Category Archives: Before / Afters

Wood Countertop

wooden_countertop_mancaveinvadedI salvaged an old dresser from a garage sale.  It had a wood countertop, but the countertop was veneer – meaning I couldn’t sand it down and restain it.  It was trashed, and simply needed replacing.

In the end, we opted to convert the dresser into a bathroom vanity.  The full transformation was a fun project (found here).

As, we went about revamping the vanity, I had intentions to do a marble or granite countertop.  Once I priced out the granite and marble, I just couldn’t justify it.  I paid $15 for the dresser.  I couldn’t dish out $250 for a custom granite slab.   We thought about buying the tools to do the granite ourselves…but in the end we decided to stick with something we know about – wood.  And, I love the result.

If you are wanting to build a wood countertop, we are going to assume you know the basics of woodworking.  It’s not a beginner, whip it out in a day type of project – just giving fair warning.

STEP 1 – wood selection

Choose your wood, preferably a dense wood.
(A link to a good way to select wood for your project HERE)

We opted for hickory for a few reasons.
#1:  It’s a dense wood that’s going to hold up well.
#2:  We have excess of it (making the countertop free).

STEP 2 – prep wood

Be sure your wood is all planed,  and ready to be joined together.  We laid it out to see where the grains looked good together, before actually joining the wood together.

STEP 3 – join wood

The Biscuit Joiner is the perfect tool for connecting wood together.  First, mark the wood across both boards with a pencil, showing where the center of your biscuit joiner cut will be. 280_countertop_biscuit_markings_mancaveinvadedProceed with cutting all your biscuit holes.  Then, place a good ‘coating’ of wood glue on each biscuit as well as the wood ends  that will be connected together.  You’ll want to work quickly as wood glue can dry faster than anticipated, and you want it to adhere really well.278_countertop_biscuits_mancaveinvaded


STEP 4 - glue and clamp
Clamp the countertop together.  The biscuits and wood glue are what are going to hold the countertop together.  There are no screws or nails needed.  This doesn’t mean it’s necessary to drench the pieces in glue.  Be generous, but not excessive.


287_countertop_glue_MessNotice the glue squeezing out of the joints as it’s clamped tightly?  This is fine.  It’s not coming out in extreme amounts.  I personally do not like cleaning glue off once it is dried.  It takes a lot of work to sand it down.  Once the piece is all clamped and secure, we take a  a putty knife and gently scrape up the glue, and then wipe clean with a damp rag.

STEP 5 – be patient

Let it stay clamped overnight.

STEP 6 – cut to size / shape

Cut it to size!  Our vanity had a rounded front.  Therefore, we needed to cut a rounded front edge on our countertop.  We used the band saw to cut our traced pattern.



STEP 7 - add trim (optional)
We also wanted a decorative trim around the countertop.  Although it isn’t necessary, it sure is a nice finishing touch.  You don’t want the end joints exposed.  It’s not going to sand as well, or absorb the stain the same.  The quality way (in my opinion) was to add a decorative trim.

In that Scott is building a wooden sailboat, we had some extra mahogany laying around.  Mahogany is very dense wood.  Since it is so dense, it is difficult to just ‘bend’ into shape – even this slight curve.  Scott rigged up a little steamer, and was able to get the wood moist enough, allowing it to bend into shape a little more easily.  Once it was steamed, he bent it to shape and left it there overnight.

The next day, he didn’t use biscuits or screws/nails to attach the trim.  Instead, he used an epoxy.  Epoxy is really fast drying, therefore, he had to work and clamp quickly (not pictured)

(epoxy is discussed later in the post)

312_countertop_edge314_countertop_edge2 321_countertop_edge3

We let that front piece dry clamped overnight.  The next afternoon we added the side trim pieces using the same epoxy method.  No bending necessary for those.

STEP 8 - smooth edges

Using a router, he gave the edges a nice rounded edge on top.

STEP 9 – cut sink hole

At this point it was starting to really look good!  Next up was using the template provided with the sink, to cut out the sink hole.

As you can see in the picture, drilling a hole first is necessary to allow a spot for the jig saw blade to get access to your cut line.



