Friday, March 22, 2013

A Good Shellacking

OMG you guys, shellac is SO FUN.

Yeah, I get excited about finishes. Whatevs.

Remember these antique theater seats? Well, cleaning them took longer than I expected. Mostly because I kept having to do other things like bake pineapple upside down cake and take Chester for walks. But also because old chewing gum is gross and apparently commercial/industrial stuff gets beyond grungy. So I wanted to be sure they were extra special clean. Finally, it's been cold here in Virginia and whenever you're using any kind of finishing product, you definitely want good ventilation, which in my case means open windows. There's your Captain Careful alert for this project.

That said, shellac is actually surprisingly non-toxic as finishes go. Once it's cured, it's even safe around food, which is why a lot of people use it on their wood kitchen counter tops. Also, it's easy to repair because multiple coats just melt together. This also makes it really easy to apply because if you drip and don't notice, you can just brush over it and it will dissolve itself.

So here's how this went down. After cleaning with my usual half and half mix of mineral oil and odorless mineral spirits, I wiped everything down with straight odorless mineral spirits (yes, even the metal legs). That got off any residual mineral oil that hadn't been absorbed by the wood and any dust or dirt that had settled on the seats. You don't want to seal any of that junk into the final finish. Then I got out my shellacking supplies.

What you see here is a 2" short handled angle brush (for getting into tight spots), a can of shellac, a can of denatured alcohol (which is the solvent for shellac and which I used for cleaning the brush), a little key to take the top off the can and a microfiber dust rag. Yep, pretty simple.

Next, I wiped down all the chairs with that microfiber cloth because final finishes have two mortal enemies: dust and moisture. Humidity isn't really an issue right now, but with Chester around, dust is a perpetual problem. For the record, humidity can keep your finish from curing properly, resulting a tacky mess. Dust will make your finish cloudy. No one likes cloudy, tacky finishes.

Make sure you shake your can well. Shellac is a solution and the solids will settle out over time. Shellac flakes are mixed with denatured alcohol to get what is called a "4 pound cut". You can actually mix it yourself if you have a need for a different cut, but for my purposes, this was fine.

There's not a lot to applying the shellac, but like any finishing or painting project, thin coats are always best. You want good coverage, but you don't want drips. Also, when working with wood, you always want to apply finish in the same direction as the grain. Brushstrokes weren't much of an issue here because the stain on these chairs is really dark, but it can be more obvious with other stains and other finishes so it's good to get in the habit of applying finish with the grain.

It might be hard to see the difference in this photo, but the chair on the left has not been finished and the chair on the right has. See how it's shiny and some of the old damaged finish has been filled in?

I actually thought I would need two coats in order to get the best coverage, but instead I bought a really good quality natural bristle brush and took my time with the application. So when I went to do the second coat, I decided it didn't really need it.

However, that still left the metal legs unprotected. I didn't want to strip and repaint them because I actually like the look of the chipped old paint. It gives the seats character. Certainly you could take a chemical stripper and strip the paint using relatively rough steel wool (0 or 00) and repaint using an oil-based paint in your choice of color, but I didn't want these to look like new. So instead I just applied some paste wax, a clear, soft protectant that will need to be applied probably once a year or so in order to keep the legs and other metal pieces in good shape.

Applying paste wax is easy, but smelly. You definitely want good air circulation with this stuff.

To apply, just take a lint-free painter's cloth, pick up some wax and apply it to the piece. Once you've got a nice layer over a surface, let it sit for 20 minutes or so, then just buff it with another clean painter's cloth.

And it was done! Well, almost. But first, let's look at a little side-by-side of the Before and After!

So the pictures above don't line up well, but you can see clearly just what a difference this all made and all without the trouble of refinishing. All told, this project took about six hours once I had all the supplies and got down to work. I'm really happy with the way they turned out.

Oh, there were a couple finishing touches. First of all, one of the seat backs was missing a bolt so I replaced that. Second, one of the seat bolts was loose so I tightened that up. Finally, even after cleaning and waxing, the seats were still a little harder to move up and down than I had expected so I used some WD-40 on the bolts, which was all it took to free them up to the point I was happy with them. All that took about another five minutes, but these small things made a big difference to the functionality of the seats.

