Category Archives: Projects

Woodworking: First-ever chairs project (Part 3)

After a two-week diversion, I’m back to the chairs blog. An update overall is that it had been looking pretty grim, but work I did yesterday brought decent hope back to the situation. There’s still a real chance of public failure here, and that’s one of the things that makes this fun.

I left off the prior post with snapped DeWalt bits. It was a real bummer. High hopes for those bits, but they weren’t up to the task.

I worked really hard to get the extractor bits to bite, and while that worked for some, I had to try just drilling out the screws for other.

I found out that I didn’t yet have a full handle on how to drill out a screw successfully or these screws are extra stubborn. Either is possible.

Once I got the screws out of the way, it was time to start sanding.

I used the Makita sander I’ve had for decades. It has a cable, and that severely limits the maneuverability and range. But it’s generally effective.

I took the arms off and started going at it with 60-grit sandpaper. The paint was so thick that it was going to take some heavy duty stuff to get it off. And the initial attempt with 3M synthetic steel wool finish stripper had done any good.

You can see the orange on the ground.

The orange was coming off, and the wood underneath was looking pretty good. There was hope for this for the grain to be pulled out by a natural finish.

Bumpy and thick.

The thickness of the paint was chewing through my sandpaper. The Makita 1/4 sheet sander has clamps that hold the sandpaper in place, and those clams are frustrating to use for sandpaper of grit lower than 100. You might say that I should instead use a random orbiting sander. I don’t necessarily disagree but I don’t have one of those, and I don’t particularly want to stock up on sanding discs.

As I continued to sand more, I ran into things I hadn’t expected. Those things included unusual repairs, the existence of veneer, and what I believe to be a different kind of veneer.

Out of appreciation for the feet of snow in New York and the sunshine in Los Angeles, I’m now heading outside for a little bit to do some more sanding.

More next week.

Woodworking: One-off IKEA table project (part 2)

When I had first partially disassembled the IKEA table, I saw that the plastic veneer had been applied to both sides of the tabletop. I thought that this was unnecessary, but I was appreciative because I gave me an idea: flip the table top over and use the underside at the topside.

I began fully breaking down the table.

Now, I’ve taken apart IKEA furniture before. It hasn’t been pleasant, but it also hasn’t been difficult.

This was difficult.

Sometimes the things that catch the bolts aren’t aligned correctly. I turned them. I jiggled. I jiggled the panels. Nothing was working.

Then it dawned on me that it might have been glued together.

Who glues IKEA stuff together? The whole point is that you just use the allen wrench the thing comes with.

When I saw some give, I decided to use arm strength. I’m no bodybuilder, but I have some arm strength at my disposal.

I found that the table had indeed been glued together. Ridiculous.

The table–like much IKEA furniture–is normally held together by the dowels/pegs and by the bolts. The bolts are what keep the parts from being disconnected, but the dowels/pegs keep the thing intact. Of course, unless they’re glued in place. When they are, they keep the thing together, too.

The holes for the dowels/pegs and the bolts are drilled only on one side. If my idea were to work, I’d have to drill through the other side.

I have a drill and drill bits, so that was no tall order.

Rather than drill from the other side, I just drilled the holes all the way through. That way there would be no misalignment.

Once drilled through, I installed the bolts.

It was looking like my plan could work.

I reassembled the table with the old top hidden directly above the drawers.

But there were now holes in the top of the table!

Now it was my turn to use glue on a piece of IKEA furniture.

I was prepared with glue gun and plastic screw cap covers that I had around.

I’d fill the holes with glue gun and then cap them off before the glue cooled down.

I’m happy with the result.

Woodworking: One-off IKEA table project (part 1)

As the focus this week mainly is on whatever pardons Trump is going to dole out today and the preparation for tomorrow’s inauguration, and the focus of next week is Biden’s first week in office, I’m saving the chairs update for a couple weeks and am bringing you a story of an IKEA table project I am not soon to repeat.


