Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome

Meet the newest addition to our house- Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome.


One of the perks of renting has been having the time to do a little furniture updating.  Though we are constantly busy with three kids, work and slowly restoring our vintage trailer, we have crammed in a few minor projects.  Most of our major furniture was purchased when we were first married, 11 years ago.  After a decade of living, many pieces needed updating for obvious reasons (you can only flip the couch cushions so many times) and other pieces have just outgrown us, size wise or style wise.

One of the ways our style has changed is wanting some custom and eclectic pieces around our house.  When living in Decorah, I discovered this amazing shop in Chatfield, Minnesota, Adourn which had antique furniture updated with modern paint and fabric.  A love connection was found and ever since, I have tried to get my hands on as many furniture rehab projects I can.  So, when E had outgrown her dresser, I was ready to jump at the chance to give an old piece some love.

I have little patience or time for thrift store or garage sale shopping, though this is probably the best way to really get a steal.  I found my gem instead in a local antique mall.  As soon as I turned the corner, the high dresser spoke to me.

Two doors reveling two drawers (one even with drawer dividers perfect for unmentionables) with three lower doors, perfect for a grade-schooler's budding wardrobe.

The dresser had a few obvious places of wear that would need fixing but Andy gave the ok so I brought it home.  Thankfully, it was love at first sight for E too.

When buying old furniture, give the piece a good work-over before purchase.  Some things that I look for:

  • Do the drawers/doors open and close easily and correctly?  

  • Take out all the drawers.  Look for anything broken on the drawers then look in the dresser.  What kind of support is inside?  If you are planning to store heavy things or put something heavy on top (like a TV), all drawer openings should be separate "boxes".  When I take the drawers out of this particular dresser, it is just a big, open box.  I was ok with this for this use but when I bought an antique dresser for a TV stand, I made sure it had completely closed areas where the drawers were to give more support.
  • Check the sides of the drawers.  How are the drawers joined?  Dovetail joints are usually an indication of good craftsmanship.
  • Lift the piece.  Is is heavy for what it looks?  A light piece often indicates cheap wood (fiberboard, etc).
  • Do you like the hardware?  Hardware is easy to change, but can be pricey.
  • Do you like the color/finish?  If it is painted and you want stain, stripping paint is time consuming and can be pricey if you use liquid strippers (and can also take years off your life with the fumes!)

In most cases, many of these things are not necessarily deal-breakers if you truly love a piece but are things that you should be aware of, especially to foresee the work and cost that will be involved with rehabbing your new piece.  The knowledge can also often help you negotiate a better price.

I knew I was getting into a pretty extensive rehab with this dresser and even then ran into additional things that ended up needing fixing.  Thankfully, I keep Andy chained in the garage to help me with this upsets.

First order of business was to sand the dresser down.  I knew I was going to paint the dresser so I just needed to get a couple of layers of old paint off and make sure everything was nice and smooth.  Where I was able to, I used an orbital sander and in corners I used a sheet of sandpaper and elbow-grease.

Once sanded, I filled any holes with wood filler and tightened up all the drawers with wood glue and Andy's serious assortment of clamps.  Luckily, the shell of the dresser was in pretty good shape but all of the drawers needed to be reglued at the joints.

I chose Behr's "Little Black Dresser" for the final color.  It is a slightly off-black which I thankfully was able to talk E into since I thought it would look great with her pink walls and I'd been dreaming of a black dresser with brushed brass accents for a while.  Turns out, black paint is kind of a bitch to do because it shows every single dust speck that inevitably lands on it during the process.  Thankfully, I finally got it painted with a few coats of flat paint and love how it looks. I painted the sides of the drawers with a bright pink for a little surprise.

To add some flair, I decided to stencil on a flower design on both sides of the dresser.  I wanted to make the dresser a bit girly but also make it easy to change when E inevitably turns thirteen and doesn't want flowers and fairies all over her room anymore.  I considered doing wallpaper on the sides but vetoed this in the end because it would have been harder to change.

