And our next contestant is….

You’ve all been wondering it: now that the kitchen’s done, what am I going to do next?

I wanted to take a moment today to let you know:  you people sure know how to put the pressure on.  I mean, it’s only been, like, 7 weeks since I birthed a kitchen.  After 18 months of labor.  What on earth makes you think I’m going to do anything next?

Maybe I just want to relax for a bit.

Maybe the scars need a chance to heal.

Maybe — and perhaps most importantly — I need more time to figure out a project that’s even more mind-blowing than this

Kitchen before and after 3

or even this

Mason Jar Craft fail

Because now that I have you, I don’t want to disappoint you.  I’ve come to realize that I cannot live without your adoration.  And now, I am willing to do just about anything to keep you coming back for more.

Including cutting a hole in the roof and adding a dormer to accommodate a bathroom where none currently exists:

third floor before and after

You know why this project has the potential to out-do the kitchen remodel?  It will involve plumbing, electrical, and HVAC, just like the kitchen.  It will involve cutting holes in the exterior of our house, just like the kitchen (in the roof this time — that’s new!).  But unlike the kitchen, we’d be creating a room out of NOTHING instead of rebuilding an existing room.

Neat, huh?

I mean, right now, we live in a 6-bedroom, 1 1/2 bathroom house.  Say what?  I guess 110 years ago, people did not think they needed a bathroom for every bedroom in the house.  And while I tend to agree (to put it more accurately: I would give my left ovary to never have to clean a bathroom again, so fewer bathrooms is always better), I also think that “6-bedroom 2 1/2-bath” sounds better in a real estate listing.  And this was never supposed to be our “forever” home, so I’d like to add as much value as we can while we’re here.

But.  You know what else would be nice?  That we could actually enjoy while we’re still living here?  A garage.

garage plan

why we need a garage

I don’t think I have to explain why we want a garage.  If the picture of our pathetic, very public back yard doesn’t convince you, then I will just say this: we live in Minnesota.  Last winter, we had 57 inches of snow.  Fifty.  Seven.  The average temperature was a balmy 9.7 degrees (yeah, that’s Fahrenheit), including 53 days where the temperature didn’t even get above zero degrees.  That’s almost two months.

Ways in which building a garage would out-gun remodeling a kitchen:  It’s bigger than the kitchen.  Literally, like, square-footage-wise.  And we’d be building the whole thing from the ground up.  Actually, we’d start below the ground; we’d have to do a bit of excavating so we could pour a concrete slab — how much would you love a video of me trying to DIY that?  Because “excavating” = me in a Bobcat.

I would have SO. MUCH. FUN. if I got to drive a Bobcat.  All other reasons aside, this project ranks pretty high on my priority list for that alone.

But.  I didn’t get the chance to argue for either of these projects.  Because one night, before bed, Chris and I were brushing our teeth, doing all those semi-awkward things that married couples do when they’re sharing a single sink and a single mirror (like trying to smile and pretend that the gob of toothpaste on the other person’s chin is cute, or trying to remember not to spit out your toothpaste right when they’re moving in to rinse off their brush), when Chris suddenly said, through a mouthful of minty fresh foam, “What if we put a frame around the mirror?”

House Tour: The Bathroom

Now.  Two things.  1) If Chris takes the initiative on a DIY project, I would be an idiot not to take advantage, right?  And 2) This bathroom clearly needs a lot more than a frame around the mirror.

Unless, by “frame around the mirror,” he meant this:

Luxury Bathroom Vanity

via BHG

Which I can only assume is exactly what he meant.  So I spit out my toothpaste and stared him down, daring him to admit that he was messing with my head.  And then he said, “Maybe a new light fixture?”

Fancy chandelier

found here

fancy classic chandelier

found here

bathroom chandelier

via Lonny

Now.  It’s no secret that Chris and I do not share the same taste in light fixtures.  So I was getting a little worried that maybe we were not on the same page.  And then he said, “And a new shower curtain?”

Ummm, no.  Not the same page AT ALL.  After all, we won’t even need a shower curtain.

fancy tiled shower

via BHG

And of course, we’d need a soaker tub

Mirrored soaker tub

found here

and a walk-in shower with at least two shower heads

luxury shower

found here

which means we’d have to annex some closet space from the office next door.

bathroom before and after

Believe it or not, the conversation actually got that far.  And then, right when I was really getting into it, Chris said, “You know, we’d have to cut holes in the ceiling below, to hook up a new bathtub and shower.”

sudden stop

The ceiling below?  You mean, this ceiling below?

