One cold day this past winter, I decided that our old IKEA TV cabinet was just so, well, IKEA looking. We all know those particleboard beasts that practically stink of meatballs and lingonberries. It was purchased in a different time of my life: Before I owned a power sander, or knew how to set automatic Craigslist keyword searches on Google Reader (or whatever it is now). It was time for a fresh start.
As it turns out, I found a young lady in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago who was ready to make a fresh start of her own. Fed up with big city living, she was shipping herself back to Ohio (or was it Iowa*?) and was foolishly selling this sturdy, but stunning, late mid-Century credenza for only $35 (I gave her $30).
I was almost certain the credenza was solid wood, but this late MCM stuff can play tricks on you. Just to make sure, I scratched the top layer off a discreet corner of the top panel, and sure enough… more wood. Whew. Structurally speaking, this thing was in perfect shape. But on the surface, it needed a lot of sanding and some combination of stain and paint. My goal was to keep most of the original wood surface, but stain it darker, then use white paint to highlight the fabulous cabinet lines and drawer pulls. I borrowed my kids’ crayons to sketch out a few options, and settled on a modified version of number 2.
STEP ONE: Pull out the drawers and mark their position on the back (i.e., Top, Middle, Bottom). You could use 1, 2 and 3, but then you might forget if 1 is the top or the bottom. This has actually happened to me. Unscrew the drawer pulls and tape the screws to the back of the pulls. Also, be sure to mark the pulls with the position of the mother drawer. This may seem a bit anal, but when a screw has been sitting happily in a hole for over 40 years, it may resist being screwed into another hole (this is not a euphemism for anything).
Next, unscrew the doors from their hinges (leaving the hinges attached to the cabinet). Line the screws up in the proper order and tape them down on the floor of the cabinet, so you don’t lose them or forget their proper hole assignments. They should look like happy snuggle buddies:
STEP TWO: Move the cabinet body to a totally bare room, or preferably outdoors (I used our front porch, which isn’t legally a porch). Use a 100-grit sandpaper and a power sander to remove the old varnish.
Brush off the dust, then gently wipe with a damp (not wet) rag. Then you will see all the spots you missed. At this point, I like to go over the rough spots as well as the rounded edges and hard-to-reach spots with a piece of sandpaper in my bare hands. Finally, give the whole thing a once-over with 220-grit sandpaper. You don’t need to get down to the bare wood, just get all that old varnish off so the wood is ready for a new stain. Wipe with a damp rag and let dry.
** LET’S BREAK FOR AN IMPORTANT SAFETY MESSAGE **
When spray painting or sanding, I always recommend wearing eye goggles and a face mask thing. Who knows what kind of freaky chemicals they used to finish furniture in the middle part of the 20th Century — and here you are blasting it into very small, perfectly inhalable molecules!
But during this project, I learned a very important and disgusting safety lesson about safety equipment. After spray painting my DIY hanging fruit basket, I immediately threw my goggles, gloves and mask into my Safety Gear Tupperware container and sealed it up tight. Two weeks later, I popped open the container and find this:
I debated whether I should share this lesson with you, lest you think I am the sort of person who regularly grows GREEN AND BLACK MOLD on her personal belongings (I am not). Don’t learn this lesson the hard way: face masks get really damp from your wet breath. Either hang them up to dry, or store them in a BREATHABLE container — not an old Tupperware.
STEP THREE: When the wood is dry, it’s time to stain it a dark walnut hue. Pull on your gloves, grab a handful of clean rags, gently stir the stain and apply generously, rubbing in the direction of the wood grain.
Really slop it on! At this point you want to get it very damp. After about 15 minutes, take another clean rag and rub in all the stain that hasn’t yet soaked into the wood, blending together different areas of the wood that may have gotten more or less stain. DO NOT leave any wet spots standing on the wood… they won’t dry properly and will be very sticky and tar-like. And don’t panic if there are a few lighter spots; you’ll repeat the process in 4-6 hours, giving extra stain love to those trouble spots.
STEP FOUR: Wait at least 24 hours for the stain to dry, then apply three coats of water-based polyurethane varnish. You’ll need to lightly sand before applying the second and third coats of varnish. But don’t fret, each coat only takes about two hours to dry.
STEP FIVE: Time to move on to your DRAWERS AND DOORS. Lightly sand the surface in the direction of the grain. Wipe with a damp cloth and let dry. Give the front panels of your doors and drawers one coat of oil-based white primer.
And no, you cannot skip the priming step. I’ve been pondering a memorable, catchy slogan to pass on to my readers about the importance of priming:
“If you prime, the result is sublime.” Or, “Use the primer, it will look much finer.” Or perhaps I should go negative… “If you don’t prime, it will look like peeling, bubbly slime.” Readers?
So, the drawers were easy, but for the more intricate doors, I used one of the dozens of my Grandpa’s old fine art brushes that I inherited, to avoid getting primer in the nooks and crannies (remember that unless you own paint thinner, you’ll have to toss the brushes as oil-based primer isn’t water soluble).
Let the primer dry. If it you were really sloppy and it dried with serious brush marks, go ahead and lightly sand those down now.
STEP SIX: Apply TWO coats of latex (water-based) paint with a roller, using very light, gentle back-and-forth strokes to achieve full coverage without dripping or oozing into the crevices.
During this step, I recommend keeping a damp baby sock handy to quickly wipe up any oopsies. We seem to have dozens of these things in our rag bin, so if you need one, just ask.
When the paint dries, give it another light sanding with 220 grit sandpaper (the higher the number, the finer the sanding), wipe with a damp rag and let dry.
STEP SEVEN: Using a clear-coat polyeurethyne, brush very lightly over your painted drawers and doors. You’ll be using three coats, so don’t feel the need to slop it on all at first. The worst mistake you can make here is to slop on too much, then find that the polyeurethane dries into hard, milky little boogers which will be impossible to sand off and will drive you nuts (especially if you are a “picker” – you know who you are). PRO TIP! Use a damp rag (socks, again!) to continually wipe around the edges of the drawers/doors to ensure that NO varnish dries on those inside edges. In fact, I left the inside edges completely “raw” to ensure that they would close properly once back in the cabinet. Three coats each of paint and varnish will definitely add up.
STEP EIGHT: When all the varnish has dried, screw the pulls back onto the drawers, and the doors back into their hinges.
Now it’s time to fill your gorgeous new TV stand with DVDs you will never watch again!
* My Chicago-born husband doesn’t know that Iowa and Ohio are two different states. Perhaps he should leave the city more.