My first furniture refinishing project

Disclaimer: PLEASE! Nobody use this post as a how-to for refinishing furniture. I made some mistakes that maybe you can learn from (bolded), but I am not in any way an expert. If you want good tips on painting or staining furniture, try this blog post.

About two and a half years ago, I was very pregnant with El Guapo. We were living in a two-bedroom basement apartment. While the second bedroom was large, the closet was where the laundry hookups were, so all the boys’ clothing, toys, shoes, laundry, and other stuff needed to be inside the room itself. Every inch of wall space was used, and while at one point we’d had bunk beds (for Lego) and a crib (for Duplo) in the room at the same time, we’d gotten some more toys and toy storage since then. We might have been able to move some of the toys to the living room, or get rid of some, to fit the crib, but storing the baby’s clothing was going to be a problem. We’d been looking at three-bedroom apartments in the area with no luck, and so I’d basically decided that if we were going to stay, we’d have to figure out a way to make it work.

I found a dresser at a yard sale that seemed just perfect. I wish I’d taken before pictures of it. It was in bad shape, with deep scratches on the top and long cracks on both sides where the “wood” was actually splitting away from the furniture. The finish was very dated and ugly. But the top and drawers were solid wood, and there were eight good-sized drawers (two columns, four rows). I could picture giving each of the older boys three drawers and the baby the top two, since his clothing would be smaller. Replacing their dresser with one that was a little bigger but that would have enough room for all three boys’ clothes would allow us to, hopefully, squeeze everything into that one bedroom. I bought it for $50 (and I probably overpaid, in hindsight).

Anyway, I started sanding the top down and bought some spray paint, just in time for us to actually find a new place to move. The new place had tons of built-in drawers in the second bedroom, so the dresser wouldn’t be needed. I kept working on it a little at first, but I hit a few snags and mostly gave up.

The first snag was that I spray painted in November in our garage. It was probably under 50 degrees outside, which felt nice enough to work in. What I didn’t know was that in colder temperatures, paint takes much longer to dry. So, even though the paint can said you should wait 10 minutes between coats, paint can still be wet if you leave it to dry overnight! I thought I was home free painting another coat on one of the more intricate drawers after leaving it all night to dry, but the moment I started spraying, the paint bubbled, making a web of really awful-looking blistery wrinkles all over it. I immediately tried to wipe the paint off with a paper towel, but that just made everything worse. It became apparent that I would have to sand the drawer down completely in order to paint, and of course it was one of the top, really intricate drawers that would be an absolute pain to sand.

In the end, there was no easy solution. I did have to sand everything down, and use paint stripper in the places where I couldn’t sand. It took lots and lots of elbow grease, but it worked. I’m pretty pleased with the result:


The second snag was that I didn’t know what to do about the cracks in the sides. When I bought the dresser, the guy I bought if from said he’d bought a piece of particle board to replace the worst side, and he gave me his number so I could call him. He said he’d come by and replace it for me. Once I got home, though, I just felt weird about calling a stranger to come and fix a dresser he’d already sold to me. And what did he have in mind? The side wasn’t just a solid rectangle. Did he have a band saw? Would I even like his “repair”? Eventually I lost his phone number.

The blog post I linked to at the top of this post was a lifesaver. It had occurred to me that I could glue the crack shut with wood glue, but there would still be an obvious crack. Realizing that putty could look that good once painted was a revelation! But how would I get the crack to stay glued shut?

In the end, I just rigged something totally stupid up. I glued the crack closed and pressed a phone book up against it. I then tied the phone book as tightly to the dresser as I possibly could so that it would stay there. I recommend using rope for the tying part, but I actually used old shoelaces knotted together because, for some reason, I couldn’t find our rope at the time. It looked really silly, but it worked. The only problem was that the cover of the phone book got glued to the dresser in the process, but I just ripped it and sanded the stuck part off.

After moving here, we needed the dresser finished ASAP, so I bought some wood putty and applied coat after coat of it to fill in the crack. I’d sand after each coat and then add another until it was mostly smooth. I did get to a point where more coats didn’t really improve things, so I called it good. If you really look, you can tell something’s not quite right in that spot, but I doubt you’d guess that the crack I repaired was as horrible as it really was. It’s on the left side of this picture, where it looks slightly darker and shinier. (This is also the best picture I have of the finished dresser, by the way.)


The third snag was that I had ruined quite a few of the pulls by being stupid and leaving them out to dry while sanding the top of the dresser. I probably don’t need to tell you not to do that. You’ll end up with your pretty, painted hardware covered in a fine layer of sawdust. I had to soak them all in paint thinner and wipe the paint off before repainting them. Don’t be stupid like me.

