Grandchildren Abuse Correction

For months, after reading how I restored the doors in my house, my aunt has asked me if I could restore her living coffee and end tables. She’s had them over 40 years. They have weathered her youngest daughter (who just turned 40) and 3 grandchildren (ages 23, 10, and 4). The furniture is solidly made; real wood, not MDF or particle. The top is a wood veneer finish. This holiday season she treated herself to a new sofa, so now was the time to see if I could bring life back to these tables and I went back to my tried and true product Howard’s Restore a Finish. The color of her furniture is close to the moulding in my master and the kitchen built-in, so I had the product on hand.

I used the same process I used in restoring all the moulding and doors of my house. Step one I washed the surface with water and Murphy Oil soap just to remove grim and sticky stuff and then followed with denatured alcohol applied with 000 steal wool.

I used a new piece of 000 steal wool to apply Restor-A-Finish, Maple-Pine color. It’s amazing how well that product evens out the discolored areas. In that light spot I did apply a bit of Dark Ebony color, Restor-A-Finish that I used on my doors. I let it sit overnight because the furniture was very dry, especially on the edges where the protective finish had worn off.. That product has an oil consistency, so I didn’t think it would hurt.

After applying Restor-A-Finish

The next day the more worn areas definitely looked more dry than other areas, so with a soft cloth I applied a generous amount of Howard Feed-N-Wax, which I also let sit overnight. Before returning to my aunt I wiped off the excess.

The end tables turned out equally as well. These are pics of the one in worst shape.

Warning Restor-A-Finish does not rebuild layers of polyurethane or another top coat that may be applied to your furniture. Up close you will see the raised differences. I believe the only way that can be fixed is complete sanding. I opted to not do that because there were several raised areas in the veneer, most likely due to water damage, and I did not know what sanding would do to those areas.

My aunt was please, not a bad outcome for 40+ year old furniture.

Christmas Gift To Myself

Happy New Year! My apologies for the drop in posts. I’ve been busy with the bakery division of Sister Girl w/ Skills. My family loves my carrot cake, so for the last few years I’ve been gifting mini loaf size pan versions, each person gets their own cake. The recipe is one I’ve had for over 40 years, which I got from my Big Mama, Inez Kent (she was tall, over 6′ so I distinguished my two grandmothers by Big Mama and Grandma). She was a scratch cooker, using the palm of her hand to measure out teaspoons and tablespoons, but she wrote down this recipe for me. I’ve got to get this framed before it disintegrates more. This year I followed her recipe exactly, putting the nuts in the frosting. Over the years I had morphed it to follow my zucchini bread recipe, which I’ve also had for years. It was given to me by a colleague of my mom, Vivian Dobur, who use to grow enormous zucchinis in her garden every year.

The zucchini bread recipe saw a lot of action this year too. My friend, Carolyn owner of Perfect Brew catering, asked if I could make it in tiny pans that would allow her to include it in a gift box she created called, Making the Holidays Bearable. I think she may have birthed another side hustle for me. Typically I have two versions of the bread raisin or pineapple walnut. Given nut allergies in some people we stayed away from that one, but a few months ago when I had a taste for some bread I stumbled across a combination that is to live for, cherry chocolate. I ended up making more of it and actually selling it to other friends. I’ve been encouraged by those friends to market the bread to local restaurants and coffee shops, so I’m strongly considering it. I now have three sizes x-mini, mini, and regular, which I’ve priced at $4, $8, and $12. Not a killer profit for me, but at this stage I just like that someone loves something else I created and it’s worth exploring since Covid is forcing me to reinvent myself.

Living A2

In regards to the gift for myself my living room is comfortable, but it lacked a coziness that made me prefer to eat dinner on a TV tray in my master suite while watching TV.  I was spending too much time in my master, so I decided it was time to make my massive Rookwood fireplace (100″ wide, 60″ to top of mantle) functioning.

When I bought my front door lock set at Bona Hardware in Oakley two years ago I noticed they sold log sets. Remembering this and the great service they gave me I decided to get pricing on their units. Guy, my sales clerk, showed me a couple of options. I was looking to spend as little as possible. The opening, which was only 18″ deep and 39″ wide at its narrowest point and the existing location of the gas line (hole for gas line was there when I bought house) became the driving factor. I selected the vented Rasmussen Cross Fire log set in a sand pan with manual ignition. Guy connected me with a plumber, Lyons Plumbing and Heating, they frequently partner with on fireplace installs.

