refinishing the occasional table of doom

1 May

It’s really a nightstand, but occasional table sounds way fancier.

I’d been looking for a table for our landing strip. See, I have this theory that good design is intuitive.  In other words, the places things go should be so obvious and easy that they organize themselves.  We were losing things constantly and I was convinced it was a systems problem, not a behavioral one.  I needed to do something to our entryway.  ANYTHING.

First I redid the closet with Closetmaid wire shelving, which I will never do again helped with storage but did not solve the daily coat-on-upstairs-bed problem.  Then I put Ikea coat hooks on the outside of the door, which did help. I was hoping a table would attract keys, purses and shoes.

I fell in love with this guy at Second Dibs and took him (her?) home.  Underneath it reads “Davis Cabinet Company – Walnut Nite Stand”. Spelling errors and a missing drawer pull aside, I was happy.

The finish on this guy was in rough shape.  There was never any question of leaving it.  I could have taken the easy road and painted it all, but I just couldn’t bear to do that to solid walnut.  Off to Home Depot I went for chemical stripper, paint thinner to rinse the stripper, steel wool pads, and a plastic dropcloth.

All the pictures of me stripping it are MIA and this is VERY UPSETTING. It was a sticky, messy, frustrating process that took ages and I really wanted sympathy.  Oh well.  I picked the “safer” product, Citristrip, since I was going to use it inside.  The scent was actually quite pleasant.  For a second I thought this was going to be easy and then it ate through both pairs of my kitchen gloves.

Here are the post-stripping photos, where you can see the beginnings of bare wood.

So much lighter!  So much healthier!  Too bad this was only the beginning.

I can’t even tell you how effing proud I am that I got all the goo out of those grooves.

Work to be done.

I needed 80 and 120 grit sandpaper in order to proceed, so it sat like that for a week.  When I started sanding it I realized this was going to be more work than I had counted on.

See that?  That is where I went back a second time and reapplied the stripper, in the grooves where the finish had settled.  Both dark and light bits are bare wood, I’m sure of it — so either the Citristrip bleached my wood (which would be disastrous, and means I have to paint or stain it dark) or it’s lifting the old stain.  Which means I might be able to sand it out.

Well, here goes nothing.

My arms gave out before reaching “perfect”, but what a difference.  The wood turned a new lighter shade (for the second time in this project) and became uniform.  Well, more uniform.

I’ll never try this without an orbital sander again.  Non-trivial safety note: hand sanding is no joke!  I didn’t put on the dust mask immediately so now my chest is tight, I’m coughing/sneezing brown ick and I have sawdust in my eyelashes.  Next time you’re going to see me decked out like Bill Nye the Science Guy.

I left the back of the cupboard doors untouched so you can see how bad it really was.  No effort without appreciation!

I wiped with damp paper towel, then dusted the corners with a toothbrush, and then tack cloth.  Then I vacuumed.

Finally, the rewarding part:

Bringing it into the 21st century with a coat of primer (Valspar Interior Latex Enamel Undercoater).  I thought long and hard about whether to use oil-based primer, which is supposed to be more durable, but I already owned this.

After 2 hours of dry time per the container, I sanded this lightly and put on a thin coat of black latex paint (Valspar Latex Enamel).  It looks pretty gnarly, but after using this paint on my white bathroom door, I should expect it.

Hold on … Must go stare at my door and try not to panic.

The problem is that now I’m seeing brushstrokes everywhere — on my table top and on my previously perfect door.  Ugggggh.  I guess I can wait, sand a smidge (can you sand latex paint? oh God please) and then try to use a roller.  SUCH SUSPENSE!  Will I survive the week?  Will I ever make it to polyurethane?!


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