Thursday, March 24, 2011

mad scientist meets carpenter

we started with this
for a long time it looked like this
now it looks like this
Jed's Grandma Atherley (aka Nonna), gave us this table when we moved into our home.  It was one of her old tables.  It was something that we would never have picked out, but hey, it was a table and we were house broke so it worked.  It was your typical 1970s/80s oak table with lovely spindle legs and floral designs etched in the chairs.
Over the years we have looked for a new table, but never found anything that completely met our needs.  Sure we found things that we liked, but they were usually way too pricey, made out of cheap wood, and not very well built.  We also were hesitant to buy another table because as much as Grandma would tell us that she didn't mind if we ever got a new table, she always commented about her table whenever she came for a visit.
So with all of our dilemmas, Jed decided to build a table.  We went back and forth on what we wanted, with many disputes might I add.  Also, we knew that it was still going to cost us a pretty penny, because that is always how things go for us.
Then, Jed decided to check out Grandma's table and see if it were salvageable (by this point the legs were getting pretty wobbly and the chairs had all but fallen apart).
He invested in a few additions to his wood shop (aka the man cave)  he didn't complain about those purchases one bit.  And took to disassembling and stripping the table.  When he sanded down the tabletop, we were delighted to see that the wood was in pretty good shape, and it was solid oak.  Not our favorite type of wood, but yay for durability.   We weren't too worried about the type of wood, we had a plan to improve upon it.
We purchased some new wood for the legs and sides, the only really big dent to the pocket book.  And even that wasn't too bad all things considered.
Jed began cutting and rebuilding the old table top.  He cut off the rounded ends.  We were looking for a style that was more contemporary with a hint of country/rustic.  So pretty much like everything we like, it needed a Pottery Barn feel.
Our home has so much wood tones to it, especially in the great room.  The floor, the cabinets, and our couches are all tones of brown.  We knew that we were going to have to darken up the table to give us the look and feel that we wanted.
But, we didn't want to go for straight black.  We wanted the feel of a dark walnut stain, nearly black but with a lot of brown undertones.  We test stained multiple options and combinations.  But we weren't getting quite what we wanted.  Jed researched a bit on different staining techniques for oak and came across a very strange solution.  But honestly, the coolest of all.  And, a great talking piece.  You take a form of iron, mix it with vinegar to break it down and cause it to rust and oxidize, then wipe the liquid on the wood.  Apparently the tannins (compounds that bind to and precipitate proteins and various other organic compounds) in oak are unique in that they will react with the iron and turn darker, even different colors.  It is often referred to as Iron Oak, at least in the wood staining bizz.  It is totally us because we both go nuts over natural and unique methods, not to mention chemical reactions make us giddy.
In order to get the right combination, we were forced to make a testing area.  Pretty much our kitchen looked like a lab gone mad with how much fun we were having setting up different experiments. 
We decided on a combination of steel wool and vinegar. 
As fun as this all was, and even after all of our testing, we were super nervous to actually apply the mix onto the freshly completed table.
applying the mix to create Iron Oak
We had tried out other finishes on top of the iron oak to get the finished look.  Just applying the iron made the wood have a grayish look which got a little bit darker once you applied the poly finish coats.  But that wasn't quite what we wanted, it wasn't dark enough.  So we tried out other stains over the top of the iron.  We tried dark walnut, but that didn't get us the look we wanted, so we ended up with ebony.
A billion coats of poly later, and voila it was done.  Jed was seriously going crazy when I kept saying the phrase "you need another coat of poly."  For those who aren't privileged enough to have Cars playing in the background of your home, you may not appreciate that as much.
the finished product
Now, if we could only find some chairs.  And no, Jed will not be making those.  Unless he learns how to weave wicker or rattan.  In the meantime our Lifetime chairs will have to do.

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