A Family Style Table


     We had a very clear vision for our dining room table. Since moving in with literally no furniture what so ever, we've been slowly piecing together the elements for a functional and comfortable home. The dining room posed a unique set of problems. We couldn't find what we were looking for in any of the usual places (Ikea, ebay, craigslist, etc.) and we were basically eating on the floor. At this point, we hadn't even purchased a couch. So one day, I arrived home to find a modest little dining room table sitting happily in the middle of the apartment. Simon had purchased a raw wood, 3.5 by 5 foot table, from some random person on craigslist for about €20. Clearly it was an act of desperation, but it was greatly appreciated. After eating off plates on our laps while seated on the floor for a couple weeks, a table (of any kind) was a welcome addition to our home. It didn't come with chairs, but it did have an insertable leaf making the full length of the table about 7 feet. It was heavy and sturdy, and frankly pretty darn ugly. The table top was an amalgamation of pine and a few other nameless breeds of wood, assembled industriously with straight lines and no discernable hint of character. Eventually the appreciation of the table's function wore off and we were back to the searching for the perfect dining room compliment. Eventually we purchased a set of very trendy Eames inspired chairs in white, which served to wash out the pale wood of the table even more and by the time Christmas rolled around I was about 6.5 months pregnant and directing every ounce of negative emotion I had daily at this hideous table and our still barren apartment. Finally, during a spontaneous trip to "Der Baumarkt" (Thats German for "home improvement store) we decided to stain this table.
     A little bit of background here seems important. Simon is not a DIYer. I of course count DIY as part of my personal identity, however my significant other is more or less skeptical of the whole idea. He would much rather, as he puts it, "limit the risk" and spend his time on "more valuable ventures". Spoken like a true capitalist. I say this lovingly of course, and continue to try and convince him of the emotional value DIY projects bring to your home. Im not sure how exactly it happened but eventually I convinced him to stain the table with me using the supplies I wanted (even though I don't speak German, and really can't read any of the labels...I just had good feelings about these ones ok?) in the shade of his choice.

     Our plan for the table has always been something rugged and rustic inspired, with a bench on one side and a durable attitude that will allow it to stand as the centrepiece of our home. We want something that can serve as a desk, a table, a chair, an art studio, a stage, and a playground. The open floor plan of the apartment puts the table in plain sight from just about any angle and with our first baby on the way, its important for me that he grow up with this traditional "dinner at the family table" experience. We wanted all of this for of course very little money.

     We love our "new" table. We love our table so much now that even after about a month we still sit back after dinner admiring it. The color came out perfectly and it adds a completely new layer of depth to our whole apartment. This is how we did it.

  • Sandpaper (420 grit)
  • Transparent Wood Conditioner (Holz Grundierung) by Toom
  • Chestnut Brown Indoor Furniture Stain (Lack-lasur) by Clou
  • Latex Gloves
  • Face Masks
  • Paint Brushes
  • Cotton Rags
  • Plastic Drop Cloth
  • Cardboard pieces (to keep drying pieces off the floor)
  • Basic Tools
Since I am pregnant and Im well aware that pregnant women should avoid harsh fumes and chemicals we took a few extra precautions during this project. We used non VOC wood stain and conditioner, wore latex gloves and face masks during every step (especially sanding), and completed the project in a well ventilated area. Pregnant or not, these steps are smart and I would recommend them to anyone undertaking a paint or stain project.

Prepping the Table:
My father was a painter by trade. Not an artist, but a house painter. Growing up we did a LOT of DIY projects and he had a manta which I vividly remember. "There is no such thing as too much sanding." He was/is of course right and the fantastic results we had with this table started here. We spent a good chunk of the total time to complete this project meticulously sanding each piece to be stained.

Disassemble the table and sand the daylights out of it with a fine grit sand paper. We used 420 grit and sanded until the wood was smooth to the touch and all traces of water rings, coffee stains, discolouration from a mishap with a red placemat, and dirt were literally erased. We kept the frame and legs together to use as a prop for the pieces of the table top while we prepped them, then we took apart the frame to sand, clean, and condition separately.

TIP: Cut each sheet of sand paper in half and wrap one sheet around a kitchen sponge. If you're sanding by hand it allows you to get a much better grip on the paper and saves your finger nails.

Remember to wipe down each piece with a damp, clean cloth after sanding.

Apply Wood Conditioner
Conditioner serves to treat the wood of a piece, encouraging all areas of the wood to absorb the dye from the stain more evenly. For raw wood that has not been sealed, painted, or treated ever before one generous coat will suffice. We found that painting on the conditioner with brushes was the best way to get an even coat. Just be careful to avoid any drips or pools of conditioner.

Paint the conditioner onto all sides of all pieces to be stained and let dry according to the manufacturer's directions. As a rule, its good to let these things dry overnight.

I think Simon liked this step. It was easy, it made the wood look darker and shiny, and only took a few minuets to paint on the conditioner. He energetic and feeling really good about the DIY part of this project. When we came back after the conditioner had dried to tackle the staining, his attitude changed a little. Once we got the first few inches of color onto the table the rich dark brown he was expecting was pale and translucent. He was very skeptical and I think expecting to be disappointed with the end result. I had to assure him that stain was just like any other dye and needed time to work. Secretly I was just crossing my fingers hoping it would darken up.

Applying the Stain
We started with the bottom of the frame of the table when applying the stain. Despite what the cans of chemicals often say, it is always better to use a cotton rag to apply rather than a brush. With a brush you will get strokes and pools of color that stay forever dark and splotchy.

TIP: Work quickly in short, linear strokes with your rag. Move in the direction of the wood grain and gradually work the color outwards, keeping an even coat of stain on the wood.

It is important to work quickly, but not so quick that you get uneven areas on the wood. You will definitely have to put some power behind the rag to rub the stain into the wood. We were both exhausted by the end of this project. Dip your rag into the stain and work the color into each piece really trying to avoid allowing pools of stain to sit anywhere on the wood, even for a short period of time. The stain feels dry very quickly, but be careful when flipping or repositioning the pieces. They will scratch.

TIP: Avoid much darker or much lighter edges by resisting the urge to use a sweeping motion parallel to the edge. Continue moving with the grain of the wood right up to the edges, by wiping all the way off the side of the piece. Keep an eye out for unwanted drips running down the sides though.

Once you've applied the stain to all pieces of your project, let it dry completely before even thinking about painting on another coat. Our stain had sealant in it so we didn't need to finish the table with an extra step. After letting the pieces dry over night, we returned to find that each piece was a luxurious shade of deep brown. The color completely transformed the table. Simon's skepticism about the color was gone and we were both ecstatic about our first DIY piece together.

Treat your table with care for the next 24-48 hours. We found that, even after drying over night, the wood was susceptible to scratches for the next couple of days. Be very careful when re-assembling.

To clean your stained wood furniture, mix about 1/4 cup dish soap with about 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil in a bucket of warm water. Use this solution to clean the surface and rinse with clean water. Use a clean, dry cotton or microfiber rag to dry and shine the piece.

TIP: Don't use abrasive cleaners like ammonia or other harsh chemicals.  

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