Sunday, January 07, 2007

Warning - mature content

If you either a) don't care a fig about woodworking, or b) are easily offended by mature language, please stop reading now. Seriously, go visit CNN or read my archives or something. You're not going to enjoy this post.

It started innocently enough (doesn't it always?). It was trash day, and a neighbor asked me to help him convince his wife to throw away a crappy old termite-chewed, painted, antique chest of drawers she had inherited from her mother. She wanted to keep the drawers to make shadowboxes ... enormous shadowboxes ... and was willing to throw out the cabinet. In the end, we convinced her to just take the mirror from the cabinet, and I would attempt to rehab the cabinet (and drawers) for use at my house.

The first day I started to strip off the paint, I should have run as fast as I could in the other direction. It would not strip. After five coats of stripper - the good stuff, not the pansy-ass ecologically friendly stuff that's about as effective as ketchup - the base layer of paint was still there, looking virtually untouched, giggling at me.

I gave up for a few months, then called a local furniture refinishing place to check on prices to just have it stripped. The quote of $150 was less than it would have cost me to buy a new dresser, or an antique one in better shape, so I figured it was worth a shot. The dresser came back completely naked, bald as a cue ball, untouched by even the idea of paint.

With the paint gone, I decided to tackle the termite damage. Only, with the paint gone, you could see that the termites (or wood worms, or whatever they were) had really done a number on this sucker, leaving places where the wood was so thin you could punch a fist-sized hole all the way through the side of the chest, if you wanted to. I chipped away some of the loose wood, looked at what was left, and decided that the mature thing to do would be to walk away now, while I was only out $150 and a few hours of my precious free time.

But Jason didn't want to lose the $150. Not that he volunteered to be involved in any way with the rehab, he just kept talking about how it was dumb to waste the money without trying to fix it. My argument that I have better things to waste my free time on made no impact. So it sat in the basement, mocking me every time I went down for a lightbulb.

My father agreed to take a look at it when he was here over Christmas, and his verdict was that replacing the actual side panel would be too much work; we should just patch it up with wood filler and veneer over top of it. Several phone calls and a trip to Lexington in the rain later, I had the veneer, I had the first coat of filler in, and I was feeling pretty good about the project.

Then the filler shrank, necessitating three more coats to fill in all the cracks and voids. Finally, I was ready to apply the veneer.


The directions on the veneer say to apply it using contact cement, something I have never used before. It made me nervous, because it bonds instantly, so if you get it in at a funky angle, you're totally screwed. The guy at the woodworking store where I bought the veneer said he thought regular wood glue would work, as long as I was able to clamp the stuff in place.

I went to Lowe's today, fully intending to buy some contact cement and do this the right way. Then I read the directions, which involved everything being at least 65 F and in a place where the fumes can be vented so they don't make the house explode when they get to the furnace. Ordinarily I don't pay attention to these sorts of warnings - which is why one day I will perish in a fiery inferno of paint thinner and super glue - but since I was going to be gluing several square feet of surface area, I thought the fumes might be a bigger problem. If I had done this earlier this week - when it was 60F and sunny - I could have just opened the basement door and said it was good enough. But today it was 45F and pouring rain, not exactly the best conditions for drying the contact cement.

So I bought the kind of wood glue that is stainable, just in case any squelched up when I applied the veneer and didn't get wiped away. I carefully fit the veneer, measuring twice and cutting once, and only chipping one corner a little bit. I spread the glue in a generous, even layer, as per the directions in the bottle, and nestled the veneer into its new home. I grabbed a handful of leftover bricks the previous owners had left in the basement, weighed down as much of the top as I could cover, including the edges and the middle, and left all of this in place to dry for the hour suggested on the bottle.


When I came back later this evening to check on the progress, it was a disaster. The wood glue made the veneer buckle anyplace it wasn't actively weighed down, and quite a few places where it was, making a lovely series of foothills (some 1/2" high, honest to god) on the side of the cabinet. One buckle I would have been able to deal with - I've read enough of my father's Fine Woodworking magazines to know that you can slit them open, inject some glue in, then clamp the living shit out of it. But I'd say at least 20% of the side of the cabinet was buckled, well beyond the amount that "slit and glue" is designed to handle. Okay, I thought, I'd better go ahead and peel the stuff off now before the glue hardens completely.

The phrase that best describes this experience is probably, "Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw, it would be more fun."

Far from uncured, the glue was lovely and stuck, necessitating the use of a chisel to chip it off. Not only did the veneer crack and split, peeling parts off but leaving others stuck to the cabinet so I'll have to use a power sander to get them off later, but the veneer was nice and stuck to the wood filler, too, which wasn't so nice and stuck to the cabinet. So not only do I have new chip marks in the wood and wood filler from prying the veneer off with the chisel, but also about 1/3 of the time when I could peel the veneer off, it brought a big chunk of wood filler with it. You can once again see through places in the side of the cabinet.

The remains of the veneer

Trust me when I say this used to be nice and smooth, even the filled parts

See what I get to work on for the next week or two?

I've set myself back by at least seven naps' worth of work, given that I'm now going to have to sand down the minefield that's left, fill in all the chips and holes, refill the deeper holes, refill the refilled deeper holes, and THEN redo the veneer.

But now we're into the cabinet for more like $175 dollars, what with the veneer and the glue and all, so I doubt I'm going to get away with throwing out the useless piece of motherfucking shit. No, I'm going to get to waste even more of my time, freezing my fingers off in the basement, fixing this thing that I don't even have a spot for in my house.

Before I make another 2-hour-round-trip drive to buy more veneer to replace what I ruined, I'm going to try using contact cement on the veneer for the other side of the cabinet. If that doesn't work, the whole shebang is going out to the curb the next day, and Jason can just bite me.

postscript: The original quote from the movie Heathers was, "Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw. Do I look like Mother Teresa to you?" I've never had a chance to legitimately use it ... until now. So, I guess one good thing has come out of all this. Nothing like woodworking projects to expand your vocabulary.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain. I cringed as I read the post.

I currently have several hundred dollars in maple and walnut plywood in the garage as we're in the process of installing built-in floor-to-ceiling shelving along 13' of wall.

There is always the knawing uncertainty of whether doing it yourself will win over purchasing the prefab from Ikea.

Let us know if contact cement is better than wood glue. I think that folks also use rubber roller to run out the bubbles in veneer.

Good luck.