Months ago I saw an IKEA table in the free stuff section of craigslist. I like mid-century modern furniture, and from the pictures, this table looked an awful lot like one of those made from solid wood.

I reached out to the person who posted it and headed out to pick it up. She told me she’d put the legs and mounts into one of the drawers so it was ready to go.

When I got there, I grabbed the table and wiped it down before putting it into my car.

A few blocks into my drive home, I realized I’d made a huge mistake. The table reeked of weed. Just so strong. But it also smelled like someone had tried to get rid of the odor. So it smelled like weed and urinal cake. So foul.

I resolved to disassemble the table and leave it in the garage for weeks, and I prayed I wouldn’t get pulled over.

I noticed a few things when I went to take the table apart: First, it was standard IKEA stuff. That is to say that it was not solid wood. Second, while all four legs were in the drawers, there was only one mount of the four. Third, the plastic wood veneer had bubbled and looked super gross. In my rush to get out of there, I had mistaken the plastic veneer for messed-up wood. Nope!

The sane thing to do would be to throw it away. That was an option I felt was valid. And likely.

I decided that in order for me to attempt anything with this table, all of the following criteria had to be met:

  1. The table would air out fine. I’m not stinking up my home.
  2. I would be able to figure out a way to make the surface look nice.
  3. I could find mounts that would work.
  4. Total resource spend would be kept under $5.

Since there’s a part 2 of this, you know that all four were met. The way I did it is worth reading about next week.

This was for certain the jankiest project I’ve done so far.

Woodworking: First-ever chairs project (Part 2)

I left off last week with the first part of the project of where I could go one way with one chair and another with the other: extracting the screws pre- or post-sanding.

The first chair was pre-sanding.

I used a scratch awl from a $20 driver set to clear out the slots of many of the screws. This was my realization of just how much paint had been used on the chairs. And it wasn’t just paint. Whoever had done this work had used primer under the paint.

In concept, this is a smart approach.

Whatever was underneath likely was not ready for paint, and the primer helps create a good surface for paint to adhere to. Also the white primer makes it easier to have uniform color by covering the old surface with solid white.

Unfortunately for me, the sheer amount of primer and paint was… a lot. Like, a lot, a lot. That meant that it was possible that the screws were actually stuck in place by the primer and paint. It would be hard enough to try to get a good channel for a flathead driver bit, but even if I did, what were the chances I wouldn’t strip the heads?

It was a good thing that I had my extractor bit set, even though the cheap bits were showing considerable wear after heavy usage.

I used a flathead driver bit with my DeWalt impact driver set on low and with a very light squeeze of the trigger. I needed to encourage the screws to come out while trying to avoid stripping the heads and without slipping off and taking a bite out of the wood.

The slip-out and bite is a huge issue with flathead screws. I had experienced that decades ago and had to patch over that in the last series I wrote about.

My DeWalt impact driver has more than 100x human torque. It was a slow and steady process to get the screws I could out of the chair.

I couldn’t get all of them, though, and that meant trying to drill them out so I could use my extractor set.

To make my work faster and easier, I decided to pick up some DeWalt bits that boasted longer life for use with metal. Almost immediately, one 1/16″ bit snapped. The other didn’t last too much longer.

More on adventures in bit breaking next week!

Woodworking: First-ever chairs project (Part 1)

Toward the end of last year but well before the indefinite stay-at-home orders, I drove across the city to pick up some chairs that were listed in the free stuff section of craigslist. I drive a coupe, and I didn’t realize how hard it would be to get the chairs into my car. I had thought I might be able to disassemble them before taking them home, but wasn’t happening.

The chairs looked to have a lot of potential, and that’s the main draw for me for a project.

Since this is the first time I’m taking on a chairs project, I knew when I set out that there was a real chance I would not be successful. As this is an ongoing project that is not yet complete, this series will have many updates, and there have been numerous challenges along the way. I’ve also learned a lot along the way so far, and there’s more to go.

My plan was to get all the paint off the chair and give them a natural finish. I’d have to figure out how to redo the cushions or just buy new ones that fit.