House Tour: The First-Floor Bathroom

The one in the half-bath, which is part of the kitchen remodel that we JUST FINISHED??

I thought about it for oh, approximately 0.27 seconds, then said, “Okay…

…how about the front porch instead?”

Post-Project Stress Disorder

The kitchen is done!  Has been for a while now!  And apparently I just took a little time off to recover from my renovation hangover before starting another big house project!

So, hi!  How have you been?  It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve chatted.  But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on anything.  Oh no.  Because I am incapable of doing nothing.  I must always be working, fixing, changing, IMPROVING!!  A ROLLING STONE GATHERS NO MOSS!!  CAN’T SLEEP CLOWN WILL EAT ME!!

cant sleep clownll eat me

“So,” you ask, “if you haven’t been working on the house, and you haven’t been sleeping, what have you been doing during your relaxing break from remodeling projects?”

Excellent question.  And the answer is all around us:  I rebuilt this website.

In the last three weeks, I have spent approximately 10,374 hours in front of computer screens.  Many good brain cells were lost during my attempts to decipher the indecipherable.  I nearly lost Chris, too, when the filter between his brain and his mouth malfunctioned and he made the mistake of saying out loud that computer language is “easy” because it’s “based entirely on logic.”

To which I politely responded, Oh really, Einstein?  Hello, my name is Sarah and apparently we have NOT known each other for 14 years.  So here is a fun fact about me: logic does not rank high on my priority list.

Case in point:  I wanted to move the sidebar on my website.  So I decided that this is going to require a WHOLE NEW WEBSITE.  And that, given that I know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about building websites, that I am the right person for the job.

This is not a logical decision.  I can see that now, in retrospect.

I spent three weeks alternating between 1) screaming incoherently while smashing my computer against the wall in an HTML-induced rage, and 2) the fetal position.  Which emotional state I chose depended mostly on how I chose to self-medicate that day: caffeine, or booze.

Or both.  (Those were the really interesting days.)

Now.  Before you say something you might regret about how it doesn’t look that different…

screen shot June 2014


screen shot July 2014


…allow me to explain something.  Despite experiencing a moment or two of intense coding enlightenment (scattered tantalizingly between brief psychotic episodes), I am still barely literate in any recognizable computer language.  I am familiar with terms like “HTML” and “SQL” and “PHP” and “CSS,” but as far as I can tell, they only work through PFM.

Basically, I built a new “house” for my website.  I put all my energy into figuring out the walls and roof and plumbing and electrical and drywall.  But learning all that stuff?  Especially since I now can’t remember any of it?  Was WAY TOO MUCH WORK.  And by the time I finished all that, and convinced Chris to bail me out of the mental hospital, I decided I JUST DON’T CARE ANYMORE.

So I decorated the whole thing with furniture from the old “house.”  Meaning: whatever graphics I already had lying around?  Those were the ones I wanted.

It’s like trying to cram this…

into this.

The Kitchen: before.

Sometimes, what you end up with is this:

The Kitchen: after.

The final result functions a lot more like my dream kitchen website, even if the quality of the finishes leaves a bit to be desired.

And for the record:  the new sidebar?  Totally worth the three weeks of questionable sanity.  It really ties the room together.

Rug: Big Lebowski



Descent into Craftiness

You guys, I’m sorry.  I apologize for the post you are about to read.  Let me just get this out of the way: I made hanging planters out of mason jars.  See ‘em back there?

kitchen remodel 9

I know.  I know what you’re thinking.  There are three possible reactions to this:

1)  You are a blogger and you are thinking, “Yay!  Another mason jar craft!  I will add this to one of my 17 Pinterest boards devoted to mason jar crafts!”

2)  You are a blogger and you are thinking, “Jesus H. Christ, ANOTHER FREAKING MASON JAR CRAFT??  How trite/unoriginal/clichéd.  What happened, Sarah?  You used to be cool.”

3)  You are not a blogger, and you are wondering what the hell I’m blathering about, but at this point you’ll probably keep reading because blathering is not unusual for me, and there’s a 50/50 chance that there’s a punchline in here somewhere.

