Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Happy Accidents & New Techniques: A Pair of "New-ish" Bar Stools Get A Little "Character"

Okay, so I know it's been a few days but the good news is the workshop remodel is well underway!  I did get a couple of projects done before construction started and here's the first one.

I’m so excited to share my latest happy accident!  A happy accident occurs when you start a project without a plan and during the experimenting, an “accident” occurs that turns out to be a new technique.  One more reason why this blog was a good idea…. when I stumble on a “happy accident” I often don’t remember how I did it in order to do it again!

This story starts with a couple of “newish” bar stools.  One I found at a thrift store with the original sales tag still attached.  A week or so later, I found the same bar stool at a yard sale!  Yeah, now I have a pair.  I’m not very fond of “newish” and decide there has to be a simple way for the average person to turn a generic bar stool into one with a little character.  

I find that I get the most pleasure working on a project when I don’t have a plan and I force myself back to kindergarten when the teacher gives you finger paints and a blank sheet of paper or some craft materials and you just get to do whatever you want.  The sky’s the limit, the air is clear, and a happy accident is just waiting to happen….

I know that I want these bar stools to have a little character.  I’ve decided that I want to paint the legs but leave the natural wood on the seat.   It will give the same feel as a bar stool with a rush seat but a lot less expensive.  I like the combination of paint and wood.   So, my first step will be to sand both bar stools.

As I’m sanding, I decide to try and remove the seats to make the job easier.  I figure if I can take it apart, I should be able to put it back together, right?  Since I’m self-taught, I find that the best way to learn how things are built is to take them apart.  Another good reason for this blog, if I take pictures as I deconstruct, I can remember how to put things back together!

After removing a screw at each leg, I simply used a wooden mallet to pound the seat off the legs.  TIP:  Use a block of wood between your project and the mallet to avoid marring the project.  In this case, I was pounding on the underside of the chair so it wasn’t a huge deal.

Now, I can sand the legs all the way to the ends.  And I can sand the entire bottom of the seat without the legs in my way.  Painting will be much easier, too.  So don’t be afraid to take something apart, especially if there are screws instead of nails.  It’s not difficult and it will make life much easier.

Okay, so I have the bar stools sanded…. now what?  I have no idea!  And that’s okay.  I just need a little inspiration….  I’m going to wander here a bit… about inspiration.  I’m a walker and I’m fortunate to live in a beautiful area with rolling hills, oak trees and vineyards.  I like to walk alone because this is a very meditative time for me.  I have plenty of time to just let my mind wander and think about projects I’m working on or get inspired for future projects. 

We enjoy an Indian summer here in California, which makes fall a beautiful time of year.   Mornings have that crispness in the air but the sun is still bright and warm; leaves are just thinking about changing but they are still green.  However, it is October and although the sunflowers are fading, pumpkins are being harvested.  I feel a color pallet inspiration coming on. 

I’m drawn to the idea of a bright pumpkin orange but seriously, who wants bright orange bar stools?  I’m usually one drawn to fall colors, but for some reason the weather just hasn’t got me in the mood and I’m still feeling the summer and those fresh ocean colors…and then there’s the driftwood wash I’ve been hooked on lately…. What to do! Time to experiment.

Since I’m planning to leave the seats natural wood, I decide to do my final finish on the underside of one of the seats so that I know what that color will look like before I start experimenting with color for the legs.  I want to try something different than paste wax because I know that I may end up changing the legs more than once and that’s a little more difficult to do with them waxed because you have to remove all the wax or the paint won’t stick and I don’t really love to do all that sanding. 

I found this product (new to me) on one of my hardware store field trips.  I love cruising the aisles just to see what’s out there and try things I’ve never tried before.  I found this product by Minwax.  It’s a wipe on stain and sealer meant to mimic a hand-rubbed wax finish.  Water clean up and dries in an hour!   Perfect for this bar stool project.  I’ve tried wipe-on polyurethane before but never with a stain.  The color I had purchased was Windsor Oak.  I found it unbelievably easy to use.  It comes in a squirt bottle so there’s really no mess.  If you can polish furniture you can do this!  I like the color and know that if I want it a little darker, I can just wipe on another coat in about an hour.  While that dries, it’s on to paint!

