Furniture project part 7: The pursuit of perfection.

So here’s the thing.

I finished the top of the case a couple weeks ago. The only thing I have to do now is the finishing part and putting it all back together. I haven’t yet because I need a tack rag (which I know yes, I can make myself..) and I need a couple of foam brushes (no brushmarks, yo.). But I’ll get to that. What I wanted to talk about really, is this point. This point in any project where all that’s left is the finishing. and once the finish goes on, you’re kinda stuck with what’s underneath it. So you’re looking over your project and NOW, this moment, is the one where you’re looking at it with a super critical eye to see if there’s anything you should do over again. You’re looking for something that needs fixing. You’re looking for flaws.

Don’t get me wrong. There are times when things really should be flawless. Those times certainly exist. If you’re making a new piece of furniture, custom, from scratch, for sale. Flawless is good. But recycled furniture is not about flawless(neither, btw is restoration.) It’s just as much an art project as a design project, if not more so. You need to be able to see those flaws, own them, and for the most part, unless they’re minor touchups, be able to let them go.

This is really, really hard for some people- self included, though it’s even harder for people who are very detail oriented. They get lost in the bark of the tree, when the forest is all around them waiting for them to get on with and over themselves.

“Oh SURE, it’s easy to say that- it’s not your project with all these errors and mistakes in it… You’re a professional!”

But it is. And I am. And I’m going to prove it.

So we have this project, right? You’ve watched as it’s slowly come together over the summer. Okay, great. And now we’re at this moment. The one before the finish, where if you’re going to fix something, now is the time. Other than minor touchups? I’m not fixing the following things:

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I’m not fixing the fact that this mosaic circle is cup shaped, when it should be flat. This is the result of the chisel not being sharp enough.

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I’m not fixing the fact that this “circle” is supposed to be round, and isn’t. (see: chisel.)

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I’m not fixing the evenness of the grout on the right top quadrant of this circle.

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I’m not fixing the fact that this circle isn’t flat.

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There’s nothing wrong with this one. Actually, it’s near perfect, which illustrates how imperfect those others are.

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I’m not fixing the fact that the purple circles are splotchy, and the black is darker and less painterly than I’d like.

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I’m not fixing the fact that that drawer up there? Looks different than the door front below:

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Or that this side:

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Is not like that side:

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Because perfection simply isn’t necessary here. Flawless isn’t really important (though I would love to get a flawless *FINISH* on these, I know better. I have cats.)

So I’m going to get some brushes and a tack rag and forgive this piece (and its maker) their flaws. No one else was ever going to care about them anyway.

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Furniture project part 6.4- top’s done.

4th verse, same as the first.

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Mosaics are done, purple polka dots filled in.

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Same thing, different angle.

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First coat of black goes on around the spots.

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Same thing, different angle.

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Again, same thing, different angle.

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Top, finished. There’s a lack of light here, so the black looks a little more solid and uniform than it is.

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Same thing, different angle.

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Same thing, different angle.

So now, all that’s left is the finishing/putting back together part. I’ve decided to use a high-gloss polyurethane. I could use shellac but since it’s alcohol based I decided against it- if someone spills their drink on the thing my finish needs to be seriously fixed. I could use lacquer, which would match my coffee table, but I really, *really* hate working with lacquer. It’s toxic as shit, and the fumes are miserable. Even worse is lacquer *thinner*, which obviously, you need to use as well. It’s not fine furniture, so I’m not going to use another resin based finish. Poly will do fine. I can throw three coats on, finish it out with some pumice and rottenstone, and wax the bad boy up like a bowling alley.

Furniture project part 6.2: the second side of the case.

Long time, no progress. Unfortunately, some rather serious real-world things have kept me away from continuing on this project as fast as I’d like. However I just finished the second side of the case so I figured I’d post a photo.

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You can check out either of the previous tutorials on how to accomplish this. I don’t need to rehash it a third time. I do have to blot off just a tiny bit more of the purple stain, though.

