Saturday, 17 March 2018

Refinishing a Piano with Stain

This post should have been written months ago, but you know when you finish a project and you just want to be DONE? That was this. Refinishing the piano wasn't something I expected to take this long or be this hard. I have a very simple design upright that I was going to paint a glossy cobalt. The dream was there, but the means were not. First things first: the before pictures.

What I started with (covered in all the drywall dust because we're running 50,000 projects a day it feels like!)

Giant water stains on top. PSA: don't put plants on top of your piano especially if they're potted in terra cotta.

So done cutting my fingers on these broken keys.

Crackle everywhere.


Decades of dust and about a dime's worth of change.

Super grateful my keys came numbered! If not, go ahead and write on yours. Otherwise, you're in for a massive headache.

Suggestion: two people to pull off the hammers. Scary heavy awkward fragile.

Like I said, I was going to just paint the darn thing, but my husband suggested it might be cool to stain it blue instead. After falling in love with all the wood grain in our house I couldn't resist the temptation to strip the piano first. This is where trail #1 began. I was doing this project in my house on our newly finished wood floors because this piano is a beast. It's not like modern upright pianos. It is like cast iron or whatever Mjolnir is made from. I am very new at this restoration process, mind you. I began with CitriStrip, which is a totally awesome project if you're working indoors with paint. A piano, however, is not covered with paint. So when I excitedly put CitriStrip all over the piano, it turned into this sludgy brown substance that began to ooze off the piano. Cue panic. I had the floors covered, but that's not reassuring. I began moving the detached pieces outside onto the porch. Cue crazy sudden windy thunderstorm and more panic. I quickly moved everything back in and oh so carefully did my best to clean everything off.

I don't have any pictures of this part because I was in crisis.

There was a lot of residue on the piano, but for the first time I could see the grain! Our piano was so old the varnish had totally covered it, so that was a thrilling moment. Once I had failed to remove the residue though I thought it was just how the wood looked after all and after a lot of humming and hawing decided to paint over it. After attempting twice to paint with a brush (yes, a nice one), I gave up due to all the streaks and used the CitriStrip again. This time I had faith that it would not do what happened last time because there was legit paint. I was right and stripping the wood was super easy that time. I still had that weird residue though and this time wasn't convinced it was the wood.

Attempt 1

Attempt 2 with tinted primer

Over the next few days I used a regular stripper (Klean Strip) and then cleaned the residue with denatured alcohol (thanks to this blog for saving my life!). Next time I'd like to try just denatured alcohol because it was so easy. The varnish or whatever was on this 1930ish piano was gone. Just shop rags, brass brush, and denatured alcohol. Poof!

Stripped and cleaned.

Are you still there? I'm impressed! Because that was really painful.

Then it was time to sand. I used a hand sander on the big parts, being super careful to not sand through the veneer. I was doing well...until I wasn't. I thought I was doing great getting a baby-bottom smooth surface. Turns out, when you're planning to stain you want to definitely do a lower grit than 400. You want to stick around 100 to not close off the pores of the wood. If you close the pores, the wood won't accept the stain well. So had to back track there, but not sure how effective it was.

Sanded as much as I dared

Then I had to find the right stain. I wanted something bright, which was difficult because I had a very dark wood that I had probably screwed up due to my aggressive sanding. I tried a few different stains. Unicorn Spit was cool but it hid the grain and turned green with the poly (probably because oil-based poly has a yellow tint?). I finally discovered this super cool stuff at Keda dyes. Their stuff is incredible. That's where guitars get their really rad colors from. It's very affordable too, which was great because I obviously had a huge surface to cover. The owner is awesome and helped a ton. Pro tip with these dyes: mix it with lacquer thinner and let rest for a half hour. Then dip rag into mix and add 2 drops of concentrated dye directly to the rag. As much as I loved the dye, I knew it wouldn't get that bright cobalt color I was going for, but I had made my peace with that because I understood how dark my wood was at that point.

First coats of Keda dye on bigger pieces. More coats on the end blocks.

Very dark but vibrant at this point.

Can easily see the difference in color between the veneered parts and not veneered parts of the piano.

After applying a couple (maybe 3 or more? been too long) coats of stain it was time to poly. I was trying to avoid streaks and had previous luck on one of our old window sills with a foam brush and Minwax wipe on oil-based polyurethane. It goes on thin and fast, so you do more coats but don't have to worry as much about puddling. After a few nights of that it was time to put everything back together and fix the keys. I know, you thought I was done, right? Refinishing the keys was pretty simple though. I painted the sharps with black enamel from Sherwin-Williams in high gloss. The whites I wedged off with a box cutter and glued on new ones. (Forgot to document that process) All my piano fixings I've gotten from Howard Piano Industries. They have fantastic how to videos as well. Love them.

As you can see, there's a big change in color between the sealed and unsealed stain. I wonder if that would be the case if I were to spray poly instead of brushing it on. A thought for my next attempt.

So there it is. I admit my photography doesn't do it justice. I could have gone on to buffing it, but I'm satisfied for now. First piano was quite the learning experience, and I'm excited to try again! (Next time, not all inside my house!)

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Baby number 3

After being five days overdue, I was getting quite impatient. However, I was so physically tired that I was dreading the literal labor ahead of me. I knew no matter whenever baby boy came I was going to have to pony up.

I had been feeling more frequent contractions all day but real labor began at five minutes apart with about one minute contractions later in the evening. They lasted two hours until we decided to head to the hospital around 8:30. The kids were asleep already and my in-laws were in town to hold down the fort. 

