Why DIY Can FOAD: My Murky Gray-Brown Hell

I am not really a “do-it-yourself” kind of person. I’m more of a “buy-it-yourself” kind of person. I mean, I’m pretty handy around the house, but I have a habit of just getting new things instead of making an effort to fix or change something I already own. It’s not particularly financially or environmentally responsible, so I figured I’d give DIY a try. So when it was time to find a coffee table to match my new living room, I decided that rather than buying a new coffee table like a normal person, I would take the Ikea unfinished pine coffee table that I’ve had for roughly a decade, which now resides out in the garage, and refinish it so that it matches my new grown-up furniture.

SPEEDBUMP #1 (“What the fuck color is “˜espresso’ anyway?”): My living room has a sort of dark and masculine hunting lodge/turn-of-the-century explorinarium (shut up, it’s totally a word) vibe to it. Light pine? Does not go. So I decided to stain the table the same color as my bookshelves, a color that Crate & Barrel so helpfully calls “espresso.” You’d think really dark brown, right? Nope. Black. Actual black. You can see a bit of the wood grain through it, but there is no brown in it whatsoever. A little bit of research at the local home improvement stores tells me that Minwax makes a black stain called “Ebony.” Perfect. There are even little wood swatches to show me the results. Same color as my bookshelves. I pick up a can of that and some polyurethane, and get all amped up for my DIY project.

SPEEDBUMP #2 (“What do you mean, prep work?”): Fine. I have to take the damn thing apart. It’s Ikea. I just need an Allen wrench. It’s funny, though, how much bolts tighten up after ten or eleven years. So after finally getting all of the pieces separated, it’s time to sand. Now, I’m not saying that I’m inherently lazy or that I tend to half-ass things, or that my husband has unrealistic expectations of perfectionism, but suffice it to say that my idea of “sanded well enough” does not correspond with Mr. PoM’s idea of “sanded well enough.” Commence angry sanding. Continue angry sanding. Commence coughing fits from sawdust. Finally, all surfaces are sanded to everyone’s satisfaction.

Intermission: I feel it necessary to point out that by the time I’m ready and set up to apply my first coat of stain, it’s 4 p.m. Now, I started out the day ready to begin this project at 10 a.m., and I don’t do very well when I’m behind schedule. So my mood is already a little, shall we say, precarious.

But, anyway, back to the action. I’m ready for my first coat.

I’m all set up in the garage, with a dropcloth, plenty of rags, all of my supplies, some old boards to use as sawhorses, and a spunky, can-do spirit.

SPEEDBUMP #3 (“WHY DO YOU LIE TO ME, DIRECTIONS? DO YOU FIND THIS FUNNY?”): I read the directions. I like directions. They tell me what to do and how to do it. So, when the directions tell me to apply a smooth, even layer of stain, I do. Ooh, look, it’s all black and shiny! It looks just like my bookshelf! Now, the directions tell me to wait 5-15 minutes, and wipe off any extra stain that hasn’t penetrated the wood. The directions are quite insistent about the wiping step. BAD THINGS might happen if I don’t wipe off the excess stain. The directions also tell me that the longer I wait, the darker and richer the stain will be. So I wait somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes. And I wipe. And ALL OF THE GODDAMNED STAIN COMES OFF. I have not achieved “ebony.” I have achieved “murky gray-brown.” Fuuuuuuuuuck. I repeat this step on all ten billion surfaces so that at least everything is the same murky gray-brown. I just need a second coat, right?

SPEEDBUMP #4 (“Minwax and Ikea, you are officially on my list.”): I dutifully wait four hours (and remember, it was 4 p.m. when I started), and gear up for my second coat. Now, it’s way past sunset, and I’m in the garage, which has iffy lighting at best, so Mr. PoM pulls his car up and turns on the headlights so I can see what I’m doing. I apply the second coat of stain, and it looks glorious. Black, and shiny, and perfect. Sigh. It just needed a second coat. I wait close to half an hour this time, just to be safe, and then start the wiping process. AND END UP WITH THE EXACT SAME MURKY GRAY-BROWN THAT I HAD AFTER THE FIRST COAT. Commence much swearing and throwing of things. Inside the house, the dogs are frightened by whatever monster has taken up residence in the garage and apparently eaten their human lady. I walk away from the project for the night. And by “walk away,” I mean “obsess over it until I finally fall asleep, and then have murky gray-brown nightmares.”

SPEEDBUMP #5 (“What do you mean, huge gummy mess?”): On Day 2, I decide to switch up my tactics. I’m going to stain, but damn it, I am NOT going to wipe! I’m a rebel! What can happen? So I apply a beautiful, even, dark, shiny coat and then just walk the hell away. Until a Tumblr friend helpfully warns me, several hours later, that not wiping can make a huge gummy mess. So I go out to the garage, and what do I find? If you guessed, “A huge gummy mess,” congratulations! You win this coffee table! So I wipe every freaking surface, and now I have at least a sort of deep walnutty-brown color. Which is not completely awful, but IT IS NOT BLACK. OR EVEN “ESPRESSO.”

I finally force myself to just walk away, at least until next weekend, when I can come up with a better plan that likely involves thinned latex paint, according to the very helpful lady at my local Sherwin Williams. The absolutely amazing thing about walking away? That’s when you discover that you have a glob of Minwax Ebony stain on the bottom of your foot. You, of course, are not allowed to discover this until you’ve trekked through most of your house, so then you can spend the next hour on your hands and knees retracing your steps with cleaning supplies and a seemingly disproportionate amount of sobbing and swearing. The semi-good news? That stain doesn’t absorb into anything, so those fifty or so footprints come right up. Also, a carpet steamer is the best $200 investment and/or wedding present you could possibly imagine at times like these.

So right now, my DIY plan for this coffee table involves a book of matches and two fully extended middle fingers. And I’m totally OK with that.

8 replies on “Why DIY Can FOAD: My Murky Gray-Brown Hell”

Uh… this scared me.

My mother just inherited an antique dining table that doesn’t match the gorgeous griege colour I just painted and so I told her I’d stain it as soon as we get some nice weather (I have no use of the garage — long story.) I thought I knew how to stain things and now I am scared it’s not going to work and I’ll end up hulking out over this damn table.

Don’t be scared. Many people complete DIY projects with little to no bloodshed. I’m just a statistical outlier when it comes to this stuff. I’m sure your project will turn out beautifully. And then you can come to my house and sort out my coffee table situation.

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