On first glance, the chairs looked fine structurally. But it’s hard to really get the old finish off and repair damage without taking the item apart. Doable, sure, but this is my first foray into chairs.

Since I had two chairs, I knew I had the flexibility to take different approaches.

When I looked closely at the chairs, I saw that they had been painted thick with the orange paint. It looked like it was a fun project to do. As is appropriate for a final project before discard, there was no mind paid to removing screws or making any adjustment.

Screws were barely visible under the paint. Screws I’d have to remove.

And the screws that kept the chair together are the flat-head screws.

So I had to make a decision: Do I sand the the areas with the screws first and then try to remove the screws, or do I clear out the channel of the flat-head and try to remove them before sanding?

That’s the first bifurcation.

I got to try both ways because I have two chairs.

More next week.

Woodworking: Finally finishing a small table from woodshop class (Part 3)

NOTE: This is the final installment of this project. A new woodworking project series starts next week.

I left off last week with the plans in place to attempt to fix the split, install the new screws, cover gaps with wood filler, sand, and then use take oil.

I had the clamps from the old end table refinishing project, so I hoped that the split would be able to be fixed with glue and pressure. After a solid attempt, there wasn’t much movement, and I’d have to fill the crack with the wood filler.

The effort did leave some marks, but all part of the game. The first sanding step was next and then countersinking the new screws.

I knew I would have to sand after the wood filler, but sanding beforehand gave me a clean surface, a view of what I had to do, and a lot less to fix when the filler dried hard and could be sanded.

I drilled out enough to let the new screws grab hold and be deep enough for the filler to survive.

And the Robertson screws are great. I learned that I do not have a preference between Torx and Robertson. Both are easy to drive and stable. I felt no chance of slippage.

Filling the holes and then sanding was pretty fun. While I don’t seem to have pictures of the wood filler process, it was simple to apply and then smooth out with an old plastic card. A giftcard to a place Covid put out of business or a gym membership card work nicely.

There are many colors of wood filler available, and some people recommend using sanding dust from the piece of wood you want to fill to make a perfect color match. I have no problem even calling attention to it.

When I stripped the screw head decades ago, the driver bit slipped and dug into the wood. That gouge is now covered by the wood filler, as you can see in the lower of the two on the right side.

Next step: teak oil!

What a change from this:

I really like how this looks. I’m very proud of it, and I think that I would have been just as stoked with it if I’d finished it this way decades ago.

What I find even cooler is that the wood filler is darker on the left side and lighter on the right side.

Except it isn’t. It’s like the optical illusion we’ve all seen in some corporate training seminar:

Trippy, right? https://www.creativethinkinghub.com/optical-illusion-are-the-grey-blocks-really-the-same-colour/

While this project is now complete, I’ll have a new woodworking project next week. I’ve been working on a couple of chairs for a while, and they’re not done yet. I also don’t know if they will end up turning out. This may be my first complete failure project, but these are new territory for me, and I’m learning a lot. Join me in the new year, won’t you?

Woodworking: Finally finishing a small table from woodshop class (Part 2)

I left off last week with the thought that the stripped screw extractor bits I had purchased for the end table would work with this one. Well, I ran into some issues.

The end table had wood screws that were soft. Not a lot of convincing had to be done in order to remove those. It was fun to remove those screws. This had three main things working against my effort:

  1. The screw is made of hard steel. It’s amazing that the screwhead was stripped at all, but because it was, there it stayed for decades.
  2. The screw was there at all to keep pressure for glue that was drying. It was like using loctite.
  3. The screw was a slotted round head. This is massively different from a Phillips flat-head.
Phillips flat head.
Slotted round head.

The Phillips flat head is easier to extract. All you have to do is clear out the drive (i.e. where the screwdriver meets the screw) with a drill bit and use the extractor bit to grab the sides of the cone you’ve drilled out.

But a round head screw needs to be drilled out way more in order to turn the drive into a usable cone.

After significant time trying to drill out the screw with my old Craftsman bits, I started to wonder if it was a better idea just to drill away the head and leave the headless screw where it was. But I kept going because that wasn’t what I’d set out to do. I was going to remove this screw!