STEP 10 – fixing gaps
Finishing touches before the stain can be applied are critical in achieving an overall end product you’ll be proud of.  Sometimes, no matter how meticulous you are, there are going to be slight gaps in wood joints.  The countertop didn’t have any gaps, but in one corners joint of the trim we had a slight crack:348_countertop_crack

This is quite simple to solve.  And makes such a difference!

First, you need some matching wood shavings.  Using a saw, just create some wood dust (in our case we used a Japanese hand saw and the mahogany)
343_countertop_crack_dustNext, get a dollop of wood glue and mix the wood shavings and glue creating a paste.
350_countertop_crack_fixThen, proceed to fill the crack, deep down, really mush it in there good!
357_countertop_crack_fix2Once the gap is filled, don’t be in a hurry to sand.  Let the glue and sawdust paste really set…like overnight…again…

Now that blemish is all fixed we can move on…

STEP 11 – sand countertop
Sanding the countertop.  The surface was sanded using the orbital sander with a 120, then 220 grit sandpaper.  Then quickly  hand sanded with a 400 grit over the entire surface.  It didn’t need much sanding.

STEP 12 -  get the right color
This was the part we were a little nervous about.  We knew the piece would eventually be finished off with an epoxy and a lacquer.  Both of which he had used for his boat, but I didn’t want it the natural hickory color.  I was hoping for a stain on the wood first…  He wasn’t sure the epoxy would adhere to a stained wood.  After some attempts on scrap wood, Scott declared it ‘should’ work.

We stained (technically, oiled) the wood with this:
- Walnut Oil
Trick here is to let is DRY DRY DRY.  If you attempt to do the next step (epoxy) on top of stain or oil that isn’t dry, no chance it’ll work.  Believe me, one of our samples was garbage because we (I) tried to rush the process.  Let it dry for a few days.

STEP 13 – epoxy finish
Finishing with epoxy.  In that this is a countertop, with a sink, in a bathroom, it can’t simply be finished with a lacquer.  It wouldn’t last the way we want it to.

As mentioned earlier, Scott’s been building a wooden boat.  We decided to finish the countertop the same way the boat is finished – water tight and impenetrable, with epoxy and varnish.

First up was coating it in epoxy.  The epoxy is extremely fast drying, so you have to work quickly.  It comes in 2 containers, you mix equal parts of resin and hardener 1:1 and stir it up before application.  These are really big containers as we had it for the boat, you can purchase it in smaller quantities…

983_countertop_epoxyYou’ll want to use a disposable brush, one you can just chuck after application.

When the epoxy is applied, it’s not going to have a smooth surface.  I tried my best to get a picture showing the uneven surface and bumps.

Let this dry for a few days.  That’s right – multiple days.

STEP 14 – sanding the epoxy

Start with a 120 grit, and lightly sand.  If you start to sand and the epoxy seems ‘gummy’ STOP.  You didn’t wait long enough, the epoxy hasn’t cured completely.  This might be due to the weather, or impatience.  Regardless, just wait longer.  :)

If your sanding is successful, it’s time to apply another layer of epoxy.  You need two coats, minimum.  This second coat is going to get in the “valleys” and divits left from the first application.  You should see a smoother finish after this second coat.

Again, let dry – for days.  Patience, patience, patience.  Once dry, sand again.  NOTE:  When you sand the epoxy, it’s going to look milky.  You haven’t ruined it.  This is normal (below).  This was between a first and second coat.  You can really see the divits accentuated.  This is why 2 coats are needed, to fill in all these low spots.


STEP 15 – varnish (or lacquer) finish
Once the second coat of epoxy has been sanded, it’s time to apply the varnish (or lacquer).  We had varnish left over that was marine grade, and had a UV protectant in it.  I don’t think this is necessary for a countertop.  But, it’s what we had, so it’s what we used.  I think a normal lacquer would suffice.

Depending on the finish you want, carefully select your lacquer.  It comes in gloss, semi-gloss, and satin finishes.  The Schooner brand varnish that we used says “High Gloss” but in my opinion, it compares to the “satin” finish of the Deft brand lacquer.
979_countertop_lacquer Left – what we used, it’s really expensive – unnecessary for a countertop.
Right – lacquer found at big box stores, which would be totally fine.

