Wednesday, January 16, 2013

DIY Wood door butcher block countertops - under $100!

Over the past few weeks, Joel and I took on the difficult, yet fun, yet exhausting task of building new wood countertops. We only really had two criteria when choosing what kind of counters we wanted: they needed to be inexpensive, and they needed to be something that we could make ourselves.

We looked at several different ideas for homemade DIY counters, and even debated trying to make cement counters. This idea went out the window when Joel told me that we'd have to wait until the summer to make them. I wanted counters now! I finally googled DIY wood countertops, and came across this blog post, where the author described making her counters from old oak doors. I was sold! I barely even had to convince Joel - cheap and homemade? Done.

What follows is how Joel and I turned this:

into this:
using under $100 in materials!

I'll start with the best part - the before and after pictures:

Beauty, right?

So the first part of the whole process was finding the doors. It was surprisingly simple - I searched kijiji for "solid doors" and had my pick of the litter. I ended up settling on someone who was selling 9 foot by 3.5 foot solid oak doors for $30 each. Two doors was more than what we needed for this project.

Here's a note that you may want to know if you're trying this - more often than not, solid doors are not actually solid wood the whole way through. They are wood veneer on top of particle board. This is a bit of an issue as you're finish them, but I'll show you how we got around it.

We began by removing the old counters. We didn't even know where to begin with this, so we just removed the drawers and tried to figure out how they were attached.

Joel realized they were being held in by TWO screws. So  he removed those, and we removed the counter.

Back in the garage, Joel had to cut the door in half before we could even work with it. They were easily 100 pounds each, and for the smaller pieces of counter, it was easier to cut the door in half before dealing with it.
Now that the doors were a more manageable size, we used the old counters as a template to trace onto the wood. We measured, and taped off where we needed to make the cuts.

We made some pretty slick cuts. We were particularly proud of this one:
Once the counters were cut to size, we brought them in and sanded them down.
After the initial sanding, I had to fix the problem of the visible particle board. You can see in the photo above, on the left side, where the particle board is visible. To remedy this, we bought iron on oak veneer, which we cut to size and ironed on. Joel sanded it down after it was applied, and you'd really never know the difference.

Without question, the most difficult part of the whole process was the counter with the sink. The sink was a new addition to begin with (one that I won't even attempt to blog about, because it was such a pain to install and the multiple tutorials online for how to install an apron front undercounter sink are going to do so much better at explaining it than I can.) We had to work with one full door for this part, which was heavy and confusing and frustrating, but we made it work. To cut out the sink, we measured carefully, and used a combination of a hole saw (for the corners) and a Skil saw (for the straight parts) to cut it out.

Next came staining! We used Minwax Dark Walnut for the countertops.

Don't I make it look really fun? It's only sort of fun.

We did two coats of stain, leaving the first left on for a minute or so and the second one on for fifteen minutes. This wasn't necessarily intentional, we just aren't very good at staining things. In hindsight, we would have left the first stain coat on much longer, to let it really soak in there. After the two coats of stain came the worst part of the entire process, sealing the wood. We read a lot about online about how to finish our counters, and taking everything into account, and after chatting with the fine people at Lowe's in Ogdensburg, we settled on Minwax Helmsman Spar Urethane.

The process is not very fun - apply evenly, let it sit for about 8 hours while it fills every inch of your house with it's terrible smell, then sand it off and reapply. We did three coats on each surface, then a few extra coats on the parts near the sink. Because it's the middle of winter, we couldn't do this process outside, and our garage is absolutely littered with sawdust and floating particles, so we knew it wouldn't be smart to do it in there. We finally opted for sealing them in the guest bedroom, with the door closed while it dried.

Once that was finally finished, we were on to the fun part - installing the counters! We are really, really happy with how they turned out.

We adore them. It remains to be seen how they'll hold up - we aren't using them to cut on, so our biggest enemy over time will be water. We will likely reseal them once a year, to keep them safe. But who knows, maybe by this time next year they'll be destroyed and we'll be onto the next thing. For $100, I'm not too worried.

This was a perfect first project to cross of the list for our kitchen.There's still so much left to do in our kitchen before it's done:
  • rebuild the cabinets under and beside the sink
  • paint all cabinets (eek!)
  • change out all hardware
  • install shelves where the open cabinets are
  • remove old backsplash and install hexagonal backsplash
  • paint walls
  • remove old floor and install new floor
  • remove the panel in front of sink window
  • new tiles in greenhouse window
  • some kind of window covering for the greenhouse window
  • put up some beautiful artwork
Aaaaand I think that's it? I think we want to try and have this all finished by the summer, so that we can get started on some other projects we have in mind!

Have any of you used any unusual items for something beyond their purpose? Doors as counters? Windows as a coffee table?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

About a month ago, my husband Joel and I moved in to our dream house, a beautiful, new-to-us, actually-older split level home. From the moment we saw it, we knew it was perfect - not for what it was already, but for the potential we saw. One of the first things we talked about doing, even before we had officially bought the house, was making a wood wall in the living room using recycled pallets.

I'll begin with the best part, the before and after, then I'll break down how we did it:

Cute, right?? We love it.

So here's how it went - yesterday at about 2 in the afternoon, inspiration hit us, and we decided we needed to do the pallet wall now. I had collected a bunch of pallets before it started to snow, so we had a good stockpile in our workshop. I found them really easily, just driving through the industrial section of our city and picking them out of the trash. 