That upper screw on the right side was causing me so much pain.

And I kept on going.

Feeling defeated, I decided I’d give it one last go. Out it came. My initial thought of how happy I was to be rid of the screw right before giving up was replaced by the thought that it wasn’t the first last chance I had pledged. That gave way to a feeling of relief that had built up over 20 years.

There was so much work ahead of me. I had intended to countersink the screw heads and fill with wood putty. I also had the split at the top to try to glue back together without tearing apart the entire table. I didn’t see exactly how it was going to happen, but it certainly was worth a try.

I researched wood putty and wood filler. Based on reviews, I ended up buying Minwax Stainable Wood Filler. It comes in a squeeze tube, so application isn’t so cumbersome.

The screws that needed to be countersunk were already in my possession! I had researched screws for the other end table refinish project, and this was my chance to use the Robertson wood screws. It’d be the first time I’d use a square drive screw head.

https://www.fastenere.com/12-x-2-12-square-drive-bugle-head-deck-screws-stainless-steel-18-8-qty-50

After all that, I’d have to sand everything down to smooth it out and get rid of the stains that had accumulated over time. Then the teak oil.

More next week.

Woodworking: Finally finishing a small table from woodshop class (Part 1)

I took woodshop in the summers after sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. I made a chessboard the first summer and a small table the second summer. I tried to turn chess pieces the third summer, but that went poorly.

This series is about the small table project from the summer after seventh grade.

The year was 2001. At age 12, I was woodshop veteran heading back to Horace Mann School in Beverly Hills as I had been awaiting eagerly to do. But unlike the prior summer, I was going to be able to figure out what I wanted to build rather than choose from a list.

After a conversation with my folks about it, I think I came up with a stepstool or footstool or the like. My mom came across a picture of a stepstool in like Architectural Digest and asked what I thought. I remember it as being painted green, but that was coming up on 20 years ago, and I’m doing the best I can here. Whatever I made was not going to be painted green.

Equipped with the picture of what was probably only 7″ tall and with a 8″ x 14″ top, I went to the first day of summer school.

A note here is that I looked forward to a repeat of Mr. Bartkoski’s first day explanations of safety measures and how you can know how good a shop teacher is by how many fingers he has. “But don’t worry–I’ve got all of mine!” he announced with a huge grin as he displayed his hands to the whole class. I remembered gasping in horror along with the rest of the newcomers the prior summer because Mr. Bartkoski had expertly shown us the backs of his hands but curled his fingers in so nothing past the first knuckle of each finger was exposed. I was eager to hear the setup and enjoy the reactions to the punchline. And when it happened, it was wonderful. There’s really nothing like scaring the shit out of a roomful of boys and girls who are 10-12 years old.

When I showed Mr. Bartkoski the picture of what I wanted to make, he said that something taller and bigger would be more versatile.

There was some wood available as part of the class, but anybody who wanted to make something out of better wood was required to provide it.

It was off to House of Hardwood to get some birch. Of course I didn’t go alone. My mom took me there. I was 12, remember?

I cut, glued, clamped, planed, sanded, and routed my way through assembly of the table over the course of that summer. Per the advice of Mr. Bartkoski, I used screws to keep the leg panels in place while the glue was drying. The idea was to remove the screws afterward and fill the holes with wood putty so I could finish it.

And that’s what happened. Except that I stripped the head of one of the eight screws. So it was seven screws out and one in.

That’s how it stayed for about two decades.

Over time I used it for things like holding speakers to listen to music while I was in bed.

Later I used it under the CRT TV/VCR combo my sister used in college so I could play PS2 in my bedroom.

After a long while of the PS4 blowing hot air on and surrounding where I’d glued the top together, a crack developed along that seam.

So I had an unfinished table with a stubborn screw and new split. Eventually I’d be able to take care of it, I’d hoped. Maybe I’d get to sand off he head of the screw and go from there. But I took no action.