The fourth snag was that I couldn’t decide what to do with the top of the dresser. The easy thing would be to paint it off-white like the rest of the dresser. But I’d seen a picture of a white dresser with a stained-black top that I kind of fell in love with. The problem was, I couldn’t find black stain. The solution in this case was to wait two years and try the same stores again. Voila! Ebony stain. Two coats and I had this:




One thing I was really surprised by in the whole process was how many coats of both paint and primer it took to get a good, even off-white look. Even now, some of the drawers look slightly splotchy and uneven. Everywhere that’s off-white took 3-4 coats of primer and 4-6 coats of paint. After we moved here and I had a big garage to work with, I just kept everything out and would quickly do a coat of primer or paint on whichever part of the dresser I was working on each time I went out to the garage for something, usually two or three times a day. If you’re doing a project like this, don’t skimp on paint! I actually thought I was done with some of the drawers, only to realize once I got them inside that they didn’t look as good as I’d thought. Back out to the garage they went.

You think I’m done with snags? Not yet. So, I mentioned that the dresser sat in our garage for two years. In that time, the drawers that I’d actually “finished” with got dinged over and over by bikes, car doors, kids, whatever. Paint peeled off in lots of tiny spots. In this case I was kind of lazy. I was just tired of working on it and wanted it done, so I just painted over them unless they were especially bad. I learned later that a coat or two of clear coat would have protected the paint better. My finished dresser has clear coat all over.

Which brings me to the final snag. I was finished painting one of the very last drawers (the very last? I can’t remember) and wanted to spray on the clear coat. I grabbed a can with a clear lid that didn’t have any color label without reading it closely. Yeah, it was the black Rustoleum I’d used for the pulls. I couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry. Luckily, it sanded right off, and the drawer looks fine now. So yeah, look before you spray.

Here’s another look at the finished product.


It’s definitely not perfect, but I’m proud of it. I had such a hard time with it, though, that I’m not sure how eager I am to try another project of this type. A lady I was talking to the other day said she repainted her entertainment center (which was gorgeous!) in two days. Is such a thing even possible?!


We’ve had some requests for Halloween pictures, so here they are. Duplo was actually a skeleton for the ward Halloween party, Iron Man at school, and Spiderman for trick-or-treating. You know, because he had options. Unfortunately, I only got pictures on Halloween night.


I dressed up for the ward party as Bat Mom (my towel and wooden spoon aren’t that easy to see, but they’re there). I don’t usually dress up, but when I was looking for costumes for the boys, I tried on the gloves, the cape, and the belt to make the kids laugh, and the rest kind of fell into place. It was so easy, I thought, “Why not?” (I apologize for the quality of the picture. Lego was the photographer.)



Settling In

This post is long overdue, but life is finally settling into a normal routine to the point where I can spare the time to sit and write about it. We like our home and love our neighborhood and ward. It snowed a bit this morning, and as I walked the boys to school with fluffy snowflakes falling all around us, I was struck by a deep sense of gratitude to be where we are right now. It is so nice to be able to walk to school through a beautiful park surrounded by nice homes and gorgeous trees full of colored leaves (for the next few days, at least). It is so nice to have a yard to ourselves that I can care for without worrying about stepping on toes or being in someone else’s space, or even needing to pick up someone else’s trash.

The people here are so kind and welcoming I almost can’t believe it. One woman brought us pizza soon after we moved in just because. Another family brought us cookies and invited me and the boys to lunch one day. I’m almost overwhelmed by it all, but it’s nice to feel like someone knows we’re here and cares about us.

The boys are doing well in school. Lego has a really small class (16 kids), and one of his closest friends moved away a few weeks ago, which was really sad. Duplo says school was “great!” every day when I ask him. Parent-teacher conferences are this week, finally, so I’m eager to talk to their teachers and see in more detail how they’re doing.

Jonathon is doing well at the Church. We visited him a couple of weeks ago during UEA break and got to ride the elevator up to the 23rd floor, meet his coworkers, and then ride even higher up to the observation deck.

All in all, we’re doing well, and we hope you are too.


In the past 17 days, we have:

1. Gotten the news that Jonathon has a great job
2. Scoured the Internet for decent rental listings
3. Spent two days looking at rentals
4. Submitted an application for one
5. Packed up the entire house
6. Registered the boys for two different schools (the one down here in case we couldn’t move before school started despite our best intentions)
7. Moved a lot of boxes up to the new house
8. Taken the boys to swimming lessons
9. Dug up all the carrots and beets in the garden (with the help of my sister)
10. Cleaned the house thoroughly (okay, I’m not done with this yet, but I will be hopefully tomorrow)
11. Played a lot of Dominion (which probably is the only thing keeping me sane)

We move tomorrow. I am exhausted. I have not been sleeping well. I am so excited to start this new phase of our lives. Lego starts school on Monday and Duplo a week from Monday. They both did great in swimming lessons. We’re pretty well packed up, so I’m feeling optimistic. But dang, I have butterflies galore. Why am I so keyed up tonight? I sure hope we can make a good life up there, and I sure hope Jonathon enjoys and excels at his new job.