I found a stencil I loved at royaldesigns.com but didn't want to wait for the shipping and had a hard time shelling out $40 for a stencil.  So, I ran to Michaels and found one I liked just as well.  Using some stipple brushes and a coral, pink and off-white paint, I gave it a test run.  Disaster.  The size of the flowers were way too small for such a large space and the hard stipple brushes were a nightmare.

Back to the drawing board... or in my crazy case, make-your-own-stencil board.  This is not my first adventure in homemade stencils.  I have actually done it several times now, all in the same round about way.  At this point, Andy just goes out and buy me a sheet of stencil plastic knowing I will eventually just make my own.

Making a stencil is pretty darn easy.  You can buy large, blank plastic sheet for stencils at a craft store. I then find a design I like, print it out and copy it onto the plastic using a thin, permanent marker.  Using an exact-o knife, precision and patience, I cut out my marker lines, creating the perfect stencil.  To make my life a bit easier, I made one large flower and a few leaves and decided I would hand paint some little flowers and leaves to fill in the spaces.

New stencil in hand, I used some stencil adhesive on one side to make the sheet sticky so it would stay on my dresser.  I am not an expert on applying stencils yet- I have experimented with stipple brushes, foam brushes/roller and craft paintbrushes all with mixed results.  In this case, I used a small craft brush since the flower and leaves were pretty small and applied 3-4 thin coats of paint.  I still had a bit of bleed-through which I went back later with some black paint to cover.

After all the flower and leaves were stenciled on, I tried my hand at some free-hand flower buds (on a scrap piece of wood, of course!).  Yeah, an artist I'm not as this was a disaster.  So, I tested out a few other things until I finally came to the design I liked.

All dry, I applied three coats of satin polyurethane.

I hate this stuff.  It is crazy annoying to put on, constantly trying to make sure it dries smoothly and doesn't drip (a fate I was unable to avoid).  I prefer a satin finish for furniture but it does tend to show brush marks so you have to be careful to apply evenly.  The type of poly that I bought doesn't require sanding in between coats but sanding is often required so read the directions first!

Finally done, I was able to screw on my fancy new hardware which I snapped up from CB2.

I was surprised at how high quality the knobs were for a really reasonable price.  Some of my other go-to cabinet hardware stores are Cost Plus World Market (super cost efficient!) and Anthropologie (great for unique, eclectic pieces but can get super pricey if you need several knobs/handles).  You can also check your friendly, neighborhood antique store and might get really lucky (remember, hardware can easily be spray painted to change the color/sheen!).  Andy steered me toward a product- Thread Locker which you apply to the screw to keep your knobs from spinning loose.

Viola!  Finished cabinet, perfect for my whimsical 6-year old!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Meet My Pod-Husband

Hell has officially frozen over.  Start betting on the Cubs because they are definitely winning the World Series this year.  Pack up the kids and head to the country because the zombie apocalypse must be close.  Andy is REUSING old material.  He is using NAILS.  Seriously people.  The world is ending and this project has broken my husband.

Andy and I use holidays to jumpstart new projects or make leaps of progress in old ones.  (See the kid's bedroom remodel of Christmas break 2014).  Andy had 4 days off of work for the 4th of July so we decided to buckle down and work, work, work on our vintage canned ham trailer.
Our helpers ready to celebrate the 4th!

After finishing replacing the entire floor over Memorial Day weekend, we were ready to move on.  Cue in three weeks of discussions over what part to do next- walls or roof?  After much discussion, we decided it made most sense to tackle the walls next.  These old trailers are like jigsaw puzzles and I don't really think there is a "right" or "easy" way but depending on what you have to replace, you need to just make a decision and go with it.  Andy leaned toward replacing the roof first to help with the overall structure of the trailer but I convinced him the walls were the way to go so we wouldn't be nailing a new roof on top of the walls which would later be replaced.  After the weekend, we both agreed that we made the smart choice.