Gary (owner) and his son Joe came out to access my situation and give me a quote, which I accepted. Given I had already paid my HVAC company a similar amount to run the gas line two years earlier I thought their rate seemed high. I have no point of reference to compare and I wanted it done by Christmas, so opted to trust the referral and not obtain other bids. They returned on December 22 with the third member of the crew, son/brother Matt, and got to work. I already new my HVAC company had not installed the gas cut-off in the right area. They put it in the fireplace and code requires it to be outside. I was fortunate the City inspector didn’t flag me for it at that time. I bought the correct part months ago and was waiting for this moment to have it installed. I selected an oil rubbed bronze finish since I knew it would be located in the floor.

Gary and sons did a great job; I’ve found another reliable plumber. They discovered that my HVAC company had failed to replace a key 1′ section of iron pipe, which needless to say really annoyed me once discovered. They had put new pipe and valve in the fire place, but the 1′ section that ran underneath, accessible in the basement, they did not replace instead only connecting a new iron pipe line to it that ran back to the gas meter. That 1′ section was completely clogged, so clearly they never bothered testing their new line. The pipe was hard to access. Gary and his sons spent an hour working to free it, which is probably why the other company ignored it. I’m so grateful they just didn’t give up, since running new pipe was not part of their bid. I had to pay an additional $100. After about 3 hours of work my gift to myself was up and running. That first night I wore my mother’s robe and Bombas gripper slippers while enjoying hot tea from Churchill’s Fine Tea laced with brandy, ice cream, and a Sugar Tin mixed berry hand pie. I think I’ve fallen asleep on my sofa (which isn’t a comfy couch) every night since.

Sit to Stand DIY Desk

I needed to prove to myself I could make a table. I’ve shared many times that I had planned to make my own dining room table and office desk from the wood of trees that were once in my backyard. My dinning room table turned out absolutely gorgeous, but it was not done by my hands alone. At the makerspace I joined I got a lot of help from one of the members, Kendall. He showed me the ropes on running my wood through the joiner and planer. Unfortunately Covid-19 hit and the shop was forced to close. I used my stimulus check to pay a professional shop to finish what I started. My desk was an opportunity to do what I said I would.

My mulberry wood slabs had been in storage for almost two. The first step was cutting the crouch ends off. If they stayed whole I thought I could make some nice live edge end tables. All but one cracked in two pieces, so I’ll make more charcuterie trays.  Since the live edge is on both sides I decided to split the boards down the middle on the ban saw. Since I knew my cut was not straight I ran the cut side of the board through the joiner until it was even/flat. Once flat I could use the straight edge run the board through the table saw to cut the bark off the opposite. Some of the boards, even cut in half, were cupped so in those instances I ran the flat side through the joiner. Ultimately the goal was to get boards that I could start running through the planer to clean up and smooth out the surface. I also needed to get all the boards to the same thickness. My target size overall was 60″x30″x1.25″. The boards were just under 2″ thick when I started.

I never got all my boards the same thickness, but I was afraid I was getting them too thin (I was was already under 1.5″ and I knew more planning and sanding would be needed), so I decided to stop and and start filling the cracks and holes with epoxy. At this stage I could already tell I was going to have some gorgeous boards.

My dining table project had already taught me what to look for. Because of that my original design idea changed. I had boards between 3″ and 6″ in width and some had sap wood showing. I didn’t want to loose that, so instead of having uniform boards for my center panels I decided to have staggered sizes; 6″ in the center, 4″ on each side of it, and then 3″ on each side of the 4″. I’d have two, 20″ x 20″ panels running horizontally separated by a 6″ board running vertically. With the boards arranged it was time to glue up the two 20″ x 20″ panels.

The glue up went well. I decided to make another design change. I had a scrape piece of walnut from my table, just enough to create some 1/2″ strips for accents. Adding the strips would take me over my 60″ finished width, so I had to run my 20x20s through the table saw. I totally ignored the “measure twice cut once rule” as on the first board I cut off too much. The end result is my final table top ended up only 58″ long. With the walnut strips cut it was time glue up the full center panel with the walnut accents. Once that was done I was ready to glue up the outer boards.

The finished table was very uneven, which I knew would be the case since my boards weren’t the same thickness. To correct the unevenness problem I decided to take the CNC router class and use the CNC machine to smooth out the table. In the class you learn how to make a sign while get the basics for running the machine.