Have you guys finished any projects recently? Have you ever used shellac or other wood finishes?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Let's Talk Pantries

Let's talk about pantries. This is apparently a pretty important topic for us homemakers. Oh Joy! just did a post on easy hors d'oeuvres for spontaneous entertaining that mentioned that she never has stuff on hand for guests. May Richer Fuller Be just reorganized her pantry. With spring on the immediate horizon, organization and easy, casual entertaining is going to be on everyone's minds. So I thought I'd write a little it about how I do it.

First, let's start with organization. Mine is...loose. And not super pretty. We have five spots in our kitchen that are not filled with with dishes. That might not seem very efficient, but it works for us. The main thing here is separation. I don't want to have to wade through twenty bottles of spices to get to my baking powder. Nor do I want to have to store 10 pounds of flour behind three types of snack food. We don't have a real pantry so this is the system that we've worked out.

One cupboard contains large amounts of daily baking supplies (flours, sugars, nuts & dried fruit, chocolate, that sort of thing). I do a lot of baking so clearly not everyone would need space for four types of flour, four types of sugar and ten pounds each of all-purpose flour and white sugar. But that, plus everything I need for weekly granola, pizza, bread-making and the inevitable cookie, cake or quick bread project are here.

One small upper cabinet contains oils and vinegars (and also alcohol, but those will be transferred to the radio/bar when it's done). I have something like six kinds of vinegar, which most people probably wouldn't find necessary, but I use all of them all the time.

I have a shelf for spices by the stove. This is a bad place to store spices, in sunlight, by a heat source. However, none of the more traditional spice storage options work for us because our cabinet shelves are so close together. So this is what we get.

Finally, our main "pantry" is a cupboard above the microwave and is "organized" into five sections on three shelves. The first shelf has dinner-making basics like rice, pasta, dry beans and cooking spray. It also contains our snack food like nuts, pretzels, eating chocolate and cookies.

The second shelf contains small baking things on the left (baking powder, unsweetened cocoa, baking soda, sea salt). On the right are spices that I don't use as often, tea and larger containers of stuff like table salt and pepper. Basically, miscellaneous stuff that we use often, but that doesn't fit in anywhere else.

The top shelf contains back-up items: extra pasta sauce, cans of beans, Rotel, diced tomatoes, instant coffee, olives, tuna, back-up stocks (for when I haven't roasted chicken in a while and don't have any frozen on hand) and other stuff that I like to keep available, but that doesn't get used every day. This shelf is actually probably the secret to my pantry amazingness though: a stash of basics so that I can prepare a meal plan for an upcoming week and find that I pretty much only need to buy whatever fresh food we'd need (like meat & veggies). In an entire week's worth of meals, I generally only have to buy one or two new ingredients.

This doesn't cover the fridge or freezer, but suffice it to say, eggs, cheese, milk, ground beef, chicken breasts, various condiments and leftovers are also a part of this pantry preparedness picture.

I occasionally look at lists of what other people think comprises a well-stocked pantry. The one I liked best was from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food because it best matched up with how we eat. People with toddlers would likely have very different ideas of what a "well-stocked pantry" might be. Coincidentally, when I ran through Waters' list, I already had about 90% of what she recommended, just by being annoyed over the years when I would find myself buying diced tomatoes every week, or worse, running out mid-recipe. I recommend that method over just taking someone else's word about what a well-stocked pantry is. You might not like Rotel or beans or olives, but they're staples for us. Also, improvisation. Almost anything that wants capers can be done with chopped up olives. Sour cream and plain yogurt can be interchangeable. And so on.

Our system for staying stocked is pretty simple. When I run out of something, I write it on a magnetic pad we keep on the refrigerator. So when we notice we're running low on white sugar (i.e. when I have less than five pounds) or unsalted butter (i.e. less than two pounds--three pounds at holidays) or more prosaic items like diced tomatoes, black beans, or whatever, we write it on the list.

I did grocery shopping on Friday so this is the start of this week's list.