Hanging Mason Jar Planters

Let me just say that personally, I believe that the world does not need another mason jar craft.  Not from me, anyway.  I don’t have anything against them, but inventing “crafts” is not really what I do.  My only defense is temporary insanity.  That identity crisis that I joked about a while ago?  The one where I lose the ability to justify my presence on this earth without a kitchen to build?  I think it’s happening.  I mean, the kitchen was done, and I had to take pretty pictures to show off how “done” the kitchen was, and I had an empty spot on the wall to fill, and I love to decorate with plants, and I had these blue mason jars that I bought on sale at Michael’s several months ago and then hid in a closet so that I wouldn’t have to admit to Chris that I spent money on empty jars for no other reason than I liked the color…and then I blacked out for a second and when I came to, I had made a mason jar craft.

If this trend continues, by next week I’ll be telling you a funny story about how I was found wandering naked down the scrapbooking aisle at Michael’s, muttering to myself while trying to decide whether I should cover myself in decoupage, or gold leaf.

Or maybe both.

But first, I am going to tell you how to make Hanging Mason Jar Planters, as if I am totally original and you couldn’t look at a picture and figure it out for yourself.

How to make Hanging Mason Jar Planters

You will need:

  • mason jars
  • potting soil
  • rocks
  • little plants
  • picture wire
  • screw hooks (and possibly anchors, depending on your wall)

Step 1:  Cut a length of picture wire 4-5 inches longer than the circumference of your mason jar’s neck.  Use the pliers to twist the wire tightly together around the neck of the mason jar.
Step 2:  Twist the very ends of the wire together, forming a loop.
Step 3:  Pour a 1-inch layer of rocks into your jar.
Step 4:  Manhandle one of your plants into the jar.  It probably won’t be pretty.  Add a little water.
Step 5:  Put a screw hook in the wall where you want your new Hanging Mason Jar Planter to go.  If you’re not putting the screw directly into a stud, use an anchor — glass jars full of rocks and dirt are heavy.

Make a hanging planter out of a mason jar

And now for that punchline I mentioned earlier: here is what my Hanging Mason Jar Planters looked like only a couple of days after taking all those photos:

Mason Jar Craft fail

Um, yeah.  So maybe when you do it?  Use succulents.

Good luck!  If you need me, I’ll be at Michael’s.

How to fix a hole in masonry

Alternative title: How to Cover Shit Up and Pretend It’s Not There.  Because I don’t know anything about bricks and mortar.  But I do know how to cover shit up and pretend it’s not there.

kitchen remodel 15

You guys probably don’t remember this post, where I showed you this sign

vintage tin sign, censored

but then told you I couldn’t show it to you until the chimney was clean.  Well, the chimney got cleaned a while ago, but I still couldn’t show you, because the sign is actually way too small to cover the chimney-hole.  So I had to make it bigger.  By building a frame.

fixing a hole in the chimney

Ah, remember those days, not so long ago (or, approximately 17 months ago), when “framing” something meant “building stud walls“?  Now it just means “making a frame.”  I didn’t even get to use a hammer for this one.  I did, however, get to use a miter saw, a table saw, a drill, and a Kreg jig.  And it was still an easier framing project than this one.

(Warning — affiliate links ahead!  This announcement brought to you by the FTC.)  All it took was a couple of 1×4′s, my trusty Kreg Jig and pocket screws (seriously, I didn’t use glue or clamps or nails or anything — we’re not talking about a major structural project here), eye screws, picture wire, and a couple of tiny ferrules.

How to make a frame for a rustic tin sign

Oh, and this sign:

Rustic Tin Sign

Actually, you could use any tin sign you wanted.  This would even work for something less blasphemous, if you prefer.

Me?  I enjoy being greeted by a profane rooster every time I walk down the stairs.

rustic tin sign

I used Minwax Whitewash Pickling Stain to stain the background, and Minwax Ebony to stain the frame.  I did the staining while the background piece was still separate from the frame pieces, so I didn’t have worry about being neat.  Once everything was dry, I pocket-screwed the whole thing together and gave it a coat of Polycrylic (in a satin finish) before hanging it up with the eye screws and picture wire.

hanging a wood frame with picture wire

I made sure that the screw up top went into a ceiling joist, too, believe me.  What once was a lightweight tin sign is now a 22″x28″ chunk of wood, with the power to rip a big hole in my new kitchen ceiling if not properly supported.