(Below)  This is what it should look like after you’ve sanded the epoxy, prior to the lacquer finish.  Has an interesting texture and looks really dull…don’t worry!

Applying the lacquer.  Look at that beautiful wood grain shine through!  Gorgeous!
638_countertop_lacquerLet it dry…again…
Wood projects take patience.  I am not patient…
Lightly sand with 220 grit.
Repeat the lacquer application.  Let dry overnight.
Lightly sand with steel wool.

STEP 16 – installation
Now it’s ready for installation!
Secure the countertop to the vanity from the underside.
Mount the sink using caulk.
269_countertop_sinkMarked to be sure it gets centered just right…
271_countertop_caulkYou’ll want to use a tub and tile / kitchen and bath type caulk – clear.

STEP 17 - celebrate

Admire your handiwork!  It’s beautiful.  It’s got just the right amount of ‘sheen’ to it.  It doesn’t look plastic and fake.  Yet, it’s smooth and easily wipes clean.


A knowledge of wood working – not a “beginner” project.
Hard wood (for countertop)
Biscuit Joiner
- Biscuits
Wood Glue
Orbital Sander
- 120 / 220 grit sandpaper
Steel Wool
Disposable Paint Brush
Varnish (or Lacquer)
Caulk Gun and Caulk
Band Saw (optional if need a slight curve)



File Cabinet Bench


I was in need of a file cabinet system in my office.  I am also in constant need of places to sit in the office.  I wanted the cabinet to double as a bench.

I found this old wooden crate at Goodwill.  It was $3.  It was only worth $3 as it was full of spider webs and didn’t have a lid and had obviously been used to hold soccer balls in the garage.

The thing it did have going for it was
a) it was solid wood
b) it was a great width and depth for a file cabinet.


After bringing it home, I cleaned it all off, and sanded it just a little bit.  It was never finished off properly, and was dried out wood begging for a coating.  After a light sanding, I primed with kilz and then went with a semi-gloss white that I had left over from my stair project earlier.

I then had Scott help me engineer how to go about making a hanging file system inside.  The tabs on the hanging folder are a bit tricky, and require something not too wide, or too round.  At Home Depot we were easily able to find a piece of steel that worked for our needs.  We made a few braces, and notches for the steel to fit into.

I don’t have picture of the process to make the top, as Scott gave me the top as a gift.  But, it is made from hickory.  The pieces were put together using a biscuit joiner.

The lid was then attached with a simple ‘piano hinge’.  These are a nice option because they come in a variety of lengths, and if you can’t find the right size, it can easily be trimmed down to a custom width for your project.


I love that this mostly looks like a hope chest / bench.
That all my bills and files are hidden away in a not so obvious place.


Update your floor vents


Brass isn’t my favorite.  Our house unfortunately has a lot of it.  It clashes with the wood floor in my opinion.  I decided a mini makeover might do wonders.  I started looking online and was surprised to find that floor vents are quite expensive!  If you want something other than the ordinary metal slats kind.  I like the style of mine, just not the brass finish.

Therefore, I opted for the fast spray paint method.

This was such a fast and easy revamp of the floor vents!  And, it makes such a difference!  They now are a nice contrast to my wood floor rather than a clashing contrast.

1.  Remove floor vents.

2.  Clean them of all dust and crumbs and hair and gross stuff.

3.  Lightly sand the surface.  This will help prepare the surface to better accept the paint, and not scratch off as easily later.  I used 120 grit sandpaper, and then a metal wire brush after the sandpaper.sanding_vents

4.  Wash and dry the vent.  You want to remove all dust to get a nice smooth finish.

5.  I put paper inside my vents so the vents_paperoverspray wouldn’t go down into the rest of the vent as mine open and close and I didn’t want the paint to interfere with that.