So what does this have to do with hors d'oeuvres? Well, a couple things. First, I can always make chocolate chip cookies because I always have chocolate chips on hand (and I often do when I have a little advance notice of a visitor). I can always make hummus because I always have canned chickpeas and olive oil and throwing something in the food processor for three minutes isn't much of a distraction from my guests. I can always put out little bowls of nuts, olives of various types and cheese cubes because I always have olives, nuts and cheese. If we're having a party, I can go fancier and often do, but that's just too much work for spontaneous entertaining. I can always have a quick look around and come up with something.

All this has earned me the reputation of being an amazing baker, cook and hostess, but really it's just all about figuring out what works for us. So, yes, I can make cookies at the drop of a hat (probably also drunk,  in my sleep or maybe even dead), but that has more to do with having chocolate than it does with any exceptional skill. And I can entertain up to six people pretty easily because there are many recipes that stretch with beans or rice or cornbread or biscuits. If you email me on Saturday night about bringing a snack for church in the morning, I can always make muffins.

Peach oatmeal muffins from last summer.

So I guess what I'm really saying is, it comes down to experience. There's really no magic pantry formula that will work for everyone. We have a system that makes our lives easier and more welcoming and that's really what matters.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Radio Weekend Update

Well, the radio is painted.

See? Blue. The part that isn't painted will be covered by a fabric or paper-covered insert that I have yet to find. Or rather, I bought two pieces of fabric, got them home and didn't like either of them. I'm going to have to broaden the search. However, I did have one piece of luck. 

While out thrifting, I found a stemware rack ready for mounting with screws and everything. It was $4 at my local Goodwill, as opposed to $30 as places like the Container Store. I was afraid I was going to have to cut it down, but as it turns out, it's exactly the right size. I just have to prime, paint and install it.

You just never know what you're going to find in a thrift store.

As for what comes next? Well, I've made a YHL-style project list because this project has turned out to be a bit more complicated than I had imagined. It's the first serious re-purposing of a piece of furniture that I've done so I've gone ahead and made a list:

- Refinish exterior of radio cabinet
- Sand and paint interior of radio cabinet
- Prime, paint and install stemware rack
- Measure speaker opening, cut, prime & paint or cover, and install wood
- Build, prime, paint and install shelf for bottles
- Source and install casters for base of unit
- Source and install slide-out serving tray for drink-making

I've done a lot of research on some of the other things I need to get, so it looks like I'm going shopping!

So what have you been up to this weekend? Tackle any big projects?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Let's Go to the Movies

Let's go to the movies! Let's go see the stars!

Or perhaps just sit in some antique theater seats and pretend we're at Radio City.

But let's back up a bit. Last Monday I was feeling a little restless. I think I'd been cooped up inside too long what with the snowy weather last week. So even though I usually save my Western Fairfax County route for Tuesdays or Thursdays when The Closet and Bargain Loft are open, I'd just done my mid-county route on Saturday so doing that tour again didn't seem like that would be a good use of my time.

At any rate, off I went to Chantilly and Herndon with stops at Treasure Hound in Chantilly, Habitat for Humanity and a planned stop at a new place I hadn't checked out before, but I never made it there. At first I didn't find much...until I walked to the back of the Herndon Goodwill, a place I almost never go because it's rare that I find anything at that particular store.

And tada! Three antique theater seats. I'd have to guess from the design and the several visible coats of paint that these are probably from the 1920s or 30s. The finish reminds me a lot of the radio I am currently turning into a bar (sorry for the lack of updates on that, but it hasn't been warm enough to open the windows for painting).

After futzing around a little deciding if I should buy them and calling Doug to see if he'd support the purchase, into my little Yaris they went (after paying for them, of course).

No joke, it's like two inches between the chair and the table.

Initially I hoped I might be able to keep one or even two of them, but I got them home and set up in the living room and realized that not only do they not work, they really, really don't work. One piece from the 1930s (my radio turned bar) is a cool older piece mixed in with my "newer" mid century modern pieces. Two older pieces just looks like I haven't finished redecorating. Plus, with one leaf in our enormous dining table, it just doesn't physically fit.

