Getting Ready for SNAP!


I’ve been in my workshop most of this week, getting materials ready for our booth and staining classes at the SNAP! Conference coming up in Salt Lake City on April 24-26. I always keep my camera nearby and snapped a few photos to go along with some staining and finishing tips that occurred to me. If you’re interested, just take a look here.

Years ago I salvaged these old kitchen cabinets for my workshop and they are great! I added a wood top and turned it into my “laboratory” for my staining and finishing experiments. Quick Tip: architectural salvage shops are perfect places to look for an inexpensive set.

A pegboard is a good way to keep your brushes organized. And save those cardboard sleeves, as they keep the bristles in shape after you clean and hang them to dry.

And speaking of brushes, I always use bristle brushes for laying down a smooth coat of clear finish, but must confess I sometimes reach for a foam brush for staining, especially small projects. However . . . .

This is what the inside of my trash can looks like afterwards. And I’m feeling guilty about sending all those foam brushes to the landfill, so I have made a resolution to use more bristle brushes, then clean and re-use them. (And, yes, I put the trash can outside for the night — and poured water over those rags!)

I also recycle my scrap wood trim as stirring sticks, and keep them in this old cracker tin on my workbench.

Along with a bowl of protective gloves! And Leigh Ann appreciates the fact that my hands don’t look like one of my staining projects.

One more quick tip:  when tapping a lid back onto the can, cover it with a cloth to catch the splatters. I ruined the fronts of about six shirts before I finally figured this one out!

So, what was I making for SNAP? One set of boards I will be bringing shows what a difference Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner (applied to the right hand side) makes in reducing unevenness (none applied to the left side) when staining. If you’d like to see how to use Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner, take a look at this earlier post.

Until next time,

It’s a SNAP!



Our Kitchen Makeover: Part 2

When we left off last week, our kitchen was just barely functional while we awaited the arrival of our granite counter-tops. I could survive a long time without a dishwasher, but not a sink! Take a look below to see how our makeover turned out.

If you have never shopped for granite counter-tops, brace yourself:  the selection can be overwhelming. It took us three trips back to the “yard” to finally make a decision.

While Leigh Ann picked out the style of sink she wanted, I wandered into the shop where the craftsmen shape the edges and cut out the openings for the sink and faucet. Every precision cut is carefully planned, and the blades are cooled by a steady stream of water to prevent overheating.

When our granite countertops were ready, we again cleaned out the kitchen and stepped back so the crew could complete their installation.

Next came the new stainless steel appliances, and the room was starting to feel like a real kitchen again.

An easy way for us to save on labor costs was for Leigh Ann and I to tackle the unfinished pine framework for the new windows and door ourselves. We applied Minwax® Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner first to reduce blotching, then used Minwax® Wood Finish™ “Cherry” to match the existing cherry cabinets, finishing it off with two coats of Minwax® Fast-Drying Polyurethane. (Quick Tip: the blue painter’s tape will keep the stain and finish from adhering to the glass.)

Choosing a tile back-splash proved as challenging as picking out our granite countertops, but we elected to go with a light blue subway tile to compliment the reddish cherry cabinets, and to blend with the existing blue ceramic floor.

Leigh Ann had been saving this pair of loon tiles for the back-splash above the stove, knowing the blue around the loons would match the subway tiles and the green lily pads would add a dash of fresh color.

Finally, the last of the workers left and the kitchen was complete!

And in the end we got what we needed and wanted: more storage space and more counter-tops, plus a new door and window looking out onto our back yard. And by being willing to save the existing cherry cabinets and ceramic tile floor, we also saved ourselves several thousand dollars.

Until next time,

Thanks for stopping by!


Our Kitchen Makeover: Part 1

Now that our kitchen makeover is complete, I revisited my photo album, beginning with this “Before” shot showing our lack of counter space, our non-functional sliding glass door, the worn out appliances, and an out-dated tile back-splash. Both being frugal, Leigh Ann and I decided to cut costs by saving the cherry kitchen cabinets and the ceramic tile floor, putting our emphasis on higher quality windows and a new door, plus more counter space. To see a review of the steps we went through, just take a look here.

The first step was to remove one set of the upper cabinets and the old window in preparation for a trio of new windows in the exterior wall. The windows we ordered are designed to be more energy efficient and will give us a better view of our back yard.

Next the Adams and Adams Construction crew removed the appliances and started chipping off the tile back-splash.

Outside, the pile of debris started growing on our flagstone patio. The crew assigned me to be Cleanup Leader, mostly to keep me out of their way.