6.  Apply the spray paint.  Follow the direction on the can.  It says multiple light coats a few minutes apart is better than one heavy coat, so that’s what I did.  Spray, come inside and fold a load of laundry.  Spray.  Empty the dishwasher.  Spray, check my email…

7.  Dries to the touch in 30 minutes – 1 hour.

finish_vents8.  Replace vent cover and admire your handiwork!  The pictures might not show it very well, but the oil rubbed bronze (metallic) finish is really cool.  Has just a few flecks of the bronze in there when the light hits it right.  It’s not just a matte black.  Which, I didn’t want.


really like the color and the overall finish of this spray paint.


I was able to complete 8 floor vents with one can of spray paint that cost me $7.00.  Not bad!

Floor vents
Sandpaper (120 grit)
Wire Brush (or 000 Steel wool)
Rustoleum metallic paint & primer in one – OIL RUBBED BRONZE
Rag to clean off dust
Soap / Water to wash vents
Paper (optional)


Bathroom Remodel – Demo


When the whole “remodel the bathroom” started, I had every intention of just doing a renovation.  Updating the tile, the vanity, fixtures, etc.

I began calculating costs.  Scoured the internet for ideas and inspiration.  I came across an article detailing how to revamp (paint) your bathtub.  I thought that perhaps this option would save me a lot of money, so I looked into it.

I researched for hours.  I read customer reviews.  I compared the $50 DIY kit to the professional epoxy, painters reviews.  I really wanted this option to work.  I was really hoping to save money.  I eventually called the company that makes the DIY kit.  Their customer service was nice enough, but there was 0% guarantee on their product.  Not only that, when I asked how long they anticipated their epoxy lasting, the answer was 5 years.  That right there settled it for me.  I didn’t want a  5 year fix.  I wanted a permanent bathroom solution.

So, when I started the tear out, I anticipated replacing the tub with a white one.

Work began.

First up – removing the cultured marble.  I was worried it was going to be really stuck to the wall.  Pleasantly surprised.  First, I cut the caulk away with a box cutter.  Then, I used my mini pry-bar and mini hammer (it’s just too cute) to get behind the cultured marble.  :)


The marble basically popped off once I loosened it all the way around.  We knew we would need to replace all this sheetrock anyway, so I wasn’t worried about damaging it.

tub_surroundThis then left the bathtub edges visible.  The tub is really crammed into this space.  In order to remove a bathtub, you need to remove the drain.  Depends on the style of bathtub, but most screw onto the pipe, so a pair of pliers can often grip allowing you to twist the drain free:


Besides the drain, there will also be something anchoring the tub to the wall.  In this instance, some simple nails:


Once the nails were free, the bathtub could rock.  But again, it was such a tight fit, we had to remove some of the sheetrock:


The tile floor was also installed after the bathtub, therefore it had to come out before the tub.  I used a chisel to gouge the grout line:


This then allowed me to get under the first tile with my hammer.  They came out quite easily after that.


Now we were ready to pull that tub out!  No pictures as it was a 2 man job…  But here is the space once it was removed.


At this point I was beaming ear to ear.
Getting rid of this gross bathroom.

I walked around the new space.  I then sheepishly asked Scott, “So…the plumbing is open to the crawl space…is it possible to move the toilet over here???” (6 feet away…)

Not what a man wants to hear…  :)
Scott grumbled around the house for a bit and I could hear,
“Move the toilet, she says!”
He is a good man.  :)

As I stated when I started this post – I had every intention of just replacing and updating things.  But, once the tub was out I couldn’t help but wander the space and feel how OPEN it felt!  The way a powder room should feel!

Secondly, there were a few things that really bothered me about this bathroom and it’s layout:
1.  The toilet is basically IN the door.  When someone uses the loo, you hear it…I wanted the toilet elsewhere in the bathroom.
2.  The pocket door was old, meaning it would often stick and scrape and was just a pain.  I wanted a real door.
3.  The bathroom is off our main entry – it does not need a bathtub.  There are no bedrooms near this bathroom.  Therefore, why not get rid of the bathtub all together whilest moving the toilet?!


These 3 items were details that could only be fixed with a major overhaul.  The other details – gross tile, replacing toilet and sink, new mirror, all that could’ve been done with a renovation.  So, those were going to be changed no matter what.

After Scott scoped out the crawl space and plumbing situation, it was reluctantly announced that yes, it was possible to change the location of the toilet.

