Table from hell, or just say no.

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At the urging of SWMBO, I agreed to refinish a small table for a friend of hers, with the caveat that I wouldn't touch it if it contained any plastic, MDF or particle board.
The table shows up a few days later, it is a roughly mission style, with a white painted skirt, legs and frame, a piney wood top coated to look like someones idea of maple.
Approximate new retail cost of about $20.
I would think if I ask someone to refinish a table pro bono, that it wouldn't be too much trouble for it to arrive clean, but it showed up with dirt, grime, cobwebs and all. I removed the top, scrubbed the frame clean and noticed that one of the bottom rails is cracked.
When I attempted to spread the crack a little to work some glue in, I finished snapping it into, good, now I can glue it properly, three bessie clamps later it is fairly straight and well clamped.
Now for the top, it is only 16 x 30 and the finish appears quite hard, so I'm planning to sand the finish off. The stuff will clog up 80 grit paper almost instantly, finally cleared about 2 square inches down to bare wood after changing the paper in the palm sander 4 times. This isn't working, I get out the heat gun and bring the surface to near charring temp, the finish doesn't budge.
I don't have any of nailshooters high powered strippers but I do have a can of kleenstrip, I apply it liberally and it beads on the surface like water on a freshly waxed car, it won't even stick to it, much less dissolve the finish.
Time to quite fooling around, I get a cabinet scraper and scrap the crap off, it is at this time, I see the red blothes on the top and it occured to me that some where in Taiwan there is a chemical coating engineer that devised a finish that is impervious to all known solvents, heat and abrasion that will freely pass unknown red stuff to dye the surface underneath, he is a genius.
Next day.
Remove clamps from broken rail and sand down joint, the reason for the break becomes obvious, there is a knot that takes up the entire piece, apparently asian furniture companies never cull anything.
Not willing to let well enough alone, I decided that putting a metal tie plate under the rail will reinforce the joint and possibly prevent it breaking again. I'm putting the last screw in the tie plate and it pops a hunk out of the knot. I bondo the hole and resand the break. Doesn't look too awful for something that will be painted.
I turn my attention to the red spots thinking that possibly they can be lifted with solvent. Mineral spirits, lacquer thinner, denatured alcohol, acetone, naptha, methly ethly ketone nor 1,1,1 trichloroethane have any noticable effect. After exposing myself to most of the chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, I decide to stain the top a red mahoghany, hopefully hiding the spots.
Top is finished both sides with 4 coats of rattle can shellac, looks good, and you can't find the red spots unless you hunt for them.
Frame is hit lightly with 240 grit and sprayed white.
SWMBO comes around and says that the tables intended use is a kitchen roll around, I point out that said table doesn't have castors and that shellac isn't the best finish for kitchen use, my objections are dismissed, family harmony is in doubt, I needed to go to the blue borg anyway.
Cheap castors only come in three packs, marketing brilliance at its best, I can't wait to make that two legged, roll around stool, I always wanted.
Next day.
Put two coats of polyurethane on the top for durabilty.
Drill holes for castors in legs, while installing the second castor a three inch long wedge of knot snaps off the bottom of the leg, really the Asians cull nothing.
With the extra height of the castors, no one is going to miss three inches off the legs, remove the first castor and saw all the legs off three inches, redrill holes.
Affixing the top and castors went without any more surprises.
Happy wife, happy friend of wife, I think in the future I will suggest throwing table away, going out to eat with a stop at wally world to purchase any kind of table they would like. Easier, less stressful and cheaper.
basilisk
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Very entertaining story, a few laughs, a few cringes and a LOT of similar experiences. I think we've all been caught up in projects like this. A good one for the back of FWW, I think.
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Ahhhh.... the learning curve of refinishing. You sure got a full dose. Unless it is a valuable hardwood, fine joinery, excellent design, or just plain easy to get the finish off it is never a good idea to refinish.
I have turned away a lot of work because folks "hear that I do that kind of work" and see those idiots on cable shows refinish $35 garage sale finds. They think it is really cheap and easy, and they feel good because they "rescued" something.
How much time did you have in it? How much repair time did you use? What was the cost of sandpaper, belts, stripper, rags, new respirator filters, nitrile gloves, shellac and top coat?
You see the disbelief all over their face when you tell them $300 for what you did. "But Robert... the TABLE only cost $35.... seriously..."
They think you are a thief. In my mind I wonder if $300 has it covered if I wind up with what you found underneath the finish.

AMEN!! Great idea! And a cheap way to help ensure domestic tranquility.
Well, if you don't mind, I would like to share that one with a couple of my buddies. They will get a kick out of it. You said a lot really ironic things (the three casters was priceless!) in a pretty damn funny way. All true. Everyone that gets caught in any of those "honey do" projects can relate, not just the refinishing ideas.
I love it when the project arrives, they go shopping, and come back after a grueling day of hitting the sales with a cold late lunch for you to see if you are finished....
Great post. Really enjoyed it.
Robert
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Ahhhh.... the learning curve of refinishing. You sure got a full dose. Unless it is a valuable hardwood, fine joinery, excellent design, or just plain easy to get the finish off it is never a good idea to refinish.
I have turned away a lot of work because folks "hear that I do that kind of work" and see those idiots on cable shows refinish $35 garage sale finds. They think it is really cheap and easy, and they feel good because they "rescued" something.
How much time did you have in it? How much repair time did you use? What was the cost of sandpaper, belts, stripper, rags, new respirator filters, nitrile gloves, shellac and top coat?
You see the disbelief all over their face when you tell them $300 for what you did. "But Robert... the TABLE only cost $35.... seriously..."
They think you are a thief. In my mind I wonder if $300 has it covered if I wind up with what you found underneath the finish.