Oh, and you know what?  I guess I lied — I did get to use a hammer for this project.  I used finish nails to hang the sign on the frame.

Build a frame for a tin sign

I guess that means this does count as a real framing project.

Window Painting 101. And 102.

So if you were looking real close, you might have noticed a little difference in the windows, between the last time you saw them (that would have been in this post, over 10 weeks ago) and the reveal last week.

Painted windows: before and after

They’re painted black!  And I love them.

kitchen remodel 4

And I learned a lesson while painting them.  A very important lesson.  But before I get to that, would you like to know my tried-and-true method for painting windows?  Because this ain’t my first rodeo.  Observe: here is a fine example of one of the many windows I’ve painted:

Painted window

Here’s the secret:  I don’t use tape on the glass.  And I don’t paint carefully.  I just slather the paint on the glass, so there’s a good 1/4- to 1/2-inch line on the glass.

sloppy window painting

Then I use an Xacto knife and straight-edge razor to 1) Score the paint right along the muntin (and congratulate myself on learning what those fancy wood grille thingies on your windows are actually called)  2) Scrape the paint off in one long ribbon, and 3) score the muntin one more time to clean it up.

How to Paint Windows

It’s faster than tape, because tape never seems to work that well on glass anyway — so if you’ve got to do some scraping either way, why not skip the taping step?  Works every time.  Guaranteed.*

*Not guaranteed. Keep reading.

This method works great on windows like this

Painted window

where there are only two big panes, and you have loooooooooong lines to clean up.  In fact, the only time you wouldn’t want to use this method is if your windows have lots of little panes, which means lots of separate lines to clean, where you can’t get a good long ribbon of paint going.

Oh hey!  Look how many little panes our kitchen windows have!

painted kitchen windows

So pretty!  So much character!!  Such a PAIN IN THE ASS!!

Remember that “important lesson” I mentioned a minute ago?  There it is.

So.  If any of you have painted windows in the past — pretty windows with lots of “character” — do us all a solid and leave a comment below with any nuggets of advice you might have picked up along the way.  I still think skipping the tape probably saved me some time, because more panes = more taping.

But I could be wrong.  So I’m open to suggestions…for next time, you know?  ;)

The Kitchen REVEAL!!!

18 months…

Kitchen before and after 1

1 week…

Kitchen before and after 2

and 2 days.

Kitchen before and after 3

It’s been a long haul, you guys.

One week into the kitchen overhaul

We learned plumbing.  Then we re-learned plumbing.


We learned drywall.

Sanding drywall is awesome.

We cooked on a hotplate in the living room for 8 months.

Kitchen before and after 4

We knocked out structural walls.

Kitchen floor plan before and after

We rebuilt a bathroom.

bathroom before and after

I spent 5 months DIY-ing molding.

Making molding

We budgeted $6,000.  We changed the plan.  I think we came in around $11,000.

kitchen remodel 2

We wired.  And tiled.  And customized our cabinets.

kitchen remodel 7

We salvaged doors and Craigslisted appliances and bought windows that were some builder’s measuring mistake.

kitchen remodel 4

We worked late into the night for months.

leveling the floor

Okay, everything is true except for that last thing.  There were remarkably few late nights (or forfeited weekends, for that matter) in the last 18 months.  It took us EIGHTEEN MONTHS, for crying out loud.  We weren’t exactly rushing.

kitchen remodel 12

But I guess you could say, it was all worth it.  Mostly.  Actually, it’s best if you don’t say that while I’m thinking about all that molding.

kitchen remodel 9

But seriously?  Words cannot describe.  I can’t explain all the feelings that this project has made me feel.  And coming from someone who’s written 179 blog posts to date, with an average of maybe 600 words per post (that’s over 107,000 words), that’s saying something.

There is a folder on my computer labeled “Kitchen Remodel 2012″ (2012 — HA hahahaha!) with over 1,180 pictures in it.

So I will let the pictures do the talking.  Because, quite frankly, after 179 blog posts, what else is left to say?kitchen remodel 1

kitchen remodel 3

kitchen remodel 5

kitchen remodel 6

kitchen remodel 8

kitchen remodel 10

kitchen remodel 13

kitchen remodel 14

kitchen remodel 15

Many, many biscuits were required to get the Coyote and das Hund to sit still long enough to take that picture, by the way.  Exploiting dogs for photogenic purposes is far more challenging than I had imagined.  As is every project I take on, I guess.