When we arrived and got all the preliminary things out of the way (I was at an 8), contractions intensified and baby's heart rate began to drop. It was not coming back up quickly, even when the nurse started me on oxygen. My doctor suggested breaking my waters to get the baby out faster. I agreed and got on the bed. 

Once she broke my water, things immediately picked up. My doctor was able to see why baby's heart rate was dropping. "You have a prolapsed cord. That's an emergency C-section," she said. (A cord prolapse is rare and occurs when the cord comes before baby, resulting in pressure, and cutting off the life support for the baby.) In an instant the room filled with nurses and I was told to not push--a very hard thing to do at that point. Before I knew it, an OB/GYN appeared and made the call that the baby was too low for surgery: his head was already engaged. The OB/GYN did an episiotomy, which I thankfully did not feel thanks to adrenaline! He placed a small vacuum on baby's head and told me to push with everything I got. Two pushes and he was out just before 11.

I don't think I breathed after delivery until I heard our baby boy cry. He was loud and healthy and after testing his cord blood, the pH levels confirmed that he experienced no distress. 

From the moment my doctor said cord prolapse to baby's birth was about five minutes. The fluidity of the medical staff during that time was like an art performance. I am so grateful for the well-trained. Seriously, I just want to hug everyone who has ever helped me birth my babies.

I am still in shock at the sudden intensity of the situation but mostly grateful that our baby is perfectly healthy and I did not have a C-section (the thought of being wheeled down to the OR continues to strike panic into my heart). My doctor, who's been practicing for ten years, had only seen one cord prolapse before mine, and it was the only vaginal delivery of a cord prolapse the OB/GYN had done (an even more seasoned doctor).

Every birth is a miracle, but I know my family was being especially watched over that night. We're so happy to have our little boy.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Refinish wood floors. Check.

"Do you like the floors?"
"What do you think of the floors?"
"I love our floors."
"Look at it now. It's awesome when the sun shines in."

Just a sample of my husband's beaming dialogue over the first few days we moved into our house. He's pretty proud of his hard work, and he should be. Yes, we love our floors.

There were some dark days around here for a while. So much sanding, late nights—all nights, trips to the hardware store, stain samples, etc. After a lot of help (understatement) from incredibly kind people and a ton of long, difficult hours of work, the majority of our downstairs floors are finished!

Here are some grainy pictures of what we had on our hands after sanding. You can see what they looked like before here.

The stairs are not on our immediate to-do list. Their glory will have to wait.

We met a lot of different opinions when it came to these floors. Some said to dash it all and go with laminate. I tended to ignore those inputs. Sure, it would have been easier, but it would have been four times the cost and not as pretty. I'm glad there were an equal number of people encouraging us to go for the wood. We are so happy with the results.

It was dark when I took these pictures, but when the sun shines through those windows, the floor is golden. We love all the colors and divots from its age and use.

Ignore the blue x. That's a board that needs to be fixed from below to prevent more splitting.

For those who are curious, our floors are pine. I know. Another reason many said to just forget it. We weren't concerned though. So far it has held up to plentiful runs by my toddlers' huge Tonka trucks and the occasional toy thrown over the banister from a pleasing enough height to make an ear-shattering noise. We also like the beat up look becausehellowe live in a house that's over 150 years old. So one more dent isn't going to throw us into despair. We used Minwax Early American oil-based stain with an oil-based poly (semi-gloss). I seriously cannot stress enough how important it is to test your stains. We tried nine of the twenty-six colors offered by Minwax before finding just the right one. You never know how your particular wood will take to the stain.

One project down and about seven hundred to go!

Friday, 20 November 2015

The beginnings of our first house

When it comes to this house purchase, I've decided to follow a little quote I came across one day:
Being right is mostly confidence.
It's mainly humor with only a tinge of reality, but it helps.

There are times we realize we have certainly bit off more than we can chew, but we remind ourselves to take it one day at a time and keep moving forward. That's really all you can do when you're starting out with this.

Forgot to mention our house was built in 1850. It's a farmhouse, and we love it. But old houses come with "quirks"... like termite damage.

Therefore, the front part of the house gets new subfloor. The original planks had been replaced long ago, so there was no loss ripping up the other stuff.

Once we ripped out all the carpet, most of the floors in the house look like this. Painted (or stained?) floor around a permanent rug. Look at all those fun staples to pull out.

Then there's the more tedious dining room with tiny fake planks on top of the real stuff.

The key word for this house is potential. It's there, like in these awesome built-ins that made us want to see the house in the first place.

Then there's also our views. Lots of fields (with a broken deck, exposed septic tank, and random traffic cone). We'll gladly be staring at winter wheat for the next few months.

As I review all these pictures, I'm reminded we've only just begun...

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Doing the Mom "job"

The days when the kids are having one meltdown after another and I'm trying to cook dinner, clean the kitchen, and tend to their cries at the same time, but I am handling every moment with a calm head and warm heart, are the days when I feel really proud of myself for being a good mom. Moments like that remind me of my mom. I knew my mom loved me, but to my young self I thought being a good mom was being good at your "job." Our house was clean, she made yummy food, and we were happy. Good mom. 

Obviously, moms do lots of things, but I am grateful that my mom cared about basic homemaking skills and could simultaneously keep her cool. She is a good example to me. I never understood the unconditional love that comes with motherhood when I was a child. Now that I do, I know there is more to being a mom than cooking and cleaning, but I also know those things are important. I knew my mom loved me because she took care of me. Now that I have kids of my own, I know I'll love them no matter what, but because of my own experience, I know they'll feel that love when I take care of them. 

I don't look down on all those posts about ditching the housework to spend time with your kids or praising Martha over Mary. Those days are needed. I'm just saying that cooking and cleaning shows love too, and it doesn't go unnoticed.