The Colored Carpenter (12/11/2006)

[Yes, the date on this refers to the fact that this story is almost 3 years old... In fact, we're about at 3 years from the beginning RIGHT now. Irrelevant/changed information edited out.]


Most people that can claim to know my family well know that my mother and I are hustlers from time to time, we use our abilities for capital gain and/or personal gratification when we're able to be in position for such. In such, one of her side hustles is alteration of clothings, and she is full willing to meet someone in their home and fit them there, then deliver when she is done. She has this lady she knows pretty well who she does work for from time to time named Cathy who happens to live in a neighborhood clear on the other side of town, but I worked not far from for several years. I happen to be better with directions that my moms to boot, and she HAPPENED to be going on a Wednesday that I had HAPPENED to have taken off, so I was commissioned to drive.
Arriving into the house, I am taken aback with how GORGEOUS this house is, hardwood floors, red leather furniture in the living room and a simply rather ornate presentation of everything. Now allow me to interject, here, that Cathy is a BEAUTIFUL spirit to put it lightly a cancer survivor and a generally and genuinely good person. She'd told my mother (which I was not aware of until later) that I reminded her of her own son, in some of the ways that I do things. I don't generally get off on small talk, but I can honestly say that I was genuinely in a position to enjoy the time we'd spent talking to her. To the left, there is a den with a desk sitting in the MIDDLE of it, quite obvious is it that the desk is not supposed to be there, but it is very noticeable in that it is. I am generally the quiet type until I am around friends, so I say nothing of it, but mama notices, out loud, that it is a very nice desk that she has sitting there. Cathy acknowledges the compliment and thanks her, then explains:
"That desk has been in my family for years, that desk was in my parents' house, the same house they'd brought me home from the hospital to. I don't remember when they got it, but it is easily 40-50 years old. When we moved into this house, we didn't have room for it, and I gave it to a friend of ours, a few months ago, she refurnished her whole house and gave it back to us."
In the meantime, however, they had painted the desk a color that I could only describe as "baby shit" green. Cathy had no real explanation for that, except that someone had done that to it in the 10-15+ years that it was not in her possession. I was invited to look at the back of it, which had not been painted, for an example of the original finishes color, which could also be seen through a few nicks in the 2 layers of green paint. Fast forward through the conversation and I disconnect myself from the "woman talk" exchanged between she and my mother, only really noticing that she and her husband really had nowhere for the desk, hence the reason that it was sitting in the den, matching nothing else in there, and that they would be having a yardsale that coming Saturday. I sat and thought, tuning out the "woman" conversation taking place before me and, within seconds (ignoring that she had never SAID the desk was for sale, just that it was taking up space and that there would be a yardsale), asked "how much?" and she stopped, looked at me, then my mother, and asked "for the desk?" and, after getting confirmation, bit her lip and responded with "for you? 30 bucks!"
I was EXPECTING a number at least twice that, so I paused a second and I think she may have almost taken that as my thinking she was asking too much for it, because she appeared as if she was about to offer me an even lower price on it. Before I would allow her to lowball herself, I fumbled out the words "m-my brother and I... Because I have a brother, you know... We'll be over here Saturday with the truck he owns." Or some dumbfounded unintelligible shit of the sort. Hell, I had been to the consignment shops with Granny and seen desks similar to this one go, even with the COMPLETELY wrong finish, for 100-150 or more. That ended my part of MY business end of the trip, I went and sat on the super comfortable red couch and listened to my phone/MP3 player while she and mama handled their business in the other room, not having bothered to call Preston and tell him that I had planned his Saturday afternoon for him, he would be picking me up from work, then helping me to load this heavy ass desk on the back of his truck, then unloading it onto the side porch at our house, where I would be setting about the task of COMPLETELY stripping and refinishing it. I told him as mama and I were on the way from Cathy's house; he agreed without me having to plead, he knew I would at least cover the cost of gas for the excursion.
On the way over to the house, I guess I was a little exited about what I was to be up against, knowing that I had never done anything of the sort before, but understanding fundamentally how it was to go down: "sand and brush in the direction of the grain of the wood, consult the instructions/internet if something alien to you comes up." Not hard at all, I didn't think. We arrive to the house and money is quickly exchanged, desk loaded on the back of the truck and we're on our way back to the house, where we unload the desk onto the side porch, where I would be completing the work. I mentioned once before that there were about 2 layers of the paint, followed by a couple layers of the original finish.
Let us take a moment to assess our starting position with this thing:




... one will notice that the front has these very articulated portions on either side of the drawers, I knew before we ever picked the thing up that those would be a BITCH to get stripped, but still I am far too stubborn to allow myself to be beaten by this. Work WILL grind on and I refuse to quit before I am done with this thing, but let us also have a look over the very tools of the trade, to be used for the job:
Necessary to any such undertaking would be sandpaper, I have a full stock of 60, 80, 100, 120, 150, 220, 240 and 300 grit, the coarser ones will be for fast-cut stripping and the finer ones for making the wood smooth enough to my own personal liking to the touch:



With the use of sandpaper, one must use a sander, I went to Granny's house and grabbed hers:



... in addition to my own hand-powered one for the places that I would need to use it:



Also necessary are the tools for the HEAVY removal of material, the need to be precise is not always there ahead of us and we can get by just fine behaving like savages:



And when we can STILL go to the motions of removing major amounts of material, but need to be a little less extreme with what we remove, we come into this guy:


For the times where the brushes will remove too much, sand paper won't quite reach unless COMPLETELY by hand, but doing so by hand wouldn't remove material fast enough, we have this stuff here:


Safety as well as effectiveness, make sure we have our gloves and masks, seeing as how we're about to kick up a LOT of dust over the next little while:






I had decided on a color already, so I decided that I would try and keep my trips to Wal Mart to a stark minimum as best as possible, so I went ahead and picked up my stain, urethane and brushes at the same time I was picking up everything else (except for power tools, I already owned those). Color can be found here:



With everything arranged on the porch and ready for use, I set out about the arduous task of getting this thing stripped of a half-century of others' fuckuppery. I naturally began on the top of the desk, since it was facing up already, moms decided to be the jokester and catch me in the act:


[2009 note, the amount of weight I gained after this and lost since is amazing when I look back at this pic]

Again, the word of the day was material removal, no mind was set on preserving or making anything smooth or pretty yet, I started with the 60 and 80 grit sandpaper, knowing that 20 points wouldn't make much of a difference in how much I got off of this thing. Several sheets later, I had the paint off of the top of this bitch and an idea of how the work would go from here on in:



Work had began on the day I got it home, and I had REAL work (as in the kind that pays the bills and for this desk) the next day, so I would plan for work to commence in the mornings before I went to work, and even more heavily on my days off. Work during the week was more "planning" and "reading/learning" about what I had placed before myself, so I laid back and chilled until Thursday, I turned the desk up on it's side and plugged in the sander, it came on for a fraction of a second, then called it a life. "FUCK!!!" was all I could say to myself, seeing as how payday was still a few days away and I had not the liquid cash to just run and grab a new one. An exhaustive search on the following payday found me in Target, Sears and Wal Mart all within a few minutes of one another, I wound up choosing Sears for the new sander, seeing as how the Black & Decker had just checked out on me, I wasn't going to try them again, here is the new one:



Once home, I would find this day to be the most productive of any one day working on it before or since, I would work through getting the ENTIRE body of the desk stripped of the green, except for the front and the bottom, I would need to exercise some tact and a little more exacting plans to make sure I didn't fuck up the grain of the wood on the contours that they would presented to me. I had, however, worked my way through the 60/80, and 100 grit sandpapering of the "body" of the desk, and she was looking pretty good, I might say:




Alas, you can't see I that still had the monster that would be the "ropes" and lines on the front to contend with, and I was NOT looking forward to having to have to go through with that.
At this point, it had completely escaped me that I had not yet TOUCHED the drawers to this thing, while I was firmly in the feeling that this heavy-assed desk had been kicking my ass for a few weeks/weekends now, with lifting, turning, sanding and all that those actions entailed, I felt like I was getting a great workout. I went ahead, before getting into that, with liquid-stripping the bottom of the desk and getting it sanded up to the point that I was with the rest of it, THEN I set about prepping the drawers, I would come to take them from start to finish before I even TOUCHED the body of the desk again.
I started, as I had with the desk, stripping them with the 60/80 grit:


Then I make with the 100:




*skips 2 steps*

...and finally to the fully sanded drawers:


Drawers completed, I have now draped my porch and myself with a liberal coating of dust from the wood and paint, but KNOW that I am being safe about this, I don't want to be the dude with the pretty desk and cancer from inhaling the dust created in getting it there:



I will now go to the task of sweeping all the dust into one neat pile, vacuuming that up, waiting for it to settle and repeating, then I will stain the drawers first, then bring them in the house so I can finish sanding the body of the desk and have only that ahead of me to do when I get to it, I am still not looking forward to doing the front of this bitch.
Three or more weeks came between my burst of productivity, my energies were driven towards doing another few things, I worked some overtime at work, it was Thanksgiving week and I was in and out of interaction with a company that happened to have hired me during that period as well. I cancelled all the remaining overtime at the old job, then requested all the time off I could get, so as to burn up what I had remaining, then I went right back to work, again I would experience another burst in productivity. It had rained a couple times, so I decided to finish sand the drawers one more time before staining, but I took no pictures, as they looked no different than the last one seen above. What I do, however, have to present is the drawers following the first coat of stain, shot still wet:



... I feel like some kinda dumbass for not having taken a better picture of the second coat or the first coat of the clear urethane, because I had already done those before realizing that the "middle" steps had come out messed up, but here are the drawers with the still-wet second coat of urethane on them:



I brought the drawers in the house and took them upstairs, where no one sleeps, to allow them an unmolested chance to dry while I set out about the VERY unattractive task of stripping the front of this bitch. I set some newspaper down on the floor and sprayed the liquid stripper on it, then went to work on it with the stiff brush, then left it to dry, where I would return to it later to get some sanding done on it. In the meantime, mama cleaned up some drawers in the middle room and comes into my room one day, asking "Phillip, is this yours?" and motions out to me with this guy:



... to which I respond "YES!" and then apologize for yelling, explaining how I would be able to use IT to rout in between the little cracks and in the little lines along the front of the desk, and wouldn't have to fight a little piece of wood with sand paper wrapped around it after all, which was how I had PLANNED to do it. See, this is what I was faced with, after I used the liquid to strip the front of the desk, I still had some smoothing and dressing to do:



With the next step being here:



Needless to say, this was something that I was NOT looking forward to having to do, but it was the last thing between me and getting the desk fully sanded and absolutely completed. I went to work at it, with the rotary tool and the sander, it didn't take near as long as I thought it might to do, actually. My hangups were quite unnecessary, I would come to find. I went over it a few times with the rotary tool, in between the "ropes" and those little lines along the bars in between the drawers, the rest of sanding on the front was completed with the regular sander, no issues with that at all. I follow the same processes as I had with the rest of the desk, all the way up to the 150 grit now, and I arrive to the desk as you will see it in this picture here:


I have a little more dressing up to do on the "ropes," but I am still having to work my way up to the 300-grit sand paper, so I am less than worried about all of that. I skipped 200 grit on the sanding, went right to 240, then to 300 and the desk was smooth as glass when I finished it, here are a couple shots of it following my final sanding of it:




About damned time, now I just need to let the dust in the room settle, sweep up real good, vacuum that out, then sweep again, and I am ready to apply some color to this thing, the end is near, and I am making the most of the 4-day weekend leading into my last days at the old job, making more noticeable progress than I had in previous days on this thing, I am VERY pleased with where I am in the process now. We had this brick wall out in the carport that a strong wind had knocked down a couple years ago and the landlords never bothered to build it back up, so there were plenty for me to use in getting this thing up in the air, since I would NOT be able to manhandle it (or it manhandle me, as it were, based upon how I felt the next mornings sometimes) with wet stain, then urethane on it, it needs to be up in the air and stationary until 24 hours after the last coat of urethane has gone on it, and I am MORE than able to get it and keep it there.
Luckily for me, the hard part of the process is behind me, what with sanding and all the moving of the desk around to achieve such a goal, now that the dust has settled, I am ready to put the first coat of stain on the desk, remember that my choice of color was "dark walnut," so the light colored desk is about to get REALLY dark, not that I even mind a little bit remember that these next couple will be taken with it still wet, the finished desk will likely be the only dry ones I take from here on in:













I would run into a problem at this juncture, since only now does the weather begin to behave like it is the time of year that it is right now. The instructions say to allow 6-8 hours dry time before handling or adding another coat of stain. The issue here is that the instructions were written in a controlled environment where it was 70 degrees and 50% humidity. I am looking at more in the neighborhood of 30-35 and 75% humidity, so their "6-8" hours becomes "12-20" and I can't do anything but sit and wait. The individual who coined the phrase "... like watching paint dry" is my idol for being such a forward-thinking person, because I REALLY want this shit to dry, so I can get to the next step in the process. There are no existent pictures of the second coat of stain without urethane, since I'd left the camera in the car that mama drove Thursday, the day I actually put the second coat of stain on it, my bad, folks. I am now at the point where I can HONESTLY say that I know when I will be done with it, and I am telling people "Tuesday," since I am looking at the forecast, and I can see that I have been told that I will be given a couple of 60 degree days and I will not be at work, once I go in and turn in my badge and complete my exit interview. The whole process of THAT took me about an hour of Monday, and 8 minutes later, I was back home and changing clothes to go out and get my hands dirty some more. First coat of urethane goes down on the desk, and here we are, "drying time" away from completion, "drying time plus 24 hours" from being ready for action...