And now, there’s really only one thing left to say about this kitchen.  And I will let Ned the Flying Pig do the honors:

Ned the Flying Pig says this remodel is officially over.


Stairway to Heaven

If by “heaven” you mean “finished kitchen,” then yes, I guess, technically, this could be the stairway to heaven.

refinished stairs

I guess I always imagined something a little…taller.  And more golden.  But this will do.

refinishing hardwood stairs

Did you catch that part about the finished kitchen?  Allow me to reiterate: the last project that I had to complete in order to call the kitchen “done” was the stairs:

  • Finish the cabinets
  • Make casing
  • Install casing
  • Make back band
  • Install back band
  • Make base boards
  • Install base boards
  • Make crown molding
  • Install crown molding
  • Install bathroom door
  • Install closet door and organize closet
  • Refinish and install basement door
  • Refinish and install pantry door
  • Organize the pantry
  • Tear up carpet and refinish the stairs
  • Clean and seal the chimney
  • Install a transition strip
  • Finish the peninsula

The kitchen is DONE.  There are no more projects.

Unless you count decorating.  Which I do not.  So the kitchen is DONE.

And next week’s post is going to be CHOCK FULL OF BEFORE-AND-AFTERS!!  So I’m super excited about that.  And I bet you are too, because after 18 months, you’ve probably forgotten what this kitchen used to look like.  But this week, there’s just this one:

refinished stairs: before

refinished stairs: during

refinished stairs: after

After finishing the stairs in the front entry (which look like this now)

refinished stairs in the entry way

I finally got to tackle the stairs in the kitchen: the last remaining evidence of a massive unfinished renovation.  The bane of my existence.  An eyesore that mocked me from the corner for months, taunting me, constantly reminding me that this never-ending remodel was still not done.

Well.  Look who’s talking now.

kitchen stairs

It only took me one day to tear out the old stairs and put in the new ones.  That’s possibly the fastest project I’ve ever done around here.  And it even involved demolition.  It may also be the only time I’ve torn into this house and not found some underlying structural issue that had to be addressed.

The DIY gods are smiling upon me.  Either that, or sometimes even I get lucky.

Or, third option: I found underlying structural issues, but decided to ignore them in order to get this project done.

The world may never know.  ;)  Stay tuned for the big reveal!

Hump Day: Part Deux

I think I got an idea.  An idea for a blog post.  A blog post about nothing.  You’ll say, “What’s it about?”  And I’ll say, “Nothing.”

I think I may have something here.

I hope you enjoyed that clip.  Because the stairs aren’t done.  So what else can I say?

I mean, they’re close.

Refinishing the stairs 1

Well, closER, anyway.

Refinishing the stairs 2

Just one more coat of paint on the risers and a freshly-painted grate for that gaping vent-hole, and the stairs in the entry will be done.  Then I can tear into the kitchen stairs.

Speaking of gaping holes:  I cobbled together a solution to last week’s dilemma.

Refinishing the stairs 3

It’s kind of hard to see with all the tape on there, but I covered the hole on top with an “extension” of the post above it.  And the bottom hole…I don’t wanna talk about it.  Filling in that baseboard-thing involved geometric research.  I learned what a “right trapezoid” is.  (I’m not gonna explain it, because it’s Saturday, and you didn’t come here to learn math, so click here if you’re curious).

I didn’t really want to paint that baseboard thing white, either, but the wood was so far gone, and the seam between the hole-patch and the original wood was so painfully obvious, I didn’t really have a choice.  I tried.  I stripped and sanded and tried to save it, thinking maybe once the stain got on there it would be okay.  But the stain only made the flaws more obvious.  So I ended up going with paint.  Boo.

If I wanted to open up a whole new can of worms, I’d say that that piece shouldn’t even be there.  That there should just be an empty space underneath the banister.  Which was my original plan there: just take that piece out.  Then I did a little mental exercise I like to call “Extrapolating.”  Otherwise known as “Blowing Things out of Proportion.”

Anyway, I imagined what kind of unfinished under-the-stairs spaces might be revealed if I simply knocked out that piece.  Then I tried to figure out other ways to cover such things up.  And it turned in to a fairly long chain of “if this, then that” which would have culminated in stripping and refinishing ALL OF THE WAINSCOTING in the entryway.

