Furniture project part 6: the pain of stain.

I thought I was going to be glad I had finally finished the mosaics and could move on to staining. I was wrong.

Until yesterday, I’d never used a water based stain before. Now I know why. Normally, for bright colors I prefer to use aniline dye, using alcohol as the solvent. But I was in Home Depot at the time and minwax had a water based stain that came in purple. I figured “hey, I’m already here. I don’t have to order online for this.” and brought it home.

Yeah. There’s a reason I order online. I am sure that realistically, there’s wood surfaces this works well on. This just wasn’t one of those projects.

The first thing I did was once again, clean my surface thoroughly so it was free of dust, dirt and any residue. However be careful of your pencil lines, so you don’t accidentally erase them.

After that, I applied the purple stain to where it needed to go. Before anyone asks, yes I did this freehand- no tape.

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I left the stain on longer than I should have (I am used to oil based stains and alcohol dyes) so I had to fight to get it off. It stuck like paint. This is what it looked like after that first coat came off:

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So…not great. Not terrible, but not great. I was less than impressed with the stuff, to be honest. So I went back and tried another coat.

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To be honest, I wasn’t sure if this result was better or worse. I put the problem aside and decided to work on the background. I taped off all the stained and mosaic areas first, so I could, in theory, avoid getting stain on them.

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I then gave up on water based stains for the moment and went back to an oil based stain for the background.

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This is where you can see any unevenness in the sanding process. I wasn’t too concerned, since I knew I would be doing multiple coats anyway.

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That got me this result, once the tape was removed:

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So I realized I hated that, and tried again.

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I realized I hated that too, and finally realized that because of the veneer I was never going to get the kind of saturation of color I wanted without running the risk of breaking through the veneer entirely. I painted all the purple parts and the mosaics with a thin coat of shellac to act as a resist, and then I went back with the stain and instead of just wiping it off as normal, I ragged it off with a paper towel, creating a mottled appearance (which was at least done purposely.)

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I was finally happy with this, and so I left it alone. At this point, I am going to leave this alone to dry, and in the meantime, work on one of the doors. By the time I’m done with that, I can feel safer about moving the case so I can get to the other side to work on it. I won’t start finishing it until the whole thing is done, so it can dry thoroughly. I also have to decide what I’m finishing it *with*, and what level of sheen it will have.

But next up, I’ll work on one of the doors.

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Furniture project part 5: Grouting.

So after many hours, I did finally manage to finish the mosaic work on that large circle on the left side of the case.

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I really do want to stress that what you’re looking at takes hours. You can only put down so many pieces until you have to wait until the glue firms up so you can continue, and that number is much smaller than you think; usually fewer than ten pieces. The glue I’m using is water based, and is honestly not too much different than plain old Elmer’s. The only difference is that this has a slightly longer open, or working time, so you can get the pieces exactly where you want them before the glue sets up. That also means you’re waiting longer for the glue to firm up enough so that you can continue working. Remember, this is only the first side of the piece- I still have five other pieces in which I have to install tile.

Once it was done though, I masked off all three tiled areas. Normally I use blue low-tack painter’s tape but I’m low on it, and so I used ordinary masking tape. I *WOULD NOT* use masking tape for anything involving paint. It’s *terrible* for that purpose. But for this, it’s fine, and when it gets wet, it doesn’t lose its’ grip.

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Once everything was masked off, I mixed up some grout. Yes, you can buy it premixed and pre-colored. I have a box large enough to tile a swimming pool in my house, and so I just used what I have (which is kind of a very light gray) and I tinted it using ordinary acrylic paints. To be honest, using powdered pigment would be better, but also more expensive, and I don’t have any in the house. I mixed up just enough grout of each color (really, I just winged the colors- there’s no science here.) and applied the grout with my hand (I was wearing a glove at the time.)

The important thing about mixing grout is it’s sort of like cooking. It has to have the right consistency or it falls apart. You’re only looking to add enough water to form a smooth paste. If it’s the consistency of cream, you’ve gone too far. If you want to know what it should look like, put a bit of toothpaste on a plate and smoosh it around a while. That’s it. You then let it sit out in the bowl for about 15 minutes, stir and *then* apply it.

When you do large areas of tile, you should use tools to apply grout. In areas this small and when the pieces are irregular, your fingers work just fine. Just be sure to wear gloves.

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After about 40 minutes or so, you can start to clean off the extra grout. **BE GENTLE**. Both the grout and the glue you’ve used on your tiles are water based. If you scrub too hard, you will pull tiles up as well as grout. If this happens, just re-glue the tile in place, being careful not to drop grout in the hole. I use a little pad and some water. Don’t use too much water. Just enough to dampen the pad, and rinse the pad (and change your water) frequently. You will be doing two cleanings, so it’s not imperative to get all the extra grout off in one shot. Also, remember your grout color will lighten as it dries, so if it looks super dark, don’t worry about it.

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About an hour later, I do my final cleanup. On the second pass I just use a paper towel or a rag. You can use even less water- you want to make sure all the grout and haze comes off your tile and not remove much if any grout from between your tiles.

Once this is all done, you can remove your masking tape and clean up any final bits.

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Once everything is cleaned up, you can get things prepped for staining, which is our next step.