Making the sign did not translate exactly to the steps needed to smooth out my table, but fortunately the staff doesn’t let you go solo on your first solo use. Unfortunately the person that helped had a completely different way of operating the machine from what I learn in class making me even more confused. My biggest fear was that I’d take off too much making the table too thin. I started with the bottom as the boards on that side were most out of alignment. I set the machine to remove 1/16″ with a CNC Spoilboard Surfacing/Slab Flattening Carbide Router Bit 1/2″ Shank I purchased from Amazon. It went great, but was not 100% flat. After the first pass I was on my own, so I decided to flip the table over to smooth out the top. Good thing I did as my second pass did not go as well. I set the z-stop wrong and it took off more than my 1/16″ target. It made the top smooth, but I was at my 1″ minimum finished thickness. I stopped after two passes, leaving the underside as is. It wasn’t terrible, but far from perfect.

The next step was giving my top a finished edge by using a 5/8″ round-over router bit and hand held router along the edge. With that successfully accomplished I decided to do all the sanding at the shop to save my house from the dust. I started with 60 grit and progressed to 80, 120, 240, and ended with 400. I’ve learned that the higher the grit the smoother the surface, but the higher grit also closes the pores and impedes oil absorption. I used the paper I had on hand, but for a future project I may stop at 320 grit because I think oil absorption is key to bringing out grains of the boards.

I took the board home and started the oiling process. I learned about a brand of oil called Walrus Oil from a blog site I follow, April Wilkerson, when she shared a YouTube video about floating shelves she was making. When I went to their site I saw they not only had the cutting board oil, but a Furniture Finish Oil also. I decided to try it and their Furniture Wax Finish and Polish. I put two coats of the oil on the bottom of the table. The wood came alive and I knew then I had created something really special. I was anxious to attach the the top to the Fromann Electric 3 Tier Legs Dual Motor Desk Base – Sit Stand up Standing Height Adjustable Desk Frame I purchased from Amazon.

The first frame I received was defective, the holes were mis-drilled, so it could not be put together. I wrote a negative review on Amazon with pictures and returned it with plans to purchase one from a different manufacturer. Fromann read the review, reached out to me, offered me a full refund and a new frame. Now that is what I call great customer service. At this point my only investment in this project is my time and the cost of the Walrus Oil. The new frame arrived, went together with ease and the screws I needed to attach the top to the frame. It works flawlessly. I programmed three preset heights, sitting normal, sitting high, and standing. I wrote a new review, giving the product 5-stars. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy another one.

I applied three coats of Walrus Oil to the top, but I wasn’t happy with it. After each 24-hr dry period it still looked dry, so I decided to apply a coat of Danish Oil, natural, that I had used on my headboard. It looked better, but dried to the same sheen as the Walrus Oil. Since I had it I used the Walrus Oil Furniture Wax and Polish as my final coat and called the project a wrap. Sanding to the right grit is definitely key to using an oil finish with wood. I like that Walrus Oil is a 100% plant based product. I had always used a satin finish when I used poly products. Walrus Oil dried to a matte finish, so that is also why I thought it looked dry. I’ve purchased their cutting board oil and wax for my charcuterie trays I’ll be selling. I even bought a case of their 2 oz bottles, which will go with each tray purchased.

Sit to stand desks retail from $500 on up for mass produced models. Without the frame refund I would have had approximately $375 in hard cost. I probably spent about 12 total hours working on it over the20201204_112536 course of three weeks. You spend more time waiting for stuff to set or dry. I think Sista Girl with Skills furniture line has been born. I have two more slabs of mulberry left, plus the crouch that didn’t break. I’ll be partnering with Anna Petersen, the young lady that welded the stand for my sink, to hopefully make two live edge console tables and one end table. I need to do a better job with the CNC router if we’ll have a real shot.  Man I wish I had kept more of that mulberry tree.

Charcuterie Trays For Sale

20190619_181337From the crouch of the mulberry slabs left from my desk project and the last slab of walnut from my dining room table project I have created eight mulberry and five walnut charcuterie trays of various lengths, widths, and thicknesses, which I’m selling. Prices vary by size, but range from $50 – $75. This post has the first six ready for purchase via PayPal. All boards will be marked with the SGw/S (Sista Girl with Skills) brand. Free local delivery (within 20 miles of 45225).Shipping available in the US at just the cost of postage.

Each tray is unique, one of a kind, be the first on your block with a Sista Girl w/ Skills original.








