Learn How to Stain Like a Pro!

I’ve been dyeing to stain a piece of furniture for a while and I finally got to!*

Here’s how you can, too:

  1. Supplies: Figure out what color/s you want to stain your piece and head on over to your local hardware store** to pick up the following:


  • Some pre-stain (if you’re staining soft woods like pine)
  • Your stain/s
  • Some polyurethane finish
  • Turpentine ( for clean-up if you have an oil based stain)
  • Paint brushes (enough for pre-stain and each stain color you’ll be using – be sure to get brushes for oil based paints if you’re using oil based stain)
  • Sandpaper or a new sanding disc for your new disc sander***
  • Rags, if you’re fancy. Otherwise clean old t-shirts from that job you’re never going back to cut into rags work just as well.****
  • Painter’s tape if you’re using multiple stain colors.
  • Timer (we used our phones)
  • A stylin dust mask and pair of goggles if you’re prone to chocking on wood dust/getting splinters in your eyes like me or you can forego these if you enjoy living dangerously, like Nick:0102161210a

2. Once you have all your supplies, read the instructions on the back of all of your liquids to determine how long you’ll need to wait for things to dry/how many coats you’ll need to apply, etc. and determine:

  • What pieces are being stained
  • What color you want each piece to be

This is a good time to test your stains on a scrap piece of wood or the underside of one of your pieces if it won’t bother you. We used the underside of the lower shelf from the desk as our test piece:


I had originally wanted the trim and drawers on the desk to be a warmer sand tone, but as you can see, the “sand toned” stain I bought for the trim was more white than anything. Therefore I chose to forego staining the trim and drawers, leaving the pine elements natural. The dark stain, however, was exactly what I wanted for the rest, so we got to work!

3. Choose a well ventilated area and begin prepping your wood.^ You’ll begin by sanding all areas to be stained until smooth. We used Nick’s fancy new disc sander to sand all our outer surfaces and sandpaper to sand the harder to reach places.0102161210bOnce your pieces are sanded you’ll want to wipe them off with a dust cloth, to make sure you get rid of all wood dust before applying your liquids. Working as a team taking turns sanding/wiping makes this part go faster.

4. Apply your pre-stain to your clean smooth surface with a clean brush. Pre-stain helps condition soft woods, so they will absorb the stain evenly. Let it dry for the time indicated on the packaging before applying your stain, but be sure to apply the stain within the window indicated on packaging. Our pre-stain said to apply stain no later than two hours after application.


5. Once your pre-stain is dry you can begin the fun part – staining! Now ‘s the time to cover up any areas you DON’T want to stain with painter’s tape. Apply the stain with a clean brush using even strokes going with the grain and allow to sit for 5-15 minutes depending on how dark you want your piece to be (Not dark enough? Use your test piece to determine how many coats you’ll need to apply to achieve the color you want). Wipe the stain away using a clean cotton cloth going with the grain. Be careful when applying stain/wiping around any edges you don’t want to absorb stain. Your wood is like a sponge – don’t ruin it!                                               This part also went quickly since we were doing it as a team. Be sure not to let stain sit too long/too little before you wipe or you’ll have an uneven surface and you’ll have to spend more time trying to blend everything. Discard rags as they become saturated with stain and replace them with fresh rags as needed.


When staining raw edges, apply stain to edge first and then to surface or your edges will look uneven like this:


Also, watch out for unsightly drips when staining vertical surfaces!

When you’ve finished your staining and feel like everything is relatively even, you can pull off your painter’s tape. Voila!


6. Once your stain has dried for the time indicated on it’s packaging, you can begin the finishing process. Using a clean rag apply polyurethane finish to all surfaces (including those you chose not to stain, like the trim in this instance) and let dry. We applied three coats of finish to all of our surfaces with a light sanding between each coat before deciding it was ready for use.

7. Add hardware and you’re done!

Give yourself a pat on the back and start using your new piece of furniture!


*Please excuse the terrible pun.

**We love Blifferts!

***Projects like these are perfect excuses to buy new tools!

****The sleeves of said t-shirts also work great as babushkas to pin your dogs ears to their head if they happen to injure their ear and create blood splatters worthy of Dexter Morgan all over your bathroom walls.

^It being January, we used our basement. Not the best idea since our hallway smelled like fumes for about a week. Next time we’ll do it in the garage or when it’s warm enough to have windows open.


Modern Secretary: a labor of love


My Lovely Modern Secretary

Ever since I was a little girl, furniture with lots of little hidden drawers and compartments has appealed to me. I attribute that to spending a large portion of my childhood at my grandma’s house. She had many vintage pieces handed down from family members, as well as, pieces my grandfather built from scratch into the house itself.

Growing up I was fascinated by the large blue secretary in her house that served as dresser, desk and book case. I used to love opening the hinged desk to see all the compartments inside for letters and papers…the little drawers filled with stamps and paperclips. I liked watching it close and wondered if anything happened in there when we weren’t looking.

As an adult, secretary desks still appeal to me. I like their functionality and that everything has a place. I am forever battling clutter and am often misplacing things like my stamps or that birthday card I meant to send to a friend. Nick has wandered around enough antique stores with me to know how much I like them, so when he stumbled upon this strange piece in an alley here in Milwaukee, it sparked an idea.

Apologies for the blurry picture.

Apologies for the blurry picture.

We’re not sure what this thing was in it’s past life, but our best guess is a prayer kneeler*. The metal tabs along the inner side of the legs hold the legs in place and look like something was once attached to them. When you pull those tabs up, you can fold the legs in. The metal was exposed at the top as though something had been attached there, as well, and it came with a small light fixture.