Dream come true!

The next day entailed more demo.
All the way down to the bare studs and insulation.

demo_mancave demo2_mancavedemo_dumpdemo3

We bribed our boys with a 99 cent chocolate frosty from Wendy’s.
Cheapest hired help ever!

My favorite was when we handed them wrenches to remove the old toilet.  Our oldest began dry heaving.  :)
It’s good for them to have to do gross hard things now and again…we’re raising real men, not sissy’s!toilet_removal

We hauled all this to the local dump.  Cost us $28.50 to dispose of it.  It was work, but worth the money saved from hiring someone else to come do the demo and haul away for us.


COMING SOON – Bathroom Remodel – Transformation!


Staircase Revamp


The first thing you see when you walk in our house is the staircase.  The hickory wood floors are beautiful, but the oak railing?  Not so much.  When we bought the home, I knew it needed a revamp, but I was a little worried about how to go about it.

I saw some tutorials online, but being married to a purist, I knew he’d never go for a ‘paint it all’ scenario.  And, I didn’t want a paint.  I wanted a dark stain.  I was excited to do the project myself, but worried because the banister and spindles are OAK.

Oak is known for its dark prominent grain.  When certain stains are applied to oak, it can often absorb the stain unevenly.  I didn’t want to create a mess.  I wanted a dark even stain that would still show the wood grain.

And, I wanted the spindles white to match the rest of the house.

PREP – STRIP:stairs_before_mancave
To begin, my railing and spindles were very warn.  As in – there was hardly any varnish on them.  There are sky lights above the stairs and I assume the constant sunshine had just worn away whatever coating was on there during previous ownership.  This being the case, I didn’t even have to use a stripper first.  If your stairs have a glossy finish – I would highly recommend using citristrip first.

I went straight to sandpaper.
In that I didn’t want to change the shape of the railing or spindles, I was very careful to use a 220 grit sandpaper and lightly sand all the surfaces, by hand.  This took a few hours.  If you take a power sander to it, be ever so careful.  You’ll easily change the shape of your handrail by accident…

I opted to stain the areas first, and then paint the white.  I taped off all the spindles where white would meet stain.  The color of stain was a tad tricky.  I tested a few samples of stain on oak and wasn’t pleased with any of them.  Therefore, I ended up combining Dark Walnut and Ebony OIL based stain (both minwax).  The Ebony alone was too black for me – no warmth.  I normally like Dark Walnut, but the oak just wasn’t accepting it the way an alder does, and it just wasn’t dark enough.  Once I had the two combined, it was just right.  1 can of each.

**TIP – mix the stain in the can, scraping the bottom every 5 minutes or so while you are applying it!  It settles.  You’ll get uneven color otherwise.

I used a soft rag and applied one coat of stain – rubbing in circles, yet leaving the stain a bit ‘wet’.  Once the entire railing was stained (perhaps 30-45 minutes), I came back and wiped up any excess stain that hadn’t been absorbed.  THIS IS CRITICAL.  If you don’t get the excess off, when you come back for coat #2 – it will strip off down to the bare wood.  Leave this coat overnight before attempting a second coat.  After my first coat, it wasn’t as dark as I was hoping.  Don’t get discouraged.  DON’T attempt another coat yet.  Give it time.  Let it soak in.

After it had time to dry overnight, I did another coat of this same stain.  After 2 coats it was an even stain across the handrail.  Just the color I wanted, and still showing the wood grain.  It didn’t look like I had ‘painted’ the handrail like I saw in most of the tutorials.

First, tape off the opposite as before – so the white doesn’t get on any newly stained sections.  It’s wise to let the stain dry overnight or even for a few days before attempting the painting portion.

For sure – you have to use a primer first before painting.  My railing has been complete for almost 2 years.  I attribute the no chipping and peeling to using a primer.  After priming, I used a good ol’ fashioned brush to apply the white paint.  I went with a semi-gloss as that’s what the rest of my house’s molding is done with.  This was tedious.  In that you can see the underside of my stairs from down a level, I had t be really meticulous about my spindles and where they met up with the stain.