AMEN!! Great idea! And a cheap way to help ensure domestic tranquility.
Well, if you don't mind, I would like to share that one with a couple of my buddies. They will get a kick out of it. You said a lot really ironic things (the three casters was priceless!) in a pretty damn funny way. All true. Everyone that gets caught in any of those "honey do" projects can relate, not just the refinishing ideas.
I love it when the project arrives, they go shopping, and come back after a grueling day of hitting the sales with a cold late lunch for you to see if you are finished....
Great post. Really enjoyed it.
Robert
Thanks, and share away, Usually I keep up with how much time and money go into this sort of stuff, even when it is just for me, but I chickened out on this one. I don't even want to know.
basilisk
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Ya know, Post Trumatic Honey Do Project Syndrome.
I can so totally relate, I do some welding so I got drawn into a number of welding projects of a similar nature. As well as the home repair, furniture repair, kitchen goodie build, etc.
After awhile, I just drew up a contract that stated very clearly what my responsibilities were. I also will not buy anything to do these projects. That really scares them off. When they have to actually buy your supples, they freak out and back off rather quickly.
Funny story. I was asked to repair a go kart and motor scooter frame. I knew it was going to be trouble. So I got a signed waiver. It turns out the were built from water pipe! Hardly the best material to make any kind of vehicle. I told them that the frame would probably melt and the weld may not hold. That the best I could do was to weld a big patch of some kind on there.
They said no to that, just "do the best I can". Well, I did. And I melted through the water pipe frame. The best thing about that job was that they never asked me to do anything ever again. Which was fine by me.
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grasp what hand work cost and when they say do the best you can they really want first class work on items that started out at best third class.
basilisk
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"basilisk" wrote:
<snip an entertaining tale of finishing woe>

----------------------------------------- Is Cosco still in business?
Back in the days when I worked in a hardware store, we sold Cosco utility tables that had wheels as well as high chairs, and card tables complete with folding chairs.
Must have assembled at least 100 of those utility tables.
Back then those utility tables sold for under $20.
Lew
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basilisk wrote:

After about the third problem you encountered I think I would have built a properly made new table of similar looks and thrown the old table out.
--
Jack Novak
Buffalo, NY - USA
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I agree with Nova on this one. I had a similar situation when we moved into our house. My wife found a vanity table in the attic that she loved. It was really beat up. She wanted me to just "strip the finish off and we could put a new finish on" I didn't do it for awhile because I knew that it would be a pain. Then it came back to haunt me as SWMBO wanted it to be a new desk for our daughter.
Well the top was shot. It was so soft that you could dent the it with your breath. The stretchers weren't far behind. Well after some soul searching and a few choice words, I decided that I would just remake most of it because the only thing that was salvageable were the legs. Luckily there wasn't any joinery on the original as it was held together by clips and screws.
SWMBO didn't even notice the difference. It was my first attempt at mortise and tenon joinery. A new top and drawer along with all new wood all the way around. I cleaned up the legs with paint stripper and jute. Painted the legs and put 4 coats of danish oil on the rest of it. Came out nice.
So I feel your pain.
Allen
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On 4/8/2010 2:11 PM, allen476 wrote:

My problem with SWMBO is a bit more "weighty" ... she, being the interior decorator the spec houses I build, purchases all the counter top material, granite, marble, etc., therefore she is keenly aware of each and every cutout, cutoff, and unused piece.
Thus, we have a store room full of future "table tops", some weighing as much as 200 pounds, for which _we_ can build tables for the next couple of lifetimes.
--
www.e-woodshop.net
Last update: 10/22/08
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Well when you want help cleaning out that store room,let me know.......Just have to remember to bring my tape measure.....I mean gloves.....
Allen
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LMAO! Thanks for posting. Made my day.
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wrote:

Someday I'll tell the story of the player piano, but it is too raw right now, it hasn't been but 9 years.
basilisk
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Oh, man.....
I gotta hear this one!
Robert
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I'm interested in your statement
"nailshooters high powered strippers"
What high powered strippers are you refering to?
wrote:

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I hear Bambi's a real deer.
Puckdropper
--
Never teach your apprentice everything you know.

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On Fri, 09 Apr 2010 04:39:53 -0500, the infamous snipped-for-privacy@myplace.com scrawled the following:

MEK, baby!
-- Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn. -- John Muir
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That's Mandy, Evelyn, and Kristin, right?
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On Mon, 12 Apr 2010 19:54:14 -0500, the infamous snipped-for-privacy@host122.r-bonomi.com (Robert Bonomi) scrawled the following:

Close, but different sisters. Methyl, Ethyl, and Ketone. Strippers extraordinaire!
-- Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn. -- John Muir
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