So, like, 7 months from now or whatever, when all the woodwork in the entry was back to it’s original pristine oak-y condition, the stairs in the kitchen would still look like this:

Refinishing the stairs 4

So.  Hump Day continues, in the hopes that next week, you will not be reading another post about nothing.

Then again, it worked out pretty well for Seinfeld…

Hump Day

Our house has a hump in the middle of the first floor.  A stair hump.

The central staircase.

One side of the hump leads into the kitchen.

the kitchen stairs

These four stairs are the last thing standing between me and a finished kitchen.  Aside from the dingy carpet, which got beaten into oblivion during the remodel and now clearly needs to be torn up (right?), the stairs also have a gap problem.

the dangers of pulling carpet off old floors.

Apparently, our mid-renovation decision to leave the chimney exposed has led to more work.  Who knew?  Back when the chimney was covered by a wall, the treads and risers stopped at the wall, and all was well.  But now there is no wall.  So the treads and risers stop a couple inches short of their new destination.

The reason we need to replace the stair treads.

To the best of my knowledge, no one has yet invented a board-stretcher.  So as far as I know, the only way to fix this problem is to tear up the treads and risers, and replace them with new ones that are about two inches longer.  Right?  Right.

But of course, I thought it would be weird to pull up the carpet and refinish the stairs just on this one section.  The logical thing to do would be to remove the carpet from the entire hump.  Right?  Right.

Another supremely logical thing would be to refinish the landing and the non-kitchen side of the hump before putting down the new treads on the kitchen-side.  Somehow, this is going to save the new treads (which have already been stained/finished) from getting messed up while the rest of the hump gets refinished.  Right?  Right.

So in order to finish the kitchen, I ripped the carpet off the stairs in a different room.  I know you’re with me so far, and this totally makes sense.  #Logic

My plan started off with an amazing discovery: When I pulled up the carpet, I found that most of the hump had already been stripped (if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you already saw pictures of this).  That’s like winning the old-house lottery.  Not only do you have beautiful hardwood floors under that carpet, but somebody has already taken care of the most labor-intensive step in the refinishing process.  And then, inexplicably, they protected their work for you by putting carpet over the freshly-stripped stairs.

Stripped stairs.

This is the point at which alarm bells should have gone off in my head.  You are all smart and logical people.  Had it been you, you probably would have stopped and asked yourself, “Why would they do such a thing?  What made them decide not to refinish the stairs?  And should I re-evaluate before it’s too late to just staple the carpet back down and walk away?”

I wish at least one of you had been here with me, to ask these questions.

It’s been 5 days since I jumped for joy at the sight of pre-stripped stairs.  Because as I completed two more rounds of sanding, I found these holes.

Refinishing the stairs: step 1.

Holes that were conveniently hidden by carpet.  Holes that now have to be patched somehow, because there will be no carpet to hide them.

Hole in the floor.

Holes that have nothing to do with the gap I’m trying to fix over on the still-unfinished-kitchen side of the hump.

Holes in the stairs need to be patched.

And you know what I think?  I think maybe whoever started refinishing these stairs before stopped because they were just as clueless as I am on how to cover up these holes without it looking…well, bad.  So they threw some carpet over it.

Now, you might be thinking, “But Sarah…you tore out and re-built an entire kitchen.  You built some cabinets.  You even made your own moldings.  You must have learned something about woodworking.  Surely you can figure out how to cover a couple of measly little holes in the stairs?”

You raise a valid point.  I’d like to refer you to a little parable that you’re probably familiar with.  Something about a camel, and a straw, and somebody’s back gets hurt…the details are a little fuzzy, but you can probably fill in the rest.

So.  Here we sit.

Refinishing the stairs: a saga.

Anybody know a good carpet guy?

Plywood Gets Sexier: My very first REAL tutorial.

Okay.  So.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might have noticed that the tutorials I’ve written thus far are kind of tongue-in-cheek.  Like my other “first tutorial” about how to put up drywall.  Or the recent one about how to clean masonry, where I actually mentioned why I don’t like to write tutorials.

That’s all about to change here today, folks, because I’ve 1) learned a new skill — from an expert!  2) practiced it — unlike my usual “this-is-my-first-time-too” tutorials, and 3) actually plan on doing it again someday — unlike the multitude of tedious projects I’ve done, some of which I would never do again, and suggesting that you should try them makes me feel kinda bad.

