The Sad Old End Table, Part I: Prep
Jason and I have a bit of a problem with clutter control, especially in the form of paperwork and mail. Bills, magazines, store coupons, pamphlets, receipts for items we may be returning, and who knows what else tend to pile up in various spots around our house. And they drive. me. CRAZY. They tend to mostly accumulate on the family room floor, and I’ve been looking for a good way to corral the mess for a while now.
The papers we pile up are mostly things that need to be taken care of “soon” but not immediately. Bills due at the end of the month, magazines we can read at our leisure, coupons we can grab next time we head out to that particular store, and so on. If they’re things that need to be taken care of immediately we take care of them, and if they’re things that need to be filed for record keeping, we have a permanent safe spot for those as well. It’s those in-betweeners that get us. We needed a good temporary solution for them, beyond being stacked in the way in our living areas — something to keep them accessible when we want them, but out of the way in the meantime.
Enter the magazine end table. Built with a V-shaped caddy in the middle of the legs, these are meant to hold — can you guess? — magazines. But I thought, wouldn’t this be the perfect solution to our paper pile problem? We could deposit the “deal-with-this-soon-but-not-right-now” papers into the caddy, and they’d be out of our way for the time being, but close enough to subconsciously nag us and not let us forget about them. (Gotta pay those bills on time.) We also were in need of a new end table in the family room, so this solution seemed perfect.
The only problem? It seemed really difficult to find a magazine table that didn’t look extremely dated, extremely weird, or wasn’t extremely expensive. Call me a cheapskate, but I don’t like to spend exorbitant amounts of money on furniture, especially something small like an end table. I kept my eyes peeled for a good option, but for months I found nothing. I had almost given up my search when one day on my lunch break at work, I went to the thrift store down the street on a whim. It must have been fate, because there I found a solid wood, perfect height, simple but beautiful magazine table for just $10. Its finish was quite damaged, but the table itself was sturdy and in good shape. With no hesitation I bought it, and drove by after work to pick it up.
It’s been sitting in our family room, in use as an ugly, sad-looking end table, for a month or so, waiting for us to have time to refinish it. Over the Thanksgiving holiday I finally found the time to tackle this project, and I found myself with a new tool in my arsenal to boot.
To remove the old finish, I decided to sand it instead of using some kind of chemical stripper, primarily because it’s winter here now and there’s snow on the ground (we were dreaming of a white Thanksgiving this year, apparently), so I wouldn’t be able to use the stripper in a well-ventilated area. To begin the project, I sanded the flat top with 80 grit sandpaper…by hand. It took me a good 40 minutes, and my wrists were absolutely exhausted, before I admitted defeat. I was also completely covered in nasty wood/varnish dust, as was the surrounding area in the basement. I went back upstairs and informed Jason that we needed a random orbital sander, like, now.
I was half joking, but we spent a little time researching our options, and then found ourselves at the hardware store half an hour later. We didn’t need anything incredibly heavy duty, in fact, we didn’t have many specific requirements other than that it must have an option to hook up our shop vac for dust collection. After comparing our options in-store, we ended up with a Porter Cable version, on sale for under $50. After hooking everything up at home, I gave it a cautious first try. Let me tell you, I’m hooked. I don’t know how I’ve done this DIY thing for so long now without having a random orbital sander at my disposal.
The dust collection is nearly flawless. The only time I get any dust in the air is if I happen to pick one side up off the work piece for a second while readjusting, or if I’m hanging over an edge and thus not all the dust collection holes on the sanding disc are covered. If I have it flat and fully in contact with a surface (which is the case 99% of the time), there is not a single speck of dust that I could find that came free. I did still wear a dust mask as a precautionary measure against that other 1% of the time when there might be dust. The other thing I really like about it is that the power switch is covered in rubber, which keeps dust out of the mechanism, thus prolonging the life of the switch.
My only complaint is that I wish it had a second option for holding. Some of the higher end models come with a side handle in addition to the flat palm area on top, and I find myself wishing ours had that because I end up with “claw hand” after a while of gripping this.
Anyway. I was able to thoroughly sand all of the flat surfaces with incredible ease. I’d say it took me about thirty minutes or so to sand all of the flat surfaces, with a couple breaks in between to let the shop vac cool down and/or give my cramping hand a rest. I ended up sanding away not only the varnish, but the old stain as well, taking it back to the bare original wood. I didn’t have any plans in mind for keeping or getting rid of the old stain, I just figured I’d see how easily it came up with sanding. Turns out, very easily, so I’ll be staining this again as well as adding new poly.
With the flat parts sanded, it was time to do the curved sides, detailed edges, and corners where the sander couldn’t reach. And of course, this part I had to do by hand. Already so spoiled by our new power sander, I hated hand sanding even more than I usually do. It took another couple of hours to sand these final small parts by hand, and I was left with sore shoulders and an aching back.
So here she sits, fully naked, ready for the next step. With the hardest part of removing the old finish out of the way, all that’s left to do is the much easier “finish” sanding with gradually finer grits of sandpaper, before it’s time to stain and poly the table back to life.
Do you have a preferred random orbital sander? What do you like about it? Have you ever gotten a new tool and immediately wondered how you had lived without it before?