Before long the old sliding glass door and window were gone and the new framing was starting to appear.

With the new windows in place and the exterior insulation installed and taped, the crew turned their attention back to the indoors.

Meanwhile, the electrician had jumped in to run his wiring and mount the switch boxes and outlets while the walls were still open. The plumbers did the same for the drain and water pipes.

Next came the interior insulation and the new wallboard. Quick Tip: Always keep a vacuum nearby and use it often. This will prevent dirt and dust from spreading to the rest of the house! (Guess whose job that was!)

With the additional cherry base cabinets already on hand, the crew started creating Leigh Ann’s new peninsula. When they weren’t around, I took the opportunity to refresh and protect the existing cabinets using Minwax® Wood Cabinet Cleaner, followed by a coat of Minwax® Wipe-On Poly.

The new granite countertops were going to take a few weeks, so we used pieces of wallboard as temporary countertops so Leigh Ann and I could at least use part of the kitchen while we waited.

Next Week:  countertops, appliances, and the tile back-splash.

Until then,

Thanks for stopping by!


It’s All In the (Trim) Details

Although it appears in this picture that our kitchen remodeling is complete, if you look closely (as my wife Leigh Ann often does), you will see that there is still some trim missing on the bottom and the top of the three cabinets to the left. So when we had a rainy Saturday, I decided it was finally time to trim out our cabinets. You can take a look below to see how it went.

The carpenters who moved our cabinets around had to remove the bottom and top trim boards in the process, but it fell to me to put them back after the tile layer had left.

First, I laid out the top and bottom trim pieces in their proper position, and began clamping them in place.

Quick Tip:  Always use rubber pads to protect the wood from the jaws of the clamp.

Ouch! Yes, that is one of my nails that made an unscheduled turn and popped out through the front of one of my pieces of trim.

While I was still fuming over my mistake, Leigh Ann calmly picked up a nail punch and a hammer and tapped the nail back out of the board.

She then picked out the pre-tinted “Colonial Maple” Minwax® Wood Putty® and carefully used the tip of a screwdriver to pack it into the nail hole, as well as into the gap in the joint.

She wiped off the excess Wood Putty® with a paper towel and in no time at all had (once again) fixed my mistake.

Of course, she then left me with the task of nailing up the rest of the trim and filling the nail holes while she took advantage of a break in the clouds to do some work in her gardens. And I think you’ll agree that as minor as a few trim boards can seem, they are the finishing touch in any project.

Until next time,

Thanks for stopping by!



Alex Builds a Bed

My office assistant Alex is proof that if you hang around a DIYer, you become a DIYer. After taking many of the photographs for my blog projects, she has begun swapping her camera for a brush and a can of stain. This past week she announced that she was going to build, stain, and finish a pine headboard for her house. And she came up with a new twist I hadn’t thought of…

Alex arrived with a plan and her 1″x6″ horizontal slats and her 2″x4″ upright supports pre-cut according to her plan at the home improvement store, so she quickly cleared off the workbench and started her assembly.

Remembering my mantra that glue is always stronger than nails, she squirted a bead of glue where the first slat would be attached to the first upright.

She then nailed the horizontal slat to the upright. Alex purposely picked nails with heads for the rustic look she wanted.

Within minutes she had each slat measured and marked for even spacing, then glued and nailed in place.

A quick sanding with #150-grit sandpaper rounded the edges and smoothed out the boards.

Alex then brushed on a liberal coat of Minwax® Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner to reduce the blotchiness that occurs when staining softwoods like pine.

While the Wood Conditioner was drying, Alex explained that she wanted to use two different colors of Minwax® Wood Finish™ to get a weathered barn board effect:  Provincial for the brown base coat, followed by Classic Gray for an aged look. Since this was a new combination for both of us, I suggested she use the back of one of her boards to experiment with the two stains.

Once satisfied, Alex applied Provincial to the bare boards, let it soak in for about five minutes, then wiped off the excess stain.

After letting the Provincial stain dry, she next brushed on a coat of Classic Gray, let it sit for about five minutes, then wiped off the excess. (The board at the top has had both layers of stain applied and the excess wiped off.)

After the stain had dried, Alex finished her headboard with the first of two coats of Minwax® Clear Brushing Lacquer, a fast-drying protective finish.

Once home, she attached the two sections to the wall with an L-bracket, and topped it with a shelf running the length of the headboard, getting both a headboard and a display space out of the same project! And making me very proud!