While this dries enough for me to set the case upright again so I can get to the top, front, and back, I am going to be working on the long drawer front. I got some new tile, also. $24 worth. Basically I ran out of the two pink colors there on the lower left about 3/4 of the way through that circle, so I needed to grab those. However I have realized that though I own a lot of tile (like, a lot.), it’s heavily tilted towards blues and greens. There’s a lot of under-representation of several other colors, and I wanted to be able to provide a balance on the piece. So I wound up getting six bags. The two pink colors you see there, so I could finish up that circle, a bright red, a sort of a black with white speckles, a metallic blue/copper swirl and a red-violet. I had meant to grab some orange as well, but unfortunately there were no small bags of orange tile to be found- it only was available in 1/2 lb. bags, and I really, REALLY don’t know why I’d need 1/2 lb. of orange tile. I may try to find some online, though.

Right now Im on track for finishing up this project by the end of the summer, since it’s going to need a lot of finishing to make it look nice and smooth.

Oh also, and this is totally unrelated? I want to thank Jennifer from Design Hole (which is a design blog everyone should be reading, because she’s very talented and updates way more often than I do.) , because she really made my day yesterday, even though she probably doesn’t know that.

Jennifer had written a post about (of all things) Motel 6, and their proposed new look. Knowing that I love, love, love hospitality design (really, it’s my second favorite design topic only because you know, there’s no food involved), she shot me an email specifically asking for my opinion on it. Which I thought was really very kind and flattering and made my day, honestly. So thanks, Jennifer. 🙂

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.

Furniture project part 4: A different kind of frustration.

Thank goodness, I’ve stopped chiseling.

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I finally was able to finish all the chiseling a few days ago. I’ve still not reattached all the door and drawer fronts, since the rest of the project is easier to do when the pieces are lying flat.

So I went back to ye local hardware supply and picked up a few more needful things. Total: $27. I grabbed a can of semi-gloss spray clearcoat and as promised, hit up the hardware for three coats, since it’s going to be touched. It basically looks the same as it did before, so no need to photograph it especially. I also got some stainable wood filler, some more sandpaper, and a container of lightweight spackle, for those areas that were chiseled too deeply.

However the next steps are going to be done in a “one side at a time” fashion, since it’s easier and will require I move the piece around less. So I’ll be working with each section of the project for a while now.

The thing about MDF is that in essence, it’s made from sawdust and waste wood chips. And while it’s got some great advantages (It’s not wasteful, it’s perfectly flat and smooth and it’s dimensionally stable) when you cut into it it’s well… sawdust and wood chips. And that isn’t really the greatest thing to glue things to, because in the end it’s not much different than gluing things to dirt. It’s not really going to adhere well and it will shift. So the first thing we have to do is kind of glue all the carved out bits together so they form one stable surface.

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The fastest way to do this is with shellac. Shellac is alcohol soluble (so no grain raising issues), quick drying, and is essentially just sticky as all hell, since it’s a resin. I make my own, but you can buy it premixed in a 2 pound cut (2 pounds of shellac per gallon of alcohol) at the store. You don’t really need to use it at that strength, but that’s a pretty standard ratio that you find in a can in the hardware store (I have that, too.)

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If you use shellac flakes, bear in mind that it takes several hours to dissolve the shellac flakes in the alcohol, and you want to be sure to store it in a tightly sealed glass container that you swish around every once in a while. If you use it from the can, you might want to cut it with some additional alcohol. You don’t really need a super strong formula to achieve what we’re after here, just enough to coat all the parts so they adhere to one another.

I just used a small brush to paint the shellac onto the carved parts and then let it dry. If you’re careful it honestly only needs one coat. Just be careful to only put the shellac into the carved areas. Beyond that, there’ no real method to this. No one is going to see it and it’s just there to provide stability to the MDF so you can glue tile onto it.

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It takes maybe an hour to dry completely. You’ll know, since it stops being sticky. At that point I started on the tiling.

This part would, I admit, get pricy were it not for the fact that I have *so much tile* at my disposal already, as well as adhesive and good tile nippers. Everyone has their own style for doing mosaics. That’s just an aesthetic decision. I’ve decided to just do each circle in its own two-color scheme. There’s no real method as to which color combo goes where. They’re just essentially multi colored polkadots anyway.

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I’m still working on that last circle on this side. It will take me a few more hours. Mosaic work takes time and patience. You can only put so much tile down before you have to wait for the glue to set up so you aren’t moving your work around as you continue to add tile. So you only do a few, wait a while, do a few more, etc. You also tend to get microscopic cuts on your fingertips from the glass.

Once this last circle is done, I’ll get to grouting these.