Victoria Thompson, RN, JD Wood Working


New Rustoleum Wood Stain Failed

I had the opportunity to make a brief case for my step-daughter to use to carry small bottles of her Do-Tera essential oils.  I had some purple heart on hand.  She and her husband are loyal Texas A&M aggies so I decided to stain the purple heart to the maroon side for her case.  The wood working was no sweat.  I planned a rabbeted edge on the two flat sides and a single board with mitered corners around for the sides. A fitted lip was routed for a nice secure seating of the closure.  Purple heart is very dense.  It was heavy enough that I took it down to 5/8 to work with.  It creates tiny splinters and will crack so going to 1/2 – leaving me with 1/4 edges minus a bit for the tolerances of opening and closing or glue ups was risky.  I had more splinters doing this case than I did doing my entire kitchen in curly maple.  The wood is so pretty it is well worth it.

I had not seen Rustoleum wood stains before.  There was a black cherry stain in that and I looked at the Minwax bombay mahogany.  On the tests the black cherry hit the right tone of maroon so I gave it a try.  The directions say to leave for a minute or two and not allow it to dry before wiping off.  I left it about 30 seconds and noticed that it could not be wiped off at that point.  I had to sand it down. When I just wiped it on the color was good.  It did not allow a lot of the wood grain to show through but the color was nice.  I did a second wipe the next day to even it all out.  Two days later I sprayed a coat of SPAR lacquer to seal it.  Twenty four hours later I sprayed a second coat.  Twenty four hours later it was still a bit tacky – odd but in this humidity in Houston that can happen even in the AC.  I waited another day and it felt dry.  I started putting the hardware on the case.  I noticed many scratches and found that I could scratch my finger nail through the stain to make a light purple streak.  I tried buffing it only to find that the entire finish was unstable and unacceptable.  I had to sand it down to the bare wood.  Stains generally soak into the wood and do not sit on the surface like a paint would, and like this stain did.  I reread the directions and it said to use polyurethane as a top coat.  I needed another small can so I bought a new one.  This time instead of having a red base to the black cherry as the first can did it had a deep purple base.  It was a different color than the first can. (Both from Lowes, both from the same batch.) It also went on the surface and did not stain the wood.  I sanded it back off, again.

I switched to Minwax red mahogany and it stained beautifully.  I took the next two days to to get two coats nicely settled in.  The wood grain was shining through but in the proper Aggie Maroon color I was going for.  I had purchased SPAR poly and did four complete coats over the next week.  Hardware went on and the case is lovely.  Still heavy but all of that sanding had to help, right?  It can handle bumps and scrapes and they will buff out easily.

So why SPAR, why lacquer, why poly?  Poly is very water proof and hard – excellent for flooring.  The problem is that UV rays of the sun cause it to break down and flake off.  If you have ever had a gorgeous hardwood front door age quickly and seem to break down it is because it was coated with Poly alone.  Lacquer does not break down sun light, but it is not as hard wearing.  It can be buffed up to a gorgeous shine and is preferred for fine furniture.  A SPAR rating added to either poly or lacquer gives the wood finish and stain the UV protection it needs and has an added water proofing as well as hardness.  SPAR coatings are used on wooden features on boats.  For any piece that will be in the sun, banged around and exposed to moisture a SPAR coating is the way to go

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Kitchen Design Series #2 Gathering the Palette

Colors and style are the most fun to pull together.  Consulting a designer is always an option.  Choosing finishing materials up front prevents waste and conflict later on.  What do you want a main feature of the kitchen design to be?  The back splashes, the counters, or cabinets, maybe your dishes, or cookware, or a particular style reflecting the rest of the home’s style.  Deciding that “main feature” for the design allows you to develop a color plan with a goal in mind.

Start with any appliances you intend to keep.  What are those color tones?  Most appliances available on the market fall into three basic color collections, black, white, and brushed stainless steel/aluminum.  Refrigerator fronts may be custom made, however it is more involved to find custom fronts for other appliances.  We had been planning our remodel for a number of years so when we could not put off replacing old appliances the new ones were chosen with an eye on coordinating with future appliances.  Real Estate agents often advise that matching appliances are far better in a resale showing.  We had a combination of black accents with the brushed metal look.  I found choices in completely brushed metal or completely black or a balance of the two.  I laid out photos in the kitchen near the appliances we were keeping to compare and that allowed me to make some good choices. The goal was to balance the metal and the black tastefully.  The black dishwasher we owned was balanced with a black trash compactor so it was not the only all black appliance in the room.  The black and metal refrigerator we owned was matched with the microwave/oven combo and large lower over by choosing black glass inserts with the brushed metal.  The old white microwave we used during the remodel was replaced.  The choice in a warming drawer was limited to brushed metal but blended in well. 


As a wood worker, choosing my wood for cabinets was a process.  The big choice is whether to go light or dark for cabinets.  My husband prefers light colors over dark.  Light cabinets enlarge the space in many instances. Dark colors are more formal in appearance. I wanted a look and feel somewhere in the middle of casual and formal.  I wanted the “main feature” to be the wood and took a chance on a very figured (busy) curly maple.  Ask for, buy or rent samples of the cabinet finishes you like to display in your space over the course of several days to a week.  Seeing those in the different lighting over time will help in the decision.  