Once the paint and stain were both dry (this was a week long project), it was time to apply a varnish, or top coat.  I know lots of people opt for a rub on polyurethane.  I just didn’t feel that was strong enough for my family’s use and abuse.  Again, I did the old fashioned brush on method.  I ended up using a satin finish lacquer.  I did one coat.  Let it dry.  Sanded very very lightly with 400 grit sand paper, then applied another coat of lacquer.  After this coat was dry I did a light sand with 0000 steel wool.



I really like that I can still see the wood grain of the oak.  It was such a dramatic change to our front entry.  Well worth the time and effort.


It’s been abused the last few years.  It’s held up well.

Office Remodel – Closet


Our office has had many remodel phases.
This was the phase of turning the closet into a desk space.

**It’s important to note, you cannot always just remove walls and closets!  You better make darn well sure it isn’t a load bearing wall!**

This was not a load bearing wall, and thus, the header above the closet door was unnecessary in terms of strength to our house.

(My camera was in the repair shop during the demo phase of this project, so iphone photos will have to suffice.)

I realize other people are much more organized than I am.  It is what it is…  The space was not working for me, and my needs.

First up was cleaning out the entire closet.

Next was demo phase…  Took some man power!

After the demo work was complete, it was a matter of re-sheetrocking the areas that needed it.  Adding a nice rounded corner on the side, etc.  I actually left town during this process.  I’m sure it was a pain.  Thanks to Scott for doing all the grunt work.  :)

Then, I returned in time to paint the new walls.
This is Restoration Hardware – Silver Sage color.

Meanwhile, my office looked like this:

Scott built all the cabinets.  Out in the garage…
I helped sand and stain and lacquer all the cabinets and doors.

And, ready for install!

All completed!

Materials Used:
Cabinets – Alder.
Cabinet Stain - “Old Master” - (oil) Special Walnut
Cabinet Top Coat – Lacquer

Countertop – Hickory.
Countertop Stain – “Minwax” (oil-stain) - Ebony
Counter Top Coat - Lacquer.

Wall Color – Silver Sage (restoration hardware)



I often feel the need to rescue things.  I’ve brought home my share of puppies needing mothering.  I’ve also brought home plenty of furniture that needed some loving card.

I found this sad story at our local Goodwill.


Being that this buffet is made from a veneer, I couldn’t just take a power sander to it.  I opted for citristrip to get the white paint off.

Stripping Gel
Apply the stripper with a brush or a rag and let it sit for an hour or so.  After it’s had a chance to soak in and penetrate it should start to peel up the paint.  Not so much ‘bubble’ as just start to look loose and flakey.  TIP – Don’t apply the gel and think you’ll come back to the project in a few days.  It’s easiest to remove the gel and the paint within the hour.

Putty Knife
Once it looks like above, it’s time to scrape with a putty knife.  Don’t gouge.  Just use the putty knife flat against the surface and with a gentle pressure slide it under your painted surface and you’ll soon have large strips of paint and gel and gunk coming off with relative ease.

The citristrip does a decent job after one application.  You can start to see the wood again!  This is the door after one application of citristrip and a putty knife removal.

Obviously this wasn’t the look I was going for.



Stripping Gel (Application #2)
This time, I applied the citristrip by dipping a wire brush in the gel.  I then scrubbed the door with the wire brush / citristrip, working together.  Once the strip has done its job and an area seems free of paint, I like to keep a damp (I mean barely wet) rag nearby so I can wipe off the gel and really see if my job is done in the area.

Here you can see the difference between the putty knife and the wire brush method.


After I did the other door and the top with the wire brush, it was time for a light sanding.  You have to be really careful with veneer as the “pretty” wood is often thin, and if you sand it too much you will take off all the pretty wood, exposing a different wood.  I used a 120 grit sand paper – hand sanding.  I then quickly went over it with a 220 grit – very lightly, by hand.

It’s important to make sure all the stripping gel and sanding dust is off the furniture before applying a stain.  They make special rags to collect the dust.  I just got out the air compressor and sprayed it with bursts of air.  Then, dusted it with a clean rag.  Once I was satisfied, I applied the stain.  I wanted it to be dark, so I used minwax, dark walnut, oil based stain.