Until next time,

Thanks for stopping by!




My First Spring Project!

It’s been a long, hard winter for most of us, including here in North Carolina. Each day I could see the snow and rain was taking a toll on my office door. So when the temperatures popped above seventy this past week, I put everything else aside and made it my first spring project. Take a look below to see how it went.

My office used to be in my house, but when it threatened to take over nearly every room, I built this second story addition to our two-car garage-workshop. It was a fun project and certainly relieved the pressure of having my projects spread throughout our house (just ask Leigh Ann!).

At the end of this forty-foot walkway from our house is the entrance door to my office. It’s made of mahogany and I bought it unfinished, then gave it two coats of Minwax® Helmsman® Spar Urethane before hanging it. (And, yes, I did cut a cat door in it!)

The door, however, faces west, which means lots of harsh sunlight in the afternoons, not to mention blowing snow and rain. Six years later some of the finish was just beginning to wear away, so now was the time to give the wood a fresh coat of protection.

The first step was to sand the old finish lightly, removing any loose finish and providing thousands of tiny scratches for the new coat of Helmsman® to cling to.

Even though only the bottom half of the door looked this bad, I planned on sanding and finishing the entire door to get an even sheen and appearance. 

While it’s always best to work on a horizontal surface, sometimes we just have to adapt. I just had to be careful not to brush on too heavy of a coat of Helmsman® that would cause runs or drips. Using only the tips of a natural bristle brush rather than a foam brush made sure I had a smooth, dripless finish.


And I could begin to see the difference as soon as my brush hit the wood!

One coat was all it took to provide the door with the added protection it needed. And catching it now rather than later meant that this was a minor project rather than a major one!

Until next week,

Thanks for stopping by!




Creating an Arts & Crafts Frame

This past weekend my friend Dennis Bertucci (left) taught a Stains & Finishes workshop at the Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Conference that I have directed each of the past 27 years. The workshop was sponsored by Minwax® and the participants stained and finished quartersawn oak frames we had made for them. Afterwards I found one frame left over, so I decided to stain it myself to display our conference poster. If you’d like to follow along, take a look here.

Each frame had already been assembled and sanded, so all my frame needed was a final light sanding with #180-grit sandpaper to open the pores.

One of my favorite Minwax® Wood Finish™ stains that matches much of my Arts and Crafts furniture is Red Chestnut (even the name sounds Arts and Crafts!). I applied a liberal coat and let the wood absorb all that it could for about five minutes.

I then wiped off all of the excess stain, revealing the grain lines now accented by the stain.

After letting the stain dry overnight, I set the frame on my workbench, held up by four finish nails I tapped into a piece of scrap plywood.

For light use projects such as picture frames, I often reach for an aerosol can of Minwax® Lacquer. It’s easy to apply and dries quickly.


And since I like the look of antiques, I chose the semi-gloss sheen, and applied four light coats, letting each one dry two hours before re-coating.

To give my frame even more of an aged look, I rubbed out the final coat with a fine synthetic pad dipped in Minwax® Paste Finishing Wax, then buffed it to a hand-rubbed finish with a soft cloth.

As you can see, the frame turned out great, and is a perfect compliment to the conference poster – which reminds everyone of next year’s dates!

Until next time,

Thanks for stopping by!


Bubbles and Dust Beware!

Earlier this year I made a few of these small Arts and Crafts tables from some reclaimed wood. At the time I only had a chance to brush on one coat of finish, which I did rather quickly. As a result, it felt a little rough to the touch, so today Leigh Ann and I went back and took care of the dust and bubbles that had made it feel so rough. It’s pretty easy to do, so take a quick look below.

Bubbles in our finish come from one of two places: air lurking inside the wood or from your brush. You can’t prevent air from escaping from the wood into your wet finish, but you can eliminate bubbles caused by your brush. First, don’t use foam brushes, as they contain air. Second, don’t work up a lather by brushing too vigorously.

Like bubbles, dust can also come from the wood. A dry cloth won’t remove all of it, so Leigh Ann used a bristle brush attachment on a vacuum to completely remove the dust from the pores of the wood.

Dust in the air is harder to control, but if you (1.) avoid working under active heating and cooling vents, (2.) don’t work outdoors, and (3.) don’t stir up dust in your work area, you can minimize how many particles land in your wet finish.

Even so, my first coat ended up with a few dried bubbles and a little dust, so Leigh Ann gave our table a light sanding with #220-grit sandpaper, then vacuumed off the dust.

