, countersinking all screws (I don’t own a countersink bit, I just drilled a pilot hole for a #8 sized screw, then with a bit wide enough for the head of the screw, drilled another hole on top of the pilot hole. A trick I learned from my local mom and pop hardware store.)

7. Measured the edges, then cut the 1x2s for the frame to size.

8. Glued and nailed each piece in. Used a nail punch to get all the nail heads below the surface.

9. Filled all holes and gaps. Sanded, primed, painted, topcoated.

Now onto Mom’s toy storage.

This is my favorite build so far. I put this at the top of my to-do list when I saw Lady Goat’s cart, another Ana White plan. I bought all the lumber from a local lumberyard over the phone and paid for it. It took a few days to get it ready. The owner, from whom I always buy my lumber now, was nice enough to leave it outside the door after hours for me because I can’t get down to the yard during the day with the baby seat in the car. She lives nearby and kindly gave me her cell phone number in case I needed help loading.

I got down there and discovered that I’m too weak to load a 4′ x 8′ sheet of plywood into my car. So I called and she walked over to help. And it didn’t fit into my car. Crapola.

I hate borrowing other people’s trucks and really didn’t want to have to rent a truck or borrow a table saw. So I paid to have the plywood ripped and picked it up myself, which took a few extra days.

Here it is, with some modifications: I cut the wings to be 24” and added a diagonal support on each side using good ol Pythagorean’s Theorem. I also added another shelf to hold my sander, drills, and circular saw, a back to further reinforce the shelves, and because I am paranoid and this is my life and these things tend to happen, reinforced the top shelf even further by fastening it to the sides with 3 inch dowels.

ana white lady goats miter saw cart

Mama’s toy storage

I could hardly believe when this actually went very smoothly and according to plan. So just follow the directions.

My first strip job and the lessons learned from it.

(Yes, I went there). I bought this set in sad shape.

Sad peeling lawn chair, before

Sad peeling chair

2 chairs connected by a table plus one separate chair. I somehow fit this whole thing in the back of a Honda CR-V. Structurally sound, and desperately peeling. I had never sanded anything in my life and didn’t anticipate the extensive work that would go into this. I started sanding manually because I was just cheap. I am the child of an Asian engineer and married to another tightwad, after all. So I bought a 60-grit sanding block and started sanding away one night on my naked back patio slab over a plastic tarp. And started noticing all the spaces in between the boards that I couldn’t get to.

So I bought a belt sander off Craigslist (don’t judge me. No, really…just don’t), not knowing anything about them at the time, and took the whole. Thing. Apart. And stripped it. And it died 2 weeks later. It fulfilled its mission and was given proper respects. I’ve since learned to invest in tools that will see a lot of use and haven’t looked back.

I used Zinsser’s oil based B-I-N primer on one set and their water based version on another (that was over 2 years ago and I have no idea why I did that). Then spray painted them a bright cherry red from Valspar’s line. And was happy with them for a while. So I threw them on our back patio slab and ignored them and the rest of the patio for about a year.

Red chairs on a sad patio

Red chairs on a sad patio slab

So fast forward to a year later. My trashy slab with no covering was really bothering me. And looking out the window to see bright red chairs on it made my blood pressure rise slightly. Kind of literally because it was 100+ degrees all summer and red just made me feel hotter. And my son was having a birthday party in a few weeks and I hated the idea of having guests stand around on a slab. So I built some benches and a table. And will blog about that in a later post. Back to the chairs, I had a gallon of $5 oops paint from Valspar (I go to Lowe’s a lot if you couldn’t tell) just sitting in my garage. A lot more than a gallon – my husband calls me a paint whore – but one of them in particular happened to be outdoor paint and in a shade of blue that reminded me of a swimming pool.

By now, the red paint on the chair that was primed with water based primer was peeling (I’ve learned a lot since then), so I sanded, primed them all with Zinsser’s oil based primer, painted 2 coats, done. Ta-da.

Blue refinished patio chairs

Patio chairs refinished blue, take 2.


A big ugly dresser

Unfortunately, I don’t have a before shot. This thing was freaking heavy and all solid wood. It had these random divots running the length of the drawer in the middle. I replaced the drawer knobs for the middle drawers and filled the holes and random divot. This was one of my first projects, so I didn’t know anything about how extensively you have to sand down wood putty. Sorry, whomever bought this. At least the picture looks great.

The pulls on the outside drawers are original. I sanded and gave them a coat of silver Krylon spray paint, primed with Zinsser’s oil-based primer, painted using Valspar’s black latex in gloss, and top coated it with something my husband had in the garage. Sold.

dresser after