Top Coat
Once the oil stain had dried over night (or perhaps a few days) it was time for a topcoat.  Being as this wasn’t a piece I was going to set water or hot items on, it didn’t need ‘ultra’ protection.  I went with a simple satin polyurethane.  1 application on the entire thing.  2nd application on the top of the buffet.

I got the fun colorful knobs at World Market.
I really enjoy seeing this piece in our home.
It took effort, but it’s a reminder of what something can become if we just give it a chance and use the right methods!

The wire brushing was the most physically intense part of this project.  But, the result was so dramatic it was fun.


Supply List for this Project
*Old piece of awesome furniture that someone decided to paint.
*Paint Stripping Gel (I like Citristrip gel)
*Way to apply Gel (rag, brush)
*Putty Knife
*Wire Brush
*Sandpaper (I used 120 and 220 grit)
*Stain (I used Minwax Dark Walnut Oil-based)
*Top Coat (I used polyurethane, satin finish)
*Rags (a few, just to have around for spills)
*A “can do” attitude!  :)


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Teak Patio Furniture


I bought this patio set on Craig’s List.  The people obviously didn’t know anything about wood or how to care for wood.

The patio set is constructed from teak.  The previous owners opted for a paint, which was tragic.  Teak has such a warm natural color.  I knew it could be restored to its original beauty.

This was the condition of the furniture when I bought it:teak_original_mancaveStrip
I first applied one coat of citristrip.  My experience with strip is if you let it sit too long, it’s a pain to get it off.  I didn’t put it into the tight spaces, as I didn’t want to have to get it out of there.  I knew I would be sanding in there anyway.  The stripper was really to let me see how in depth of a sand I was going to need to do.

Next up was sanding the surfaces.  I used a handheld with an 80 grit sandpaper first.  Being as the orbital sander couldn’t fit in the tight corners and between the slats I had to do some hand sanding.  I used a file where possible.  Then, just a hand sand with an 80 grit to get in the corners.  It took some work.  Not going to lie .  This was not a simple “slap the stain on” project.

Once all the previous paint was removed I then switched to a 120 grit sandpaper over all the surfaces.  From there, I used a 220 on the areas that would touch clothing or skin (the seat, the back, the arm rests).  The underside I didn’t bother past the 120 grit.
teak_sanded_mancaveIt’s so fun for me to see a wood’s potential…

As this is teak wood, and virtually impervious to water, I opted for a traditional “teak oil.”  Teak is really dense wood.  It is known as the gold standard for outdoor furniture because it can weather most anything.  But, being left untreated it would change color – to a more gray hue.  I wanted to keep it a natural warm color, and teak oil does that.  Plus, we live in a very dry climate, so I felt it needed something to help it not dry out and possibly crack.
I applied one coat of teak oil with a rag.  Let that soak in.  When it was no longer sticky, I applied another coat.  After the oil was dry, I put it outside and let it weather for a few days.  Then applied another coat of teak oil.

Beautiful!  Look at that wood and warmth!
Teak Furniture
Stripper – I use citristrip
Sandpaper – I used 80, 120, and 220 grit
File – or similar to sand in the tight crevices
Rag to apply oil
Teak Oil
(A “Can Do” attitude!)
Orbital Sander – (optional) but sure made my job easier!


Deck Refinishing

Our house has a great deck off the kitchen.
And…the peeling paint/stain from the previous owners made it an eyesore.

Every time I’d walk on it, I would end up with peeling paint strips stuck to my feet.  It made it through one summer, but we knew we wanted to ENJOY the deck this summer, which required it to be refinished.

Step 1  The boys and I scraped with putty knives real fast and got up the pieces that were ready to flake off on their own.

Step 2  We rented a drum sander from Home Depot.  It took about 2 hours to drum sand the entire floor surface.  Tip – if you have a deck that needs refinishing like ours, don’t get a simple floor sander.  I made that mistake.  It would’ve taken many painful hours to get the deck sanded with the floor sander vs. the drum sander.  Granted, ours was in pretty bad shape to begin with.  The drum sander takes off more material than the floor sander.  I would say the floor sander is more for the finish sanding.