I swear, waiting on this thing to dry is like waiting on Christmas, I would go outside every 30-45 minutes and touch a small inconspicuous spot, just to see how dry it had gotten, knowing that no matter HOW dry it was, I would still have to wait until it had dried HARD and give it a light sand with the 300 before putting another coat on it. My brother came by and we shot the shit a while, I ate dinner, drank a few beers and fell asleep on the football game. Waking up Tuesday, I checked the forecast, ran my hands over the VERY dry urethane and told myself that I would lay down that next and final coat at 10:15 or when the temperature outside was 45 degrees, whichever came first. About 9:45am, I checked and it was 46, time to put on the work clothes and go start on the "downhill" of this shit... Stirred up the urethane, laid the coat of it down and THOROUGHLY inspected the entire face of the thing for bubbles and such, I find myself to this point, as far as aesthetics go:









I need something to do while this thing is drying now, as if writing this story, editing/uploading pictures and generally being on the internet is not a time killer enough on it's own. I already ate, so I am not exactly hungry, I am pretty much without shit to do outside of the house, since payday is not until Friday and I am broke. I remembered, then that I had not TOUCHED the handles since I removed them from the drawers, they were just sitting out there on a stand, I took them down for inspection and here is what I am up against:



I decided that I don't want them to be bright and brassy, I just want to get the babyshit green off of them, and the surface rust, I am more than comfortable with them being rusty in color, so I will hit them with what remains of the liquid stripper, brush them off real good, spray some clear protectant over them and install them just as naked-looking as they should happen to turn out. I threw on the gloves and set them out on an old beer box and sprayed them down real good:



... ran and washed my hands and grabbed a cup of coffee and some old newspaper and that brush I'd used earlier, then brushed them off, rinsed them real good and dried them with the newspaper:



I need to go get some more spray-on clear, I must have used it for something else down through the last little while, or wasted it in a bout of pyromania, because damned if I can find the can... Hey, how is that drying coming over there?



I am now at that uncomfortable point in the process where I can't do anything but nothing. Of course, in such, I go back outside every 8-12 minutes to check and see how the drying is coming along, only to find that I am STILL hours away from being able to reassemble this bitch and take my last pictures to show my new project off to the world. Everyone who comes to my house now that I have the thing fully sanded, stained, urethaned and sitting up to dry says one of a few things; "that's a nice desk, where'd you get it from? Oh, PHILLIP DID THAT?!!?" or there is the "Wow, is that the same desk that was out there before?" And a couple of people have decided that I am going into the business of refinishing furniture for free and that their own desks or some other piece of furniture is in need of a makeover and I am just the one to do it. My mind was made up a LONG time ago in this process that I would NOT be doing this shit again, not alone or without being HEAVILY compensated.
The day was unseasonably warm and I happened to have been afforded the chance to actually leave the house for a little while, escaping me from the impatient task of waiting on the thing to dry. In such, the 4-6 hours of drying time passed and I was able to actually touch the thing after about 5.5-6 hours or so. I put the handles in the drawers, and decided that I will soon be taking them back out and replacing all of them, I am just not pleased with how they look in the "new" desk. I am sure that we're all wanting to know what this sumbitch looks like now, so let us make with the photographs:
That is correct, I am now finished, I have taken this thing from this:





... and brought it forward to the completed product that you see here:













Keep in mind, now, that I make no claims to be a professional at what I have done. All I had at my disposal was the necessary tools, the internet and a liberal application of common sense. Anyone looking closely enough can likely see my missteps, I know I can. I rather enjoy the fact that it is not perfect, it is honestly more to say that I have done something constructive than to say I have created the ultimate desk. If I wanted to have the ultimate desk, I would go to IKEA and get that monster that Murph is using. Hell, I still might.
I am FAR from a dummy and have no designs on marring my finish, so I ran to Wal Mart and grabbed a roll of this stuff:


I will line the top of the desk with that to preserve my finish, so as to not find myself having to do this shit again before I should happen to desire to sell the desk any time in the near or distant future.
All things considered, I am pleased with the outcome of my work, yes, I put in dozens of hours into this thing, but I now have a new respect for people that do this shit for a living, I was tired as hell.




I have changed or outright removed the wording of some of the things in this story in the name of almost-3-years-later applicability, but I am still sitting at this desk without issue...
I had to go in and re-host some of the images in it, so I am lucky I filed them on an easily accessed folder, no?

No, I will not refinish ANYTHING you own, so don't ask me.
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