It stayed as an unfinished bedside table for years. And it’s not very good for a bedside table. There are no drawers. There’s no lower shelf. But it does keep things off the ground and closer to bed level, so it qualified.

This year changed everything, as 2020 has tended to do.

I had to purchase stripped screw extractor bits for the redo of the end table. It worked well for that project, and I figured there was a good chance it would work on this one.

More next week.

Woodworking: End table refinishing project (part 7)

Note: This is the final part of this end table refinishing project series, but the Tuesday woodworking series will continue.

I left off the prior post in this series with buying a couple blocks of wood from House of Hardwood to make room for the hanger bolts installed in the legs.

I mapped out the holes for the mounts and the holes to attach the blocks to the table.

My first attempt turned out to be a little janky, but I sorted it out the second time around.

Before I attached the mounts for the legs, I checked them against the legs themselves. The last thing I needed was to put on new mounts and have those not work.

I don’t even want to think about the guaranteed misery of finding this out too late.

I had a thought that I could turn it into a three-legged table by moving one mount in the front to the middle. It would be like the Reliant Robin of tables. I think it would have looked pretty cool and totally in mid century modern style.

I think it would have been stable, but Calah advised that it was best to wait for a mount that was manufactured properly.

So wait I did. And finally the fourth mount came.

I rebuilt the entire table and placed it over my subwoofer because it fits nicely under that table.

Look at that!

It’s a far cry from what I started with.

I may be biased, but I think it’s a major improvement, and I’m happy to announce that it’s now where my remotes live. No more losing them in the couch. No more wondering where they are.

The next series is about a piece of furniture I built from scratch. I started it in woodshop class and finally completed it.

Woodworking: Side table side project

As I await the arrival of what I hope will be the last piece I need for the end table project, here’s a standalone post about a side table project.

I found a listing for an end table on the free stuff section of craigslist, which you know by now is where I go almost exclusively for things to refinish. Of course not everything worth redoing is limited to the free stuff section (more on that in a future post), but that’s the page that receives most of my focus.

Salvageable for sure!

The person who listed the table set it outside for me to pick up at night, and about 50 minutes later, I was home with it. But with everything these days, outside it stayed at first.

Daylight gave me comfort this table with its solid wood top just had water damage that could be sanded off easily. The white paint was in pretty good shape, and I figured that the paint was thick enough that light sanding would be the way to make it bright again.

I cannot overstate the benefits of getting solid wood furniture.

As expected, the more I took off, the more the water damage went away. It was shaping up very nicely.

And the satisfaction of knowing that you can keep going without issue to make it perfect is such a comfort!

As I kept going, I got to see how the tabletop was looking so much nicer than I had expected.

Hang on. I miscalculated.

I was marveling at how the top was made with a single, wide piece of wood and with no knots. How did I come across such a gem? And then I realized my mistake. The top wasn’t one solid piece of wood like I’d thought. Rather, a wood veneer had been applied to some other hardwood underneath it. That’s why the grain didn’t line up where it should have.

That grain should be consistent the whole way!

It seemed like I couldn’t go much further without running out of veneer, so even though there were parts that showed discoloration, it was time to stop.

In my first woodworking post I mentioned that I had decided against refinishing the coffee table with teak oil because it had that weird yellow river, and I was concerned that it would stand out without stain. Faced with a similar situation, I decided to go for it. I’d learn a lot from it. And what kind of guest (remember guests?) is going to be looking at my bedside table?

Hey! That’s no so bad!

I found I had not stopped sanding too soon. The teak oil make it obvious where I’d gone through the veneer. But the discoloration of the veneer itself seemed to be hidden well.

While this isn’t normally my style of furniture, it fit well physically in the room and was a very quick turnaround.

As happy as the current owner is, I expect the next one to be at least as pleased.

I learned a lot from this project.

  1. Wood veneers can look very good but require much more caution for a flawless refinishing.
  2. Teak oil doesn’t absolutely require a surface that is free of all discolorations for the result to look good.
  3. It’s kinda nice to have some projects that don’t take forever.