Step 3  After drum sanding, use the floor sander for a finer finish.

Step 4  Sand everything else - the real pain.  The railings weren’t too bad.  The balusters were a huge pain.  I never want to sand and refinish balusters again.  At one point we considered just unscrewing them to sand them, or buy new balusters and put them on.  It was that tedious.  To sand these areas we used a belt sander, a hand sander, and a grinder (with a wood sanding pad).

Step 5  We got out the air compressor and air hosed off all the sawdust.  Our neighbors were loving us by this point.  Inside our house was super dusty, as I’m sure my neighbors got our dust too!

Step 6  Stain.  This was fairly fun as it’s cool to see the transformation.  We opted for an oil based semi transparent stain.  We love it.  We love being able to see the grain in the wood after all our work to make it new again.  We used:

Brand:  PreservaWood (It’s an oil stain and sealer in one.)
Color:  Pacific Redwood

Recessed Lighting


It is TOTALLY possible, to replace boob lights (or surface mount light fixtures) with canned lights!  I’m not going to lie and say it’s a fun job - holding your hands above your head, rewiring in a cramped space, sprinkling insulation and sheetrock in your eyes…but it is possible!

No husband wants to tell their wife this is a possibility, because they know we will always pick recessed lights over boob lights.  :)

Things to consider for your light selection:
Design - Is this a Remodel or New Construction?
Rating –  Is there insulation in the area where the cans will be?
Style – How broad of light do you want it to disperse?

REMODEL:  The remodel construction cans have a slimmer design.  A long arm extending from the can.  The can comes with a template, directing you in the size of hole you will need to cut in your sheetrock.  The electricians have fancy power saws to do this.  But, a simple jab saw gets the job done.  It doesn’t need to be the prettiest cut, because you will be placing a cover over the hole eventually.  Notice the small black clips on the can – they secure the new recessed light to the sheetrock.

:  A larger contraption.  Its design would be very difficult to attach if sheetrock is already in place.  To install this, you’ll need access to the studs (either floor joists, or attic joists).  If you’ve stripped a wall down to the studs, then this is the route you’ll want to go.

Some cans are rated IC – insulation contact.  If being installed in an area where there is insulation in the ceiling, you’ve got to make sure you get the IC rating.

You will find cans ranging in diameter.  Most common are 3″, 4″, 5″, 7″.  Some have housing so the light can ‘swivel’ while most are a straight downward housing.  The smaller diameter cans creates more of a spotlight.  If you are wanting direct lighting in a built-in shelving unit, a 3″ (or smaller) is probably what you want.  In a hallway where you want lots of light to flood the area, you’ll probably want a 7″ can.

The housings range in price.  I am not picky, and find that it’s not often I am sitting on the couch staring up into the cans wishing I had bought a more expensive one that had a white coating on the inside…  It doesn’t matter to me.  Therefore, I go with a relatively cheap option found at big box stores - in the $10-$15 range for standard sizes.  The covers then run you that much again depending if you pick white or stainless steel, or fancier options.  Most covers are purchased separately.

If you aren’t an electrician – or you don’t understand wiring, don’t risk a DIY on this.  If you hire a licensed electrician to come in and do all the work for you – I think a reasonable estimate is about $150 per light.  Price would obviously depend on
(a) where you live
(b) if there is attic access
(c) if he is running new wire.

My example above – we simply put lights where the existing lights already were.  This is obviously the easiest installation of the remodel can.cut_hole_mancaveinvaded

But, let’s say you have a single light in the middle of the room.  Is it possible to add 4 cans in the ceiling instead?  YES!  It is possible!  But, it might be a lot of work, and here is why…  It all depends on which way your support beams are running through your ceiling.  If you can run the wire parallel to the joists – the job will be so much easier.  If you are picky about your light locations, it might (ok, it will) be a pain to cut into the sheetrock in more than one place in order to then drill through a floor joist allowing a wire to pass through.  Just keep that in mind.  If you bring in an electrician to do the work – they often point out the locations its possible to put a can.  :)  Lots of times this means, they don’t want to drill through floor joists…which is a lot more work.