Here’s where the “happy accident” happens.  I take a Popsicle stick and start with the orange.  I know myself well enough to know that these bar stools are going to have several layers of paint before I’m finished.  I like to start with the brightest or boldest color first because that one will show up the least in the end and a small dose is usually enough.  Typically, I would save the most neutral color for last but I’ve done several driftwood pieces already.  I’m always drawn to pretty colored furniture so I decide to use the driftwood next and save the aqua for last.  I use a hair dryer that I keep in my shop to dry the paint between colors.  The first two I used very little paint because they are the undercoats anyway but then I load on the paint for the final color.  As I’m drying the stick, the paint is so thick that the outer layer is drying but there’s still wet aqua paint underneath.  My impatience gets the better of me and I wipe the stick with my finger to see if it’s dry and smear the top layer of aqua right off the under layer of aqua.  I LOVE IT!  It gives the most amazing texture!  I sand off the edges to reveal a little of the driftwood and orange.   Too easy!  I’m anxious to add my final step but I’m thinking I love these colors.  I wipe on a quick coat of the Minwax and think I’ve found a winner!  That was way too easy.  I thought I’d be experimenting my way through at least a few more Popsicles.  

A stick is one thing, now let’s see how this translates to actual furniture.  I know that I don’t have to do a good coat of orange because it’s really just an accent underneath.  I’m out of chip brushes but I still have the last one I used.  I saved it because I only used it at the tips.  (One day soon I’ll have water in my shop and can actually clean it and reuse it; Yeah!)  So I have a used, dried up, chip brush and decide to just trim off the tip with scissors…no problem!   It’s fine for this quick first layer.  Yes, it is indeed orange…. don’t be afraid, I know where we’re going.

For the driftwood layer, I had a roller and tray left over from my last driftwood project.  TIP:  If you wrap a roller or brush in saran wrap or plastic bag, it will stay wet enough to use later.  At least for a day, or so, depending on temperature. 

Okay, I really like this driftwood color and part of me wants to stop here…but where’s the fun in that… I want to try something new!  I can always go back to the driftwood after.

Next, I use a real brush and add a nice even coat of aqua paying close attention as the paint is drying.  

My goal is to catch the paint before it’s totally dry and just wipe it with a rag to mess up the paint.  This is sort of like sanding back after the paint has dried but much faster.  Sandpaper doesn’t really like paint so you end up using a lot…. this new technique saves time and sandpaper!  Okay, so I’m sure someone else has been doing this technique forever but it’s new to me and I’m so happy I “accidentally” stumbled onto it. 


Once I have both bar stools to this point, I decide to go over them both with a fine steel wool to smooth everything out.  I don’t really feel the need to sand but I want them to be a little smoother to the touch.  This works out just fine.  A quick cleaning with the Shop Vac and a wipe-down and I’m ready for my Minwax Wipe-on Stain and Finish.

I used the squirt on/wipe off method for the seats but decided it was easier to squirt a little in a recycled container and use a sponge brush to apply the product to the legs so that I could get it right into the corners then wipe with a rag.  

Easy breezy!  I loved this product and will definitely use it again.  It’s finish, while intending to mimic a hand rubbed paste wax, is not the same.  It is a great alternative for certain projects like “things with seats”, but I’m sure I’ll still use paste wax for the real deal on many projects.

As you’re choosing your stain and paint colors, take into consideration the effect the stain color will have with your paint.  For example, my stain had a definite yellow undertone.  When you mix yellow with blue (or aqua) you get green.  If I had used a red mahogany or cherry, I would have a more mauve piece.  A stain with a little black in it like a dark walnut or Jacobean would most likely give me a grayer blue or blue/green.

So go out, get inspired, try new products, experiment with color, and give your generic bar stools (or other project) a little personality.  Or, you can purchase this pretty pair at  Pomar Junction Vineyard and Winery.  

$60 each. 

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