She then brushed on a second coat of Minwax® Polycrylic® Protective Finish, brushing gently and smoothing out the finish with a few final, long smooth passes.

Her second coat dried without any bubbles and just a few specs of dust, so all it took to smooth it out completely was a lubricating oil, such as lemon oil, baby oil, or mineral oil, and any of these: fine steel wool, a fine synthetic pad, or #400-grit or finer sandpaper, your choice dipped in the oil to prevent it from leaving any scratches. Afterwards, just wipe away all of the oil.

Leigh Ann has always been a do-it-yourselfer, but never a professional finisher, and she would be the first to say how easy it was to get a finish that feels just like that of a professional.

Until next time,

Thanks for stopping by!





Tips For One-Step Polyshades


When Leigh Ann and I first met, my house was 90% office and 10% home. Each time I took on a new project, I took over the dining room table or the coffee table. Well, she politely (but firmly) suggested that I build a separate office over our two-car garage, which I did. And when it came time to stain and finish the three unfinished pine doors, I went looking for a way to save myself some time. If you’d like to see what I did, just click below.

Typically, I use the traditional two-step method:  apply my stain, wiping off the excess liquid before it dries, then the next day apply a clear finish. Before staining any softwoods I always add a third step to the beginning of the process by first brushing on Minwax® Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner to reduce any blotchiness.

But by the time I got to my doors, I was running out of steam, so I decided they were perfect candidates for Minwax® PolyShades®, a combination stain and finish in one can.

Years ago, on one of my first PolyShades® projects, I learned that foam brushes make sloppy applicators, as they apply an uneven coat and leave behind a trail of bubbles.

Instead, I use a quality natural bristle brush and just dip half an inch of the bristles into the can.

I then brushed on a thin coat of PolyShades®. On this sample I experimented with Antique Walnut, (I ended up choosing Pecan for my pine doors) lightly smoothing out my brush strokes with a long, uninterrupted pass on the final stroke.

And here’s another tip I learned: PolyShades® will always work best on flat surfaces, simply because carvings, spindles, and corners naturally pull excess liquid out of your brush. My rule: the more intricate the project, the more apt I am to fall back on the two-step method.

As you can see, the Pecan Minwax® PolyShades® added just the right amount of color and plenty of protective polyurethane finish. Six years later they are still looking new, and Leigh Ann is happy to not have to live where I work!

Until next time,

Thanks for stopping by!






Creating a Contemporary Finish

When it comes to furniture, I’m a traditionalist. Give me any shade of brown and I’m happy. But I recognize that not everyone feels the same, including Alex, my office assistant, who prefers to mix traditional with contemporary. So, when she asked for help turning a piece of unfinished furniture into something more contemporary, I was up for the challenge. Want to see what we came up with?

The piece she picked for her house is this unfinished end table or plant stand, made of alder, a durable, fast-growing hardwood.

Even though it looks smooth, I have learned that we need to give any piece of unfinished furniture a light sanding with #180-grit sandpaper to remove scratches, round sharp edges, and open up the pores to accept your stain and finish.

When I asked Alex what color or colors she wanted, she was clear: a steel-gray stain on the legs and skirt, while keeping the top and this lower shelf completely natural for a sharp contrast, typical of many contemporary styles.

To make the staining easier, I suggested that she remove the shelf from the legs, which only required a screwdriver and two minutes of time.

Quick Tip:  The best way to predict how the wood will respond is to test your stains on the underside.

She selected Minwax® Water Based Wood Stain in “Slate” and applied it with a synthetic bristle brush. The combination of the open pores of the alder and the fast drying water based stain meant she only had to wait about three minutes before wiping off the excess stain.

Quick Tip:  Always wipe the excess stain off going in the direction of the grain to insure you won’t have any unsightly streaks left by your cloth.

To keep the top and the lower shelf as light as possible, Alex chose the aerosol version of Minwax® Polycrylic® Protective Finish, selecting the gloss sheen for a contemporary look.

Since her stain was water based, Alex could also use the water based Polycrylic over the legs and skirt, giving the entire piece a uniform sheen.

Quick Tip: To clean the tip, turn the can upside down and depress the nozzle until only a clear stream of propellent emerges.

A high gloss finish over two contrasting colors — neither of them brown! — and you’ve got the making of a contemporary piece of furniture, all at a fraction of the price you would pay in a furniture store!

Now that’s something I can identify with!

Until next time,

Thanks for stopping by!


PS – Be sure to check out the Minwax® Facebook page for even more tips and techniques!