Got Kids? Forget New Furniture and DIY Instead!


For my last post of 2014 I wanted to share a fun project I just completed with help from a friend from Toolerant that came out even better than I expected. It’s a simple DIY undertaking requiring minimal investment in tools and materials. In my case, the total spent in dollar terms was exactly zero as I’ve already had everything needed to transform our beat up dining table into what my mom described as a “designer quality piece of furniture” (next step is to transform our sofa into some best leather furniture brands kind of piece). I don’t know about all that but I do love the end result, so lets take a look.

One thing we were not prepared for when our son was born is the amount of wear, tear and general abuse that our house and all of its contents endure on a daily basis. Over the previous years we got used to a certain status quo where most of the damages could be attributed to our 18 pound Maine Coon cat. Take our living room couch for example. We bought it back in 2003 and it remained in like new condition all the way up to 2008 despite 2 moves. What happened in 2008? My wife went to an animal shelter with my sister and brought back a cat, apparently because my sister was tired of waiting on us to start having children. It was a good test run of whether or not we were ready to keep something alive she said. Or something along those lines.

Within a year our cat became larger than a small dog and decided that the couch was a perfect spot for claw sharpening. Soon after, the first big purchase we made as a couple, AKA the couch, started looking like this: furniture1

In the name of frugality I came up with a band-aid solution of putting some tape over the damage and it seems to be keeping this beast away for now.  furniture2

It looks pretty ghetto but I have a standing agreement with my wife that we won’t spend any significant amounts of money on upgrades until the house is paid off. Replacing a comfortable couch due to cosmetic damage scores very low on my spending priority list. Not as low as on my wife’s list but so far I’ve been successful in postponing this expense in the name of mortgage payoff.

When I do catch InsourceWife lingering on a $3,000 sofa set page of the Pottery Barn catalog I launch a preemptive strike based around one simple question:

Do you think it’s a good idea to spend that much money on something so nice to watch it get destroyed by the cat and the toddler?

That’s something that resonates with both of us and makes the cooler heads prevail in a potential spending fiasco. We’ve seen what a cat can do but a kid is 10 times worse when it comes to wear and tear. Mostly tear, really.

Things that we thought were unbreakable are shattered in a matter of minutes. A melamine bowl advertised as “lighter than ceramic but ever so tough” looked like this after our son got a hold of it at just 1 years old:


Actually, that’s what it looked like after using my trusty Dremel to polish off the jagged edges so we could use it again. Just yesterday after hearing yet another “It’s broken!” cry from the play room I walked over to find my son holding a dive mask in pieces. I had it since 2001 when I bought it in Greece. It survived many snorkeling trips since then but a 2-year-old toddler was too much for a solidly made in Italy mask. Oh the good times we’ve had my friend – RIP!furniture

 Add in the spills, the snot-wiping and the crayon/marker/pencil/pen painting and all of a sudden it becomes easier to look past the ghetto-fabulous that our house is slowly becoming.

Which brings us to the kitchen table. Bought in 2008 in a flurry of purchases associated with moving into a big new house the dining set is looking pretty beat up. While we do have another pristine looking set in our formal dining room that we almost never use, the kitchen table is used every single day for all family meals and it’s showing the years of abuse.

The table seemed solidly made out of real wood so I decided to try to refinish it. There was really no way I could make it look worse so I pitched that idea to my wife and she gave it a green light. We talked about sanding and staining the top the same color but decided it would be a good time to try something different. The plan was to sand the top and seal it leaving the natural wood to shine providing a nice contrast with the dark wood.

First, we needed to get the table out of the house because of all the dust and the smell that was about to commence. I took the legs off and we carried it out to the garage where I set it up on a pair of sawhorses.


As you can see, the table top is full of scratches and looks pretty beat up. Here is a closer look at the damage:furniture6

It’s sanding time! While you could probably use a manual sander this is definitely one of those times where it’s motor over muscles ALL the way. There are tons of different electric sanders out there but my favorite by far is a Porter-Cable Random Orbit Sander. It’s a professional-grade tool that will last a lifetime, it’s easy to use without worrying about leaving nasty swirl marks and it’s good for more than just sanding. I use mine a couple of times per year to buff our cars. People always ask if our 2003 Mercedes-Benz C320 is new because of how well the paint job looks on the car.

I started with a 60-grit 6” hook and loop sanding disk to strip most of the old finish. It took 4 disks to get most of the finish off the table top.  Here you can see half the table sanded with the other half waiting to be done:furniture8

After that I went over the top several times with 120-grit discs first and then with 240-grit discs to get a very smooth and even surface.

After meticulously cleaning the surface it was ready to be sealed with polyurethane. furniture9

As I mentioned we decided to leave the wood unstained and just apply polyurethane to bring out the gloss and protect the surface from damage. I used this product and was very pleased with the results. A $5 3″ brush from Lowe’s got the job done just fine. I ended up doing 5 coats with a light sanding after the 3 coat, but only because I left the garage door open while the table was drying. The wind picked up unexpectedly and deposited a bunch of dust all over the table so I lightly sanded it again and sealed it 2 more times. If you don’t make that mistake 3 coats should be plenty.

Lets look at the results! furniture10

It’s hard to tell from the pictures but the wood grain really shines through:furniture11

I also like how the table top picks up the color of the oak floors:furniture12

In the end I gotta say that we’re really pleased with the way this project turned out. I wasn’t sure what I’d find under layers of dark varnish but luckily it’s all solid wood that looks striking now that you can see all the grain detail. The dining area looks much lighter and brighter too which was something we didn’t even expect.

Lighter wood should show much less of the inevitable scratching but of course the best part is that refinishing it again will be super easy if needed. A quick sanding and one or two coats of polyurethane will make it look brand new again. If you have a chance to try something like this in your own home I highly recommend it.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

2 thoughts on “Got Kids? Forget New Furniture and DIY Instead!

  1. Pingback: Nightstand – Creating a Story | Insourcelife

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