But that's okay! Instead of keeping them, I got to apply my restoration skills to them and clean them up a bit.

On the left is the cleaned one and on the right is the uncleaned one. The grain is much prettier in real life.

I opted not to refinish or paint. I think these qualify as industrial style pieces and the charm of things that have been used in a commercial or industrial setting is the history behind them. I don't know what the specific history of these chairs is since they don't have any identifying markings on them, I know they've got one.

However, there's a difference between charmingly industrial and grody. Gum under the seats? Grody. Some dings and scratches? Charming. Dust in the seat mechanism making them a little sticky to pull down? Grody. Wear to the stain on the arms? Charming. See what I mean?

Plus, I what I don't want is for something to leave my hands in the exact same crumbling shape that I found it in. So first I cleaned them and then I'll be finishing them with some shellac.

What that all adds up to is this process:

1. Dust and wipe down with white vinegar on a rag to see what we've got going on under there.
2. White vinegar and chisel off the grody old gum (while wearing gloves cuz YUCK). If you have an actual chisel, that would have been better than this putty knife I used.
3. Apply half/half mix of mineral oil and mineral spirits using 0000 steel wool and lint free rags to clean off surface grime.
4. Two coats of shellac to seal up the wood. Let dry 24 hours in between coats.
5. I used paste wax to put a clear seal on the metal legs.

Both shellac and wax are easily reversible finishes so if I sell these and the next owner prefers a more spiffed up look, it's not going to be as difficult as if I, say, sprayed polyurethane on them, which is basically like spraying plastic and fairly hard to remove. The reason I am using shellac here is that shellac can sit on top of just about any finish and not crack.*

I've talked about the cleaning process I use in this entry about the Broyhill Brasilia dresser we have in the office, but I've haven't yet covered the actual finishing process. But, a la Young House Love, this process took two days (three if you count the acquisition itself) so I'll give you two entries on the subject. Tune in for a post on finishing soon!

I really wish it fit. These are really cool.

* For those who might actually be engaging in a decision-making process about what finish to use on a cleaned antique, here is some more about that process. I'm reasonably certain the finish on these seats is lacquer because the other period options would have been too time-consuming and expensive on a theater full of seats. I can't use lacquer here because lacquer dries too quickly when brushed on and I don't have a spray booth as a sometime hobbyist restorer. I also debated using tung oil. That would probably be fine on the underside of the seats where the original finish looks like just stain over bare wood or is so degraded that it's basically gone. However, tung oil is a different kind of finish than lacquer and needs to penetrate the wood, which it can't do if there's lacquer on top of the wood surface. On the chair backs, which retain some of their finish, it might fill the gaps where the original finish is worn away, but it might also just sit on top of the lacquer and make everything sticky. If I use shellac, which is the same kind of finish as lacquer (i.e. it uses a solvent, though a different one--denatured alcohol as opposed to turpentine), it will sit on top of the lacquer, dry nicely, not make things sticky and it will protect what's left of the original finish. For the record, if you are finishing a new piece of wood or an antique that has been stripped, none of this information applies. This is just for antiques that you don't want to strip, sand, and refinish. Done.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

One Car Challenge Update

If you know me or if you've been reading for a few weeks, you might remember that my husband and I gave up a car for Lent. We have two of them and most of the time, one or both is sitting in the condo parking lot where we live. I'm home most of the time and Doug takes the train to work so recently we started thinking that maybe having two cars was a bit excessive. Since Lent was coming up, we decided to give having just one car a shot. This is going to be a pretty text-heavy post, so I'll intersperse it with some pictures of Chester in vehicles.

On the road to Middleburg.

We're happy to report that so far, it's all worked out well. Doug had to take the car to work twice, once with a lot of notice and once with hardly any notice. Neither day did it impact my schedule much. The first time, I cleaned the house and started a book I'd really been wanting to read. If I'd had the car, I probably would have gone out thrifting or something so it was a good opportunity for some quiet time. The second day, I was going to take the dog to our groomer, but it wasn't a big deal to postpone that to the next day since we didn't have an appointment.

The Lowes in Woodbridge allows dogs.