(I also hope we don’t forget to pick up the dry cleaning tomorrow.)

My garden

So, here’s the promised garden post. I took these pictures at least a month ago, so really, they bear little resemblance to the garden today. Everything is ripe or past ripe now.


I’ve discovered that pictures of vegetable gardens aren’t the best. Even a garden that is well weeded will look slightly untidy in a photograph. Anyway, this picture shows the rows of beets on the right and carrots on the left. Both are ready or nearly so, and I think I will dig them all up with the help of my youngest sister tomorrow, in preparation for our move.


Here are the lettuces. I have planted lettuce before but have never had as much success as I did this year.  The solid mass of lettuce is buttercrunch, which was less bitter than I’ve ever had buttercrunch lettuce be before, but still only okay in comparison to the summertime lettuce, which is in the two rows to the right. Eventually, each of those lettuces got to be a good-sized (cantaloupe-sized?) head, crunchy and crisp like iceberg, but with a bit more flavor. I will only ever buy summertime lettuce seeds in the future. It has been so nice to be able to eat large salads all summer, virtually for free.



My sugar snap peas were delicious, but I clearly didn’t plant enough of them, and I had a hard time keeping them watered enough. On the other side of the chain-link fence is someone else’s garden, which they have on a drip system, and they didn’t want our water to cross the fence. This meant that I would turn it on so only the outer drips of the sprinkler reached the fence line, which, unfortunately, is where the peas were.


These were my pumpkin plants a month ago. Now they’re huge and taking over everywhere, and there are at least four pumpkins growing on them. The seeds were from some of the big jack-o-lantern pumpkins I accidentally grew last year, but this year, the pumpkins are on the small side. I don’t know if it’s just that they aren’t getting as much water or if they’re just plants that produce smaller pumpkins for some reason. Oh well. Not pictured, I also have a couple of watermelon plants that have pea-sized watermelons on them now (finally!). They will probably never produce an edible watermelon, but I don’t care because we’re moving anyway.


This picture of the tomatoes is hilarious also because there is literally no space between one plant and the next now. I have to move branches out of the way to get in there and pick. Some of the cages are tipping over, and chaos is reigning. But also there are tomatoes. Sweet, juicy, warm garden tomatoes. I always forget how delicious they taste until the next crop arrives.

Not pictured are some green bean plants that aren’t doing so well. I think they hadn’t sprouted well enough to photograph when I took these. So . . . that’s my portion of the garden. There’s also this:


Those rows are all green beans. Over a hundred plants. My garden is on the right, where that red chair is tipped over. Past my garden, there are a few rows of corn, and over near the fence line in the background are lots of squash that she planted as well. It’s been kind of stressful helping her to take care of it all. She intended to come every weekend to weed, pick, whatever, but life gets busy and she just hasn’t. In an effort to not let all of it go to waste, I weeded the rows, put insecticide on it when earwigs ate a good fifth of the bean plants, weeded the rows again, picked green beans that were getting huge, weeded the corn, picked zucchini. She has now started coming out more regularly, and she did say I could keep what I wanted because of all my help, which is nice. We’ve been eating green beans a lot, and honestly, I don’t think she misses them, considering she picked half of a large garbage can’s worth of them last week, and there may be that much ready to pick now.

I’m sad that the tomatoes will mostly not be ready before we move because they’re my absolute favorite thing to grow. Not only are they great for munching, salads, Mexican food, etc., but they’re delicious canned, in marinara sauce, and in salsa. I have 13 or 14 plants growing (some volunteers from rotten tomatoes that fell to the ground last year that I somehow successfully transplanted into empty spaces in the garden). If I had managed to can all of them, we may not have had to buy pasta sauce or salsa all year. Maybe. At least for a good six to nine months. Alas.

If you’re in the area, please, please help yourself. My landlady even said I could tell my friends to come pick tomatoes. Come once a week. Take lots.

And finally, a few pictures of the rest of the back back yard:


the swing set


the fire pit

As you can see, it’s not super pretty. It’s usually dry and weedy and prickly, but it has some nice space to run and some fun things in it. I’ve definitely spent a lot of time back there this year. Some weeks, I spent over an hour or two a day. I just love the feeling of working hard outside with the sun shining and knowing I’m making things more beautiful and providing good food for my family while also helping our budget.

Our next yard is small, with no space for a garden, but after this year, maybe the break will be nice. Maybe we can spend lots of time at the park instead. I’m sure the kids wouldn’t complain.