To replace the sides of the trailer, we first needed to add some interior support so the whole trailer wouldn't fall over when the side was removed.  Andy added 2 support beams to hold up the roof and several triangle wedges to hold up the other side of the exterior wall.

Next step was to remove the exterior skin which is made of thin aluminum held on with a variety of million-year-old, rusty screws and nails.  Like really mean, nasty nails that have a screw-like spiral shaft.  Whoever thought of those didn't consider or care about someone ever having to remove them.  Similarly to removing the metal on the front of the trailer, Andy and I used a catspaw, hammer, screwdriver and paint scrapper to remove most of the nails/screws. The catspaw is my new favorite tool, so much so that Andy had to run to the store to buy me one for myself.  Flowers and chocolate aren't the way to this girl's heart... just bring me a catspaw and I'll be yours forever.

Most of the screws/nails came out with a variety of these tools.  Each metal piece that came down was carefully labeled and set aside to later clean and put back on.  Extremely stubborn nails were cut with a sawzall then pounded down or pulled out.

It took us about half a day to remove all the metal and windows on one side of the trailer.  Once removed, Andy looked through the existing framing and declared he was just going to patch in the worst spots.  People.  This is pure insanity.  I mean, this man has never saved a piece of anything during a building project in his entire life.  "Patch it in"?!? It's seriously crazy talk.  I murmured a "sure, sounds good" as I stared at my new pod-person husband.  I mean, he looked ok.  Still blond, big nosed with a constant whiff of lumber smell around him but he was NOT my husband.  Heading inside to get my new pod-husband some sugar water, Andy spent the evening replacing a few boards of the frame, the worst of which was on the curved back bottom of the trailer.  To get wood to curve, Andy cut framing boards down with the table saw into thin, long pieces then used a chop box to cut slices along the area that would be curved.  This provides relief to the wood, allowing it to bend.  Pretty amazing stuff.

Heading to bed that night with my new husband, we were suddenly awoken by a large gust of wind followed by a metal on metal crunching sound.  Rushing to the window, Andy looks at our now bald trailer.  Metal roof totally gone.  Andy headed downstairs to survey the damage.  Waiting upstairs, all I heard was chuckling.  Cursing is one thing, but chuckling from Andy means things are really bad.  Somehow, the entire metal roof was swept off the trailer, made a summersault in the air and fell directly into the pile of metal pieces we had painstakingly taken off the entire day before.  Metal was strewn throughout the yard with several window frames crushed.

After spending months worked up about how we were going to get the roof off and how/where we would store it, a kamikaze gust of wind did it for us.

The next day, I was on metal-bending duty while Andy continued on the side of the trailer.  With a metal brush, I cleaned all the small metal parts and window frames.

To rebend the frames that the roof had cruelly bent to hell, I used a hand seamer then a mallet to bang the frames back into shape.

Andy's tool box was the perfect shape and size to use as a template

Worked like a charm!


All the window frames then got 2 coats of silver spray paint.

That done, Andy and I took the interior paneling down, only one section at a time.  The paneling was removed carefully (see my now claw hand after 4 days of using that catspaw and hammer to remove millions of nails) so we could trace the old panel onto new luan.

Here's where stuff got real weird.  We started using a stapler attached to an air compressor to staple the luan into the framing.  The thin luan just wasn't attaching to the framing so next thing I know, Andy has a hammer and nails in his hand.  Perhaps to most, this isn't a sign that your husband is now a broken man but I'm tell you... Andy is now just a shell of his former stuff.  Andy's hatred of nails rivals my hatred of rubber bands (just work in an archives and you will come to hate the nasty, rubber things that look like dried up worms stuck to paper after a short year or so).  Any time I bring home a "new" piece of antique furniture, he grips for DAYS about the nails.  So to see him now using a bucket of nails and a hammer is pure insanity.

Who is this man?!?
Four day weekend complete, we have a finished wall and are now about half-way done. with all the exterior work.