We've also had a couple of Saturdays where either Doug or I stayed home while the other of us went out did our normal Saturday things. Last weekend we went and had pancakes at church and I stayed on for a meeting of Fairfax Independent Artists and Crafters, a Meetup group I belong to, while Doug went back home and did some laundry. He came and fetched me when we were done. Even though it meant waiting around for the meeting to start and then waiting again for Doug to come pick me up, that was okay too. I had a good conversation with someone I don't know all that well at church and also answered some emails I'd gotten that required more thoughtful responses than just dashing off a quick yes or no.

Okay, so it's more conveyance than vehicle.

Basically, we're still having a hard time envisioning circumstances where having only one car could be a problem. In other words, so far, so good!

Chester, explain to me how this is comfortable?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Find of the Year

Guess what I found?

You might remember from this picture that this clock is hung with the top about three and a half feet off the surface of that little desk we use in the living room.

That globe is about 15" tall.

This lamp on the other hand? That is almost four feet tall. Let's look at it again.

That's a really big lamp. And I really like it. But we have a two bedroom condo with 8 foot ceilings. The little desk it's sitting on is both narrower and shorter than the lamp that's on top of it. The desk is a good scale for the room. The lamp? Not so much.

Clearly I cannot keep this lamp. By the way, it's Marshall Studios. You might sometimes see this referred to as "Marshall Martz" because Gordon and Jane Martz ran the studio and designed the pieces they made, which had a reputation even in the 1960s when they were new for being of very high quality. They made their name when MOMA called. Yeah, that MOMA.

There's the Martz mark and the original Marshall Studios UL label. Someone clearly loved and was very proud of having selected this lamp. And with good reason! It's a nice lamp. So how did it end up in a Goodwill store in Annandale? It's a mystery.

In any case, I think I'm going to have to turn around and sell it because it needs a much grander setting than a dinky desk in my living room.

That said, just how am I supposed to ship a four foot tall ceramic lamp?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Thrifty Old Town Alexandria

After visiting with a friend in Alexandria today, I decided to stop in at a couple of thrift shops in Old Town that I'd never been to before to add to my Thrifting Guide to Northern Virginia: The Twig Shop, which is another INOVA Hospital store, and the Look Again Thrift Shop that benefits the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington.

The Twig Shop well well-stocked with both men's and women's clothing. I spotted a few designer pieces up in the women's section. They also had a nice selection of wedding dresses and formal dresses. In the men's section, I saw a very nice pair of vintage cowboy boots for just $10.

As for the housewares, which are in the basement, I grabbed just one piece, a small gold painted octagonal mirror for just $2.50. I may keep this one. It needs to be re-glued and the paper on the back is torn, but those are easy fixes.

I also saw a Georges Briard ice bucket that was the slightly larger twin of the one I've got in the Etsy shop, but left that there for some other lucky person to snag. They didn't have it priced yet, but the housewares were all priced at what I would expect from a thrift shop despite the fairly upscale surrounding neighborhood.

All in all, it was a good shop and if I find myself back in the Old Town area, I'll return. 

As for Look Again, there were a lot of people milling about so I didn't snap any inside photos. All in all though, I'd call the pricing a little higher than I'm normally willing to pay. Look Again seems to understand that they're going to attract a real antiquing crowd with their location right there on King Street. A few designer dishes caught my eye, but the $345 price tag on the set wasn't low enough to sustain my casual interest. Also, some vintage barware that I've seen at Goodwill and other shops for $1-2/glass was priced at $6/glass, making them more expensive than I would expect to get them from even Etsy or eBay, particularly since they're pretty generic and easily obtainable. I have a few in my own collection because I never feel bad about breaking them, unlike some of the more desirable Culver pieces I have.

That said, they were doing a brisk business with many people wandering about and most of them making purchases so stuff seemed to be priced right for the neighborhood.

After those stops, I hopped back in the car to peruse some of the Route 1 stores I don't make it to very often, but unfortunately, except for that mirror, today just wasn't my day. I struck out at the Alexandria ReStore, Back Porch, the Alexandria Goodwill, Thrift Store Center and Select Seconds. That said, Back Porch has reorganized their store and the whole place looks amazing! It's now quite well-organized and they have dedicated a little more space to furniture so I'll be trying to stop in there a little more often.