Regardless of what it had been, Nick showed it to me and asked if I’d like him to turn it into a secretary for me for my birthday. I was skeptical and said, “sure?”** So using scrap wood he found in our garage, tools he bought and/or borrowed from friends and YouTube videos as his guide, and a few moths later it looked like this!!:


After much deliberation and hunting for the perfect drawer pulls; which we found at Farm Girl Antiques, I decided what colors I wanted to stain it and we ended up with the gorgeous desk you see in the first image!


Now all of my writing materials are organized and I have a lovely place to sit and write/draw. Thanks for the lovely birthday gift, Nick!

I’ll be posting a tutorial on how to stain such a piece for those who are curious soon!

*Other theories sourced from posting a picture to the internet included: cage around ticket kiosk at a theatre, or bank tellers’ cage.

**Who knew? Best to start skeptical and be pleasantly surprised by results.







Upcycling Doors Into Furniture: Step 2 – Table and Couch Assembly

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOver the past few weeks, Nick and I have been building furniture from old doors and it all started because of the vintage brown door you see above; which Nick found in an alley a couple of years ago. It’s been living on our back porch ever since, waiting for the perfect project.

As I mentioned in my first post about this project, we acquired a few more doors via Craigslist and decided to turn them into a bench, a couch and an end table.

The first thing we built right after cutting our wood was the end table. I got to use a power drill for the first time and managed to break my first drill bit on the fifth hole (whoops!). Nick hovered while I drilled at first and the experience brought back tension-filled memories of my dad teaching me to drive in his car, so I asked him to give me space and he left me to my own devices. I felt bad about the drill bit, but I replaced it with a two-pack a couple of days later.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince we had to wait a couple of days to finish the table, due to a broken drill bit, Nick, re-evaluated how he was going to construct it. He decided to use dowels and wood glue in addition to the joint he put in to make it sturdier.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe joints were made from pieces of scrap wood that were drilled into the insides of the table legs and the underside of the table. They’re what I was working on when I broke the bit.

Here’s Nick gluing the leg in place before attaching it to the joint with some wood screws:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd here’s the lovely, Ian MacKaynine, posing with the assembled table:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next thing we worked on was the couch, because we needed a place for the Baran’s to sit when they came to visit us last weekend!

We stood the doors up on their ends and Nick drilled holes and screwed the elbow joints in while I help the doors upright.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt wasn’t very sturdy with just the elbow joints, so we added some off-cuts from an old door along the joint in order to help stabilize it. Then we tipped the couch onto its back and attached the legs with some more elbow joints:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe carefully tipped it right side up and here’s the finished couch!:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext post will cover cushion construction and the bench, so stay tuned!



Upcycling Doors Into Furniture: Step 1 – Planning and Cutting

For those who don’t know, I live with someone who loves to walk through alleys in the hopes of finding treasure. A lot of times what he brings home is trash IMHO, but every once in a while he brings something cool home. Something that sparks an idea.

Like this door!


Initially we planned on replacing one of the doors in our apartment with this door. However, once we discovered that it was too tall for any of our doorways, we put it on the back porch knowing that someday we’d find a use for it.

Then along came Pinterest with it’s many pictures of re-purposed vintage doors, which sparked the idea of the door couch (our old couch was put out of it’s misery last year after the dogs mangled it). So the hunt for another vintage wooden door began.

These little rascals are why we can’t have anything nice for long.


Unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you look at it, they’re adorable cuddle bugs that I can’t stay mad at for long.

Anyway…after about a year of searching my local Craigslist and Freecycle off and on for doors, I finally hit the jackpot! Last weekend I bought three solid wooden doors off a girl for $10 a piece. Nick and I lugged them home and spent last weekend cutting them down into various pieces of furniture (a couch, a bench and an end table)!

Our first step before cutting was to draw plans for our various pieces of furniture. Nick measured our futon to get an idea of what measurements we wanted the couch to be and then together we measured and marked the wood before cutting.


I’m still learning the basics of power tools and I find the table saw incredibly intimidating. I get anxious just by watching Nick cut things with it. So for now I’m content to assist with feeding the wood through and keeping an eye out for things that might possibly get Nick’s arm chopped off, like falling doors or Spike, our neighbor’s cat:


Things to remember when using a table saw:

1) Measure and plan BEFORE you cut!

2) Make sure there aren’t any nails or other metal bits anywhere in the wood near where you’ll be cutting or you just might see sparks fly and worry about your limbs as the wood bucks. Bucking wood = uneven cuts = wobbly furniture  = FAIL

3) Clear the area of cats, dogs, large pieces of wood that might potentially fall on you and/or the saw if the wind were to pick up, etc.

4) Wear protective eye gear so you don’t get flying wood debris in your eyes, like I did. Note: I have since bought myself a pair of goggles for future projects.

5) A bandana or mask to keep you from inhaling the saw dust isn’t a bad idea either, ’cause pulling your t-shirt up over your mouth and nose isn’t very effective (trust me – I tried).

6) If you’re cutting a large piece of wood make sure to set up a table nearby to help support the wood, so you get an even cut, like you see below. We simply used Nick’s workbench with a couple of bricks and some scraps of wood we had lying around.


We purposefully designed our door couch (below) to have no arm rests, so there are less places for the dogs to mangle when they get anxious. Two of the doors I got had a neat scallop to them, which gives them a bit of visual interest, which is why we decided to also make a bench and end table out of them. Unfortunately the two scalloped doors I got don’t match, so the ends of our couch won’t look exactly the same, but I think it will still look cool.


After we cut each piece of wood we measured it again and/or tested our prototype to make sure everything was cut correctly and fit well together.

Here’s our bench prototype before assembly with an anxious, Ian, looking on:


And here’s the top of our end table:


I’m excited to see what our finished products looks like!!

Next up – assembly. I get to use a power drill!!