Remember back in January when I was like, “check out my new dining room table I built!“? And then in March when I gave a detailed tutorial of how I made such an amazing piece of furniture?
Okay, so I wasn’t, like, totally truthful with you. All the steps I laid out were true, but I skipped over a two-month period in the middle of the project when I was unsuccessfully trying over and over to get a topcoat finish I was happy with. It was incredibly frustrating, but the good news is that I tried a few different products and can share my trial and error with you so that hopefully you don’t have to learn the hard way! (The method I shared in my tutorial is what ended up working, so it’s not like I led you astray in the meantime.) Sorry in advance for the limited photos, but I was so frustrated this whole time that I was a terrible blogger and didn’t do a lot of documentation.
When I first built the table in December, I finished it using the same method I used on my coffee table: minwax water-based poly, rolled on with a foam roller and sanded down between coats. Unlike with my coffee table, I went with a satin finish (instead of semi-gloss or gloss) because I didn’t want it to have too much of a sheen.
Unfortunately, the roller left lots of little bubbles on the surface, which I thought would dissipate as it dried (because I had done this successfully before, so I thought maybe I just didn’t remember the bubbles). They did not, and I was left with a super bumpy finish. Boo.
So I sanded the whole thing down, and tried again with a different roller.
This time it was bubble free (yay!) but I was left with really visible roller marks (boo again!).
Back to the hardware store I went, and this time I picked up Minwax “clear brushing lacquer,” which advertised itself as being resistant to brush strokes.
It did not mention that the fumes might threaten to kill everyone in your house. It showed a lot of brush strokes as I applied it, but actually most of them did disappear once it had dried. However, in a few spots I’d missed covering it evenly (which was very hard to tell when applying it because of how uneven it looked before it dried and because my brain was melting from the fumes), so it still wasn’t ideal. And I couldn’t bring myself to apply a second coat because seriously, I thought the house might never be habitable again after the first coat.
Since I had used Minwax poly just fine with the coffee table, I thought maybe my previous problems with roller marks were due to using satin finish instead of semi-gloss like I’d used with the coffee table. So I went to the store to get semi-gloss finish, except they only seemed to carry gloss. FINE. I bought that, and tried it out (after sanding off the lacquer finish).
I was still left with visible roller marks, though.
I know I sound crazy at this point…like how bad could it be that I couldn’t just let it go? But the brush and roller strokes were super visible when the table caught the light (which was pretty much all the time in our sun room…), and I just couldn’t live with it. It’s not so noticeable in the photos, but in real life it really was. I swear.
So I sanded it down and tried again with a paint brush. Nope, this time very visible brush strokes. WTF. By the way, when I googled this I seemed to be the only person in the history of the internet who can’t roll on a coat of minwax water-based poly without getting roller strokes, so either I’m totally incompetent or everyone on the internet is lying to us. Or both.
At this point I was wondering if we really needed a dining table, or if we could just eat on the floor. But I persevered, and decided that I had to cut brushes and rollers out of the equation entirely and just go with wipe-on poly. I’d been reluctant to do that before because I thought I’d get a more durable finish rolling or brushing it on, but by this point I was beyond fed up.
I sanded the table down for the millionth time and wiped on a first coat, and it was clear that this was going to do the trick — but some of the old brush/roller strokes were still visible (not surprising since this was coat number ~575 and there’s only so much I was able to sand off each time without damaging the stain), so I decided that really I needed to sand the whole thing down to bare wood and start from scratch. Sam thought I was insane.
I whipped out my orbital sander and got to work, but it was taking forever and the wipe-on finish (which I’d just put on earlier that day) was making a gummy paste. Also at this point the table was already upstairs, and I couldn’t get it back into the basement without detaching the legs…which I so did not want to do. So little bits of gummy wood stain were flying all over the sun room.
I could have waited a week or two for it to fully dry, but instead I decided to try to speed up the process by stripping off the finish with some citristrip I had left over from my bedroom dresser project (this was before Naomi made me realize that paint strippers will probably kill us all). My go-to method in the past has been to coat the piece and then cover it with plastic wrap to keep it from just drying out, and then let it work its chemically magic for about an hour.
Then I use a scraper to remove the citristrip, and hopefully the finish along with that. It’s super weird when it scrapes off.
Unfortunately the citristrip left a sticky residue on the whole table top even after I’d scraped it off as much as I could, so when I started trying to sand again it was even gummier than before — resulting in my sanding pads getting totally coated and being basically useless. I was quite persistent, but it too me two hours to sand down half of the table top and I knew that I couldn’t keep going not least of all because I was out of sanding pads.
Instead I waited a week for the whole top to dry out (more having to do with the lag in buying new sanding pads, not so much strategic), and that made sanding a lot easier. Not super fast by any means, but tolerable. Another hour of sanding and I finally had it down to bare wood.
At that point I was able to stain from scratch and then use the minwax wipe-on poly to get a smooth finish without any brush or roller strokes. By then I wasn’t even happy, I was just exhausted and mad that I hadn’t just done that in the first place. Also I was still confused about how I managed to make my coffee table turn out so great. Oh also the new coat of stain is kind of uneven, maybe because it turns out poplar can be hard to stain, and it probably didn’t take well to being stripped and restained. I like to pretend that I’m the only one who notices. Not sure if that’s true or not. But I’m sure as hell not doing anything else to it at this point….
So what do you think: do I sound totally unhinged and/or like I have no idea what I’m doing, or has this sort of endless DIY catastrophe happened to you?