Have you tried out any new thrifting spots lately? Do you lament when you have a goose egg type day or do you cruise right through knowing that tomorrow is another thrifting day?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The ugliest lamp in the world

A couple of months ago, I picked up a lamp at the Bargain Loft thrift store in Herndon. It was pretty hideous and also broken. The harness was detached from the base, and though it was possible to shove it back in I highly doubted it would be safe to use as is. Also, the shade was enormous. But it was only $10, so I figured I could fix it all up and make good use of it. 

The ceramic base was a shiny brown and the faux bamboo was a matte cream. The combination was pretty dated and not in a fun, cool, retro way. In a seriously ugly way. But I figured I could fix that with my new bestie: spray paint! First, I had the harness fixed at a little lighting shop nearby called Lamp & Lighting Gallery in Fairfax, VA. They fixed it right up overnight for about $25. They did wonderful work and I plan to take in another one of my flea market finds in the near future.

From there, it was time to paint. I taped off the top and the cord so they wouldn't get painted and got to priming.

I used Rustoleum Ultra Cover primer after thoroughly wiping off the lamp with soap and water. One annoying aspect of spray painting in Virginia though is that you really have to pay attention to the weather. Spray paint doesn't dry well when it is too cold or too humid so I had to wait and wait and wait for a good day to do the painting. It was a little too cold the first day I sprayed primer and it stayed tacky and wet for several days. It finally dried, but it took much longer to cure than the can said it would.

And then I had to wait and wait and wait some more until another good day to add the color. I settled on a vivid green, which I think is going to work nicely in the office once I finally get finished decluttering in there. 

If you follow me on Instagram, you probably already saw this photo of Chester supervising the painting process last week. He reminded me to use very thin coats when applying the paint.

Don't mind Monroe there on the television.

Though I think this will end up more permanently in the office, I'm sort of liking it here for the moment. I also replaced the shade with one I found at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Chantilly for $2. They had piles of them in just the right size. I may recover it further down the line depending on what I end up with window treatment and rug wise in the office. This shade is definitely a better size than the huge one it came with. Plus I have other plans for that enormous shade now too.

So, for the budget breakdown, here's how it worked out:

Thrift shop lamp: $10
Lamp repair: $25
Rustoleum primer: free (left over from another project)
Rustoleum Painter's Touch in Gloss Meadow Green: $3.87
Thrift shop shade: $2
TOTAL: $40.87

Not bad considering even a ceramic lamp at Target will probably run close to $50 in this size. The base itself is 16" tall. With the shade and finial, it's closer to 27" tall. That's a serious statement for a lamp and I'm looking forward to getting it into position where it belongs once we start in on the office. We're decluttering up a storm in there, by the way. Just wait!

So how about you? Are you longing for nice days to do some spray painting of your own? I've got one more  spraying project to do and I just. can't. wait.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Little gift bag made from scrapbook paper

Recently I needed to bring a tiny gift to a friend. Unfortunately, it was an oddly shaped tiny gift and since my car was in the shop, running out to grab a gift bag wasn't an option. But I figured that in the great universe of blogger-dom, there would be a good tutorial and, what do you know? Indeed there was!

Probably out of my own paper crafting ignorance, I ended up doing this slightly differently than the recommended method.

First of all, I glued two pieces of paper together because I wanted it to be the same pattern on the inside and the outside. Plus I wanted to be sure the paper wouldn't rip when I tried to pick the bag up by the handle. I used Easy Tack because I love sprayable, repositionable adhesive.

Then I outlined the shape of the bag exactly as the tutorial above directed and cut the slits.

Probably because I had glued two pieces of paper together though, I discovered that I need to cut corners off some of the pieces that would form the bottom so that it glued up straight.

Then I glued the bag together as the tutorial directed and punched holes in the bag for the ribbon.

I was really pleased with how the little bag turned out. If you've got 20 minutes, I highly recommend it as an amusing little basic paper crafting project.
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