Finding a counter to coordinate with the maple was a huge challenge.  I did not want a solid color for the counter because any little thing out of place stands out making the kitchen look messy.  A figured counter can camouflage wayward drips or a few utensils out without that messy look.  If a bright clean slick look is what you want aim for the solid counter color choices.  Because of the figure in the wood I could not add a definite pattern, especially small dots, as many of the quartz counters offer.  I think quartz is one of the best materials for kitchen counters in terms of lasting performance.   The counters can produce a pop of color or blend away.  They cut the room in half vertically so choose carefully.   Samples help even though the actual stone may change from the show room to the stone yard.  Photos are important.  I found a granite with an organic look and strong pattern that did not clash with wood.  It has both black and metallic accents and tones of the wood.  Image   




Our low 8 foot ceilings look higher because the counter blends well and minimizes the vertical visual cut off a prominent counter would present.  If you have huge ceiling heights go for a feature counter.

With those major choices out of the way the color palette will fall together easily.  I pulled tones from appliances, wood and granite to coordinate the back splashes and flooring.  






Kitchen Design Series #1 planning – where to start

About 2 years ago my best friend Vickie agreed to help me remodel my outdated kitchen.  It took about 1 year of work spread out over two years.  Before we started, I spent at least 2 years designing and planning.  In this Kitchen Design series I will walk through what we learned along the way.  

The most frequent comment I have heard about the kitchen now that it is finished is, “I wouldn’t know where to start.”  Whether you are hiring a contractor or doing it yourself or a hybrid of those you must decide what you want in the design and why.  Most kitchen design books on the market start with the age old “triangle” design.  These were to be the points between the sink, refrigerator and cook top traditionally designed to be in a close triangle to each other.  That dates back to when Harriet cooked for Ozzie (not Osbourne) and the family, but was in the kitchen by herself all day.  If you have never heard of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, please pause here for a quick Google.

Today’s families are far more dynamic and everyone tends to be in and out of the kitchen for different purposes.  In deciding what to remodel begin with looking at what works and what doesn’t work for your space.  If you are building in a new space watch the dynamics of family and friends in the kitchen in your current space.  The triangle is now a 3D polygon!  For a kitchen design to pass the test of time two concepts are at the top of the list to plan for in detail: traffic flow and tasks.  

It is easier to use my own kitchen as an example, however, I would love to hear about your kitchen details in the comments.  Our home was lovingly built by a man who raised 6 boys with his wife.  It is set in the country just outside of Houston.  The design of the house, and especially the kitchen, served the task of cooking and serving lots of hungry kids.  We had 2 inlet spaces for 2 full refrigerators and 2 gas cook tops.  The main counter was a pass through under dish cabinets that opened to the casual dining area.  The pantry door was off of the dining area and the pantry was a good size but cut up by the second refrigerator space. It was built in 1980 with a 1970’s look.  The design and look were past their prime.  

In assessing the current needs for the kitchen I found that when I was cooking and my family was home we ran a circle around the large island which held one cook top.  My husband would head to the refrigerator for ice, back around to pour a drink, and back around to add water.  Prep space was limited because of the awkward position of cabinets hanging over the counter space.  I love to cook and found myself running in circles to the pantry and back.  One entrance to the kitchen was the den and the other was to the second casual dining area.  When I was cooking I was cut off from the den by the placement of the wall ovens.  There was a small pass through to the den for casual dining but it was deep and became the resting spot for junk.  Our back yard is about 2 acres and we have miniature horses.  One small window over the second cook top did not give us a good view.

The goals for my remodel design included:    Move beverages to a more convenient bar space, get rid of the stationary island, create a more formal dining area between the kitchen and the formal living area, better access to the pantry from the kitchen, create more usable prep and drawer spaces, open up the view from the kitchen to the den and to the back yard, improve traffic flow to allow more access from the den to the kitchen and back again and create activity centers in clusters around the kitchen.    No triangle here – just humming little hives of activities.  I began cutting out magazine photos, printing online photos and consulting current kitchen design books for the look and feel I thought would be right for this house.  This is not a Georgian estate, a Tuscan Villa, French chateau or farm house; it fits more of a modern Texas ranch estate so I looked towards natural stones and wood but a wanted a forward looking updated feel.  As the Kitchen blog goes forward I’ll show you how we got there. 


Welcome to my new blog!

Rule one: be nice.  Rule two: be nice. (Get the drift?) Wood working is fun.  Let’s keep it that way.  Wood working is a very necessary industry for the US to develop more so.  Think global, buy local.  Furniture and cabinetry should be locally built to last as heirlooms and as not throw away cheaply built, imported junk.  Is there room fro some cheaply built pieces in a home?  I suppose.  Buy American made first though!  One of the first tips I have as a wood worker is to watch where your stock wood is coming from.  I built my kitchen cabinets with furniture grade (baltic birch) ply sold by Home Depot but coming from right here in Texas.  Your wood is marked as to its origin.  Vote with your dollars.  I also used Pacific Northwest Big Leaf Maple from Oregon.  I can confidently state that at 90% of the kitchen is from the USA, appliances included.   I do use exotics on small projects.  Many wood species are not grown in this country.  I watch for where it is coming from.  I do my best to avoid any rain forest wood stock.  Responsible forestry includes thinning and growth management.  I do my best to find wood from sources that use best management practices.  Ask where the source is and research them.  Vote with your dollars. Watch out for that ply from China – very thin laminate layers and orange glue that is a toxic mess. 

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