Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mess of the Month Part I: Demolition and Countertops

I haven’t posted a thing in months not only because I’ve been traveling all over the country, but also because I’ve been working on not just a mess of the day, but a mess of the month. In July (well, let’s face it, July and August) I gutted and remodeled my kitchen. This was a long enough project that I’ve broken it up into four posts (which I'll make live links below as they post!)

Part II: Cabinets and Sink
Part III: Flooring, Appliances, and Hardware
Part IV: Backsplash and Finishing Touches

If you don’t recall from my move in post, the original 1940 kitchen in my Wisconsin home was not only ugly, but very hard to use.

I’d tried my best to make it work, bringing in a butcher block, and replacing the useless overhead light. But, still, it was hard to do much useful cooking in this kitchen. This was the palette I started with in June.


Having scoured Pinterest and surveyed friends and family I decided on cabinets from Cliqstudios, butcher block countertops and the Domsjo farmhouse sink from Ikea, and laminate flooring from Build Direct.

With plans drawn on graph paper and cabinets on order, I rented a U-haul and drove to Chicago to pick up my flooring and Ikea goods. It felt like a lot of truck, but when I got to the warehouse I realized that I got off easy compared to the alternative.
I put a Thursday on the calendar and recruited all of my friends in town to come over and help with demolition. Everyone brought their favorite crow bar and I provided the essentials.
I started first by removing the absurd in-cabinet heater vent, and carefully unhooking the garbage disposal and plumbing. After my careful work my friends showed up and the men made short work of what was once my kitchen. By the time the pizza was delivered at 12:30, there was nothing left but rubble.

Meanwhile in the basement I was working on my IKEA butcher block countertops. With guidance from The Newly Woodwards and a few other helpful online blogs I undertook the countertop project.

I had hoped for the Hammarp in Oak, but when Ikea was all out and I was already in Chicago with a rental truck I opted for the Birch. I bought a 74” and a 98”, more than I really needed, because of an unrelated snafu (we’ll get to this later). So, the first step was to cut the countertops to size.

Of course, if I’d just parted with the $40 and bought a circular saw at this point, I could have saved myself substantial heartache (more on this later, as well) but I didn’t. So, I used my chop saw to cut the 25” countertops to fit in my kitchen.
While the top of the butcher block was more smooth and had less knots and filler, I liked the color variation on the back better. So, I flipped them over and made the tops the bottoms. Then, I tested 3 different colors of Minwax stain (Red Chestnut, Gunstock, and Red Oak-- shown top to bottom on left side) on the underside of my countertops, then mixed a few colors together to see if I could find the color I wanted. I settled on the Red Chestnut, which of course, I could only track down in a half pint container, but it turned out to be enough for the whole project. I used a soft cloth (read, old cotton pajamas cut up into 8" x 8" squares) to wipe on the stain. 
The trouble I ran into was that the stain seemed to change color from one day to the next. The stain I’d used in the mud room (Red Oak) was the right color one day, and the wrong color when I tried it again the next day. As I got to the bottom of the half pint of Red Chestnut I noticed the stain going on more red with every coat! Why, you ask? Because I didn’t follow directions. Stain needs to be stirred. The red pigment settles at the bottom. Why I didn’t stir the stain like I was supposed to? I don’t know. I’m a failure.

To add insult to injury, other blogs I’d read said that the light finish needed to be removed from the countertops before finishing them. Also, because I was using the backs, I had the sand out the blue IKEA logo. So, I used my palm sander and 80 grit sand paper to remove it. I followed back over with a 220 to smooth it back out. I learned later that having done this scratched up the surface and made it take the stain quite differently. So, everything turned out much darker where I’d sanded.
Thus, the process of staining the countertops was a highly volatile one that lead to much cursing and a fair amount of drinking. In the end, each piece got three coats of stain and turned out darker than I’d intended. But, I learned a lot in the process. 
Next, it came time for the Waterlox. All over the internet people will tell you how hard it is to track down this magical substance like it’s some sort of mythical creature. I happened to be at the local hardware store (and we’re talking local hardware store, whatever size you’re thinking of, its about 1/4 of that) and found it immediately. People will also say this product is "so expensive!" At my harware store the quart was about $30 and did the whole project. It is possible I got lucky, it is also possible other people just need to stop shopping at Home Depot. My local True Value had both “Original” and “Satin” finish. I opted for the satin because I didn’t want to have to be too picky about a perfectly glossy finish when I was working.

Per the instructions (see, I learned) I applied a coat on each surface by wiping it on with a rag (again, pajamas), waited 24 hours, sanded with a 220 grit paper, wiped down with a soft rag (a t-shirt), and gave it another thin coat. Over the course of a week or two I gave the tops 6 coats and the bottoms 4 coats. This was probably overkill, but I had the time, and was trying to get the surface as smooth as I could, and kept messing it up.
They certainly aren’t perfect, but for a DIY kitchen and a total cost of less that $400, I’m feeling pretty good about them.

While I waited for Waterlox to dry, I also selected a new color for the kitchen walls. I did a little patching of the holes from the old built in cabinetry, and gave the parts that would show in the end (or so I thought) a couple coats of Behr Almond Milk.

With Mom and Dad on their way to help, the kitchen now looked like this