The first thing I'll mention is that there is a lot of people online who are leery of using pallet wood in their homes, because of potential for chemicals, etc. Apparently, boards that are stamped with HT are better to use, because they have been heat treated, rather than chemically treated. I had collected my boards months ago and was worried that I had chosen the "wrong" kind of pallet wood. Luckily, every single one of my pallets had the stamp: 

In terms of other precautions we took - the boards sat in sub zero temperatures for months, which I'm hoping killed or slowed down anything potentially damaging. I also sprayed the boards with bleach, which hopefully killed anything else.

So we started with the dismantling process. I've read a lot about this online, and lots of people have mentioned that the process of prying the boards apart can be very tedious and time consuming. Joel skipped this part altogether, using a sawzall to slice the boards (and nails) apart. Even though I'm sure this is faster than prying, it still took a long time, and I got very bored, very fast.

I left him outside to listen to the soothing sounds of the sawzall, while I went inside and began the equally boring part of the job, prepping the wall. I started by removing the switch plates. For this job, I find a standard butter knife works best, but if you must, you could use a flathead screwdriver.

Next, I pried off the baseboards from the wall we would be covering. Again, I chose my tool of choice, the butter knife. Let me take this time to say that the butter knife is a great multipurpose tool which can also be used to open paint cans and remove hardware from cabinets. Basically if it involves prying or twisting, I will almost always opt for the butter knife.

Next, I primed the walls for the wood by painting them a dark color. I found this color in the basement - the previous owners left it there after using it to paint almost every other surface in our house. I have spent the past few weeks trying desperately to cover up the dark grey in my living room, family room, and kitchen, and here I am pulling it out to paint basically the only wall they left untouched.

I had read to paint the wall first because there would inevitably be cracks between the wood, but I really didn't believe it was worth the trouble. In fact, had I not found that paint downstairs, we likely wouldn't have painted it, and there would now be huge, glaring white patches behind our wall. Trust me, it is WORTH the 10 minutes of effort! I'm going to skip forward (spoiler alert!) and show you what I mean:

See? If those holes were showing white, it would be weird.

After all of that fun stuff, we began putting up the wood! A lot of pallet walls we have seen are adjacent to two other walls, so people just build them straight to the sides without framing them. Since our wall is open to the hallway, we used a couple of pieces of wood to frame it out, which we had seen on Cape 27 Blog. The wood we used on the right side wasn't necessary, but we did it just to match the left.

Following that, we started hanging up the wood! There's no real "how to" for this part - we just grabbed wood of the same width and attached it to the wall, trying hard to not match up seams so that it looked effortlessly random (while actually requiring quite a bit of effort.) 

Some bloggers have suggested stacking your wood in same-width piles before beginning, and honestly, if you are patient enough to do this, then you should totally go for it. This is just historically not how Joel and I do things. We both like to get things done quickly, and tend not to let things like measuring and prepping get in our way. It all worked out though, we were able to just pick the pieces as we went, rooting through the piles to find pieces that looked nice together. We mixed darkness of wood and length of wood, but we always consistently used the same width of board for each row. 

Soon we got to the *exciting* part of the night (meaning the one time during the project that anything other than choosing wood and nailing wood happened): the plugs! To start, Joel measured around them with a board, and cut out the appropriate shape to fit them through.

Next, he unscrewed the plugs themselves, and yanked them from the wall:

When he was done building the wood around them, he screwed them back in, this time to the pallet wood.

When he added the little switch plate back on, it looked totally normal.  I've seen some people who have recessed their plugs back into the wall, and I'm not wild about the way that looks. I really prefer having the plugs over the wood, as if the wood was a regular wall.

After the plugs, we were basically almost finished. After adding one more row of wood, we just had to slice a few pieces down the center to make sure the wall went right down to the floor. 

And after that... we were done!!

We are so in love. Honestly, we are so, so proud of something that we made together. I feel like after this project, we went from loving our house to loving our house. We were able to finish this project in about 6 hours, which includes everything from separating the wood from the pallets to cleaning up our mess.

A few final notes from this project:
  • Don't pay for pallets - I've read this before, and felt like this had to be something only Americans were scoring for free, because in Canada we never seem to get amazing deals like that. I called around and was told by many stores, like Rona, Home Depot, and Home Hardware, that they don't give away pallets. It wasn't until I drove down an industrial road and saw piles of pallets in the garbage that I understood, DO NOT pay for pallets! Trust me! I am a Canadian living the American dream!

  • This project is surprisingly boring to do. Seriously. I was the wood-hander, so I literally spent about 5 hours of my night just handing my husband wood, having the wood get rejected for size or stain, and looking for more wood. I think it was equally as boring on his end - get handed wood, nail wood to wall, get handed wood, reject wood, nail wood to wall, for 5 hours. It's not fun. Luckily, it doesn't take too long.
  • Paint your wall!! Can't stress this enough.
  • See it through - about halfway through the project, I got a bit worried about how the wall was going to "tie-in" with the rest of our house. Our decor tends to be very pretty and light (lots of pale colors, white accents) and I was scared that this wall was going to be a giant dark monster in the room. I obviously got over this and we finished the wall, at which point I realized that it was the most beautiful thing we could possibly have made (I'm sure someday I'll say that when we have a kid, but for now, the pallet wall is our baby).

  • Resist the urge to stain your pallet wood - this is what makes it so special, and what truly makes it a zero dollar project. I had seen other pallet walls and was sure my wood wasn't "special" or "interesting" enough. Joel convinced me that if I didn't like the way it looked, we could stain the wall after, and I'm so glad that I didn't touch my wood. It makes the job so much easier, and it's way more fun to say that it's untouched pallet wood. 
That's about it - it's definitely a project worth trying. Let me know if you decide to try a pallet wall!