One project that I would do again, and that I’d encourage you to try if you have access to the tools, was this sleek and sexy plywood desk:

How to finish a plywood desk

Remember how amazing it is?  Sometimes I forget because it’s stashed up in a room that hasn’t been built around it yet, so I don’t get to see it often.

How to do a final coat on wood furniture

Mmmm-hmmm.  So now, here’s the part where I shock you: I refinished it this week.

Okay.  Let me explain.  I can assure you that the desk looks exactly the same.  I didn’t actually change anything.  So “refinished” is not the right word; it’s more like I “finished finishing” it.  See, last weekend I flew out to Salt Lake City to attend SNAP!, a creative-bloggers’ conference.  And I met Bruce Johnson, who writes this amazing blog for Minwax called Sawdust in My Coffee.  (I just realized how many links I’ve put into this post so far.  Just so you know, I haven’t been paid by anyone to write this.  And the links back to my own posts are just shameless self-promotion.  For free.)

(Although, if there’s anyone out there who wants to pay me for doing this stuff, call me. *wink wink*)

If you haven’t put two and two together (or if you tuned out a couple of paragraphs ago because I talk too much), the expert that I mentioned at the beginning of this post is Bruce Johnson.  I took his “Advanced Wood Staining Techniques” class at SNAP!.  It was sponsored by Minwax, so we got to use a whole bunch of Minwax products.  Aside from being an entertaining speaker, Bruce knows everything there is to know about wood finishes.  And one of the things he taught us was how to use Minwax’s Wipe-On Poly and 400-grit sandpaper to get the most satiny-smooth finish you will ever see on a piece of furniture.

You know what?  That’s pretty much the whole tutorial: Wipe-On poly and 400-grit sandpaper.  You wouldn’t believe how easy this is.

The best way to finish wood furniture.

I realize the pictures aren’t the best (I’m a one-woman show, and pouring polyurethane all over your most-treasured DIY project doesn’t lend itself well to careful staging and multiple re-takes).  But this technique is so easy, you don’t really need pictures.

One word of warning:  ALWAYS TEST YOUR FINISH on a scrap piece or in an inconspicuous place on your piece.  Remember the first time I “finished” this desk, and the oil-based poly turned it waaaayy too yellow, and I had to sand it off and start over?

Learn from my ignorance: oil-based polyurethane turns stuff yellow.  Especially light stuff, like cheap pine plywood.

But.  You might have noticed that I used oil-based Wipe-On Poly for this final finish.  See, I looked for the water-based version, but I couldn’t find it.  Plus, word on the street is that the water-based finishes all dry really quickly, which I think would end up causing problems if you’re trying to wet-sand a big piece of furniture with something that starts to dry while you’re still sanding.  So I bought the oil-based stuff, and tested it in an inconspicuous place.

It didn’t add a noticeable amount of yellow (because it’s such a thin coat, perhaps?), so I went for it.  And now you can, too!

Note:  This is going to be the final finish on your piece.  So by the time you get to this point, you should have already stained your project and put any other coats of polyurethane on it.  My desk had a super light coat of Minwax Whitewash Pickling Stain and two (or three?  I don’t remember) coats of Polycrylic on it.  Make sure everything’s good and dry before you start.

Step 1:  Gather your supplies.

  • Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane
  • 400-grit sandpaper
  • gloves
  • shop cloths (those are NOT paper towels in the picture)
  • your most-treasured piece of DIY furniture

Step 2:  (After testing in an inconspicuous place, right?)  Pour a liberal amount of poly on your project.  Use the 400-grit sandpaper to lightly buff the poly over the piece, using a circular motion.  You want the surface to stay wet — you’re not actually trying to sand anything off here.

Step 3:  Use a clean, dry, lint-free rag to wipe all the excess poly off.  This stuff is designed to be rubbed into the wood like an oil, so you don’t want to leave any puddling on the surface.

Step 4:  Allow it to dry for several hours.  Or whatever it says on the can.

Step 5:  (Optional)  Grab a blanket and make a bed on top of it.  Seriously.  This finish is so smooth, it’s like satin sheets.  This may be the first and only time I will refer to a wood finish as “decadent.”

The best finish for wood furniture.