And I have a new pod-husband.  Please help.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Gidget Gets a New Floor

After two full weekends of hard work and clear skies, Gidget has a new floor.  We will not pretend that any part of our work on our 1954 canned ham trailer will be a "restoration" project.  This is full on replication.  As we dig more and more into our little gem, we are shocked that it lasted as long as it did, held together mostly with spray foam and rusty, crooked nails.  By the end of all of this, we expect the only original pieces left will include the metal skin, windows and stove.

A few months ago, we spent a weekend doing some basic interior demo to prepare the trailer for it's eventual and inevitable exterior repair.  In the months of rain, we measured all the cabinetry that came out to replace later, took apart and cleaned up every component of the Martha Washington stove and replicated the two front benches that fold into a bed.
A sneak peak of the new bench fabric
Finally into gorgeous spring weather, we took advantage of a couple of free weekends with the promise of no rain and tackled the front wall.  The biggest oddity in the way these trailers were constructed is you have to take them apart from the outside in just to replace any of the interior paneling.  All of our interior paneling was rippled from decades of water and growing mold on top of mold so we knew going in that every wall would have to be replaced.

Manned with our favorite demo tools- a cat's paw, hammer, crowbar, drill and screwdriver- as well as the knowledge from many nights watching YouTube videos from the expert trailer guru at http://www.cannedhamtrailers.com we started in carefully removing the corner rails then metal exterior skin.  Each wall of the trailer is supported by the adjoining wall so to maintain the structure, we only remove one section at a time.
Andy not excited about all the flathead screws

Under the skin, 1950s insulation, framing and paneling was revealed.

Once we carefully removed the window (which we will reinstall), we were able to remove the framing and paneling, leaving a large section we could then use to measure when we replicated and replaced with new wood.

Removing the front panel revealed the floor which kind of led into a long rabbit hole of thinking we could just replace small sections but then realizing it was better to just go ahead and replace the entire flooring.  (We made this decision after I had already spent hours trying to peel crazy old linoleum off of plywood, grr).
Removing the linoleum with a Ridgid JobMax... this turned out unnecessary when we decided to replace the floor

This was a slow process- not difficult but just time consuming to remove things slowly to maintain the original structure.
Using a circular saw to cut flooring into smaller sections to remove
The floor has 5 layers:  starting at the under carriage with the metal trailer frame, followed by soundboard, then wood framing, insulation and finished with plywood.  All of this needs to be carefully measured, cut and tucked inside through the small front opening then fastened with carriage bolts.
Original flooring section- the original didn't have insulation but we decided to add it

Every carriage bot needs to be removed from underneath- many needed to be cut off

New soundboard and framing

New insulation
We only replaced the front half of the floor on the first weekend because we were afraid that if we took all the flooring out the structure would be too flimsy.  Once the front floor was replaced, we replicated the front paneling using 1/8" thick luan and 2x2 framing cut down into 1 1/4" to match the original framing.  All this was screwed back into the side walls... that will eventually need to be unscrewed when we replace the rotted sidewalls.  Super annoying but we don't know another way around it since you definitely can't take all the walls off at once as you would loose all the structure.  As it was, to get the front panel screwed in, we had to push on one side while screwing the the other just to get it all straightened out again.

The next clear weekend, we did the exact same thing to the back half of the trailer first removing the exterior metal, framing and paneling then replacing the flooring.  The back section was especially disgusting with sections of moss growing in the flooring as well as a new birds nest in the floorboards.
Terrifying hole in floor covered with random pieces of plywood

The back bar of the metal frame was so bent out of shape that after some waffling, we decided to replace it.

Old bar on left; new on right
Really, Andy doesn't need much of an incentive to whip out his welding mask and at $12 for the metal was a cheap fix.

New bar welded on, the rest of the floor was replaced.
Back half ready for insulation and plywood
Gidget is happily sitting in our driveway now with a new floor.  After 7 months of renting, we are all happy to have the cheerful hum of saws running again.  We aren't getting too much into specifics here with these updates so please check out our favorite resource: http://www.cannedhamtrailers.com if you are tacking a similar project.  Thankfully, we have our super helpers on the job with all our projects.