Furniture Repair

Long before a friend coined the phrase Sista Girl with Skills to describe me I have been doing projects for Funmi. We met in 2014. She was a client contact, but our business relationship has morphed into a friendship. DIYing is in my DNA, I can’t talk about myself without talking about a project I’ve tackled and Funmi listened with earnest. On one occasion, after we had finalized a hotel contract, she asked if I would be willing to come to her home and look at a soap dish that had come out of the wall in her guest bathroom. I said sure, but I had an inclination that this could be a serious problem. I was right. Her grout had failed, water was getting behind her tile and mildew had started infesting the wall. With just my hands I was able to pull tiles surrounding the soap dish off. The correct fix resulted in my removing tile up about 4′ from the tub, replacing rotted drywall with cement board, and reattaching all of the original tile and a new soap dish. I am still amazed I did not break one piece of her tile giving me the ability to reuse all the original tile.

That first project then led to me putting new flooring in that same bathroom and her master bathroom. Both suffered from the 70s design choice of putting carpet in bathrooms (lets hope that never returns). She and her husband were considering downsizing and saw the carpet as a negative for putting their house on the market. They didn’t want to spend a lot, so we found a peel and stick, groutable, Armstrong Flooring product at Lowe’s. The inside projects led me outdoors where I replaced rotten boards on her deck, did an improvise to cover holes caused by birds on the front of their shed (I covered the holes with a 2x8x16′ board) and replacing rotten wood around the shed’s windows with a plastic wood product. Sista Girl was born six years ago, she just didn’t know it.

Now that Sista Girl has been revealed, Funmi sent me a text to see if I could repair her kitchen table set. The set was sturdy, made out of MDF (medium-density fibreboard, an engineered wood material) that had the design applied with a coating of resin or epoxy. From visual inspection it looked flawless, but over the years of moving it around the screws holding the table and chair tops to their bases had stripped because they were screwed directly into the bare MDF (a flaw with using MDF to build furniture). Her brother had the same problem with his table set and someone attached plywood to the tops to fix the problem and she sent me his pictures to see if I could do the same.

I think this is the easiest project Funmi has ever asked me to do. I made the familiar drive to Springboro and brought home the table and chair tops and one chair frame. I took some measurements and went to Home Depot and bought one 4’x8′ sheet of 3/4″ sanded plywood that I had them rip down into sizes that would fit in my car. I decided to make a 24″ circle for the top. Instead of attaching with screws (which is what it looked like her brother’s repair person did) I attached my plywood with Loctite PL premium construction adhesive. The original screw holes had created a raised surface at each location, so to smooth it out I ran my hand planer over each hole. Once the adhesive was applied I used my window weights to press down and let it set up overnight. I purchased SPAX#8 x 3/4 in. Philips Square Drive Pan-Head Full Thread Zinc Coated Multi-Material Screws to reattach the tops to the frames.

The chairs took a bit more effort. I traced its shape onto the plywood and cut it out. Noting where the frame hit the seat, I decided to decrease the size by approximately 1.5″. Once I was happy with the size the first one became the template for all the seats. I used the same process I used for the table top, but this time I added the SGw/S brand mark. I totally forgot I had it from the charcuterie trays I had made as gifts last year. In addition to repairing the table set, I facilitated the repair of a ripped screen by taking it to my neighborhood hardware store, Camp Washington Hardware. Not sure how a screen at least 15′ off the ground got torn, but I was happy to get it repaired for her and only passed on the repair cost of $15.09.

With that the first official Sista Girl with Skills contracted project was complete. For now I’ve set my labor rate equal to what I paid other independent contractors that charged me by the hour, $30 per hour. It’s a starting point, not an ending.

Phase One – House Restoration 100% Complete

In September 2017 I purchased a 1924 Cape Cod styled home from the Community Board of Camp Washington. I searched almost a year with my agent Steve Petersen before this opportunity presented itself. I toured the house with Joe Gorman, former Camp Washington Board Executive Director, when another couple was going to purchase it. The vision for its restoration came to me during that tour. Almost everything I envisioned that day has materialized. It took three years, but my restoration journey is 100% complete.

I watch a TON of HGTV and DIY shows and I fancy myself an “advanced DIYer”.  I knew I wanted my first house to be a fixer upper, so that I could put my mark on it. I was empowered and emboldened by their shows to think I could handle a renovation project. Yes, this house was a bit more of a project than I set out to find. Interior design I did not consider one of my strengths. I spent the first 53 years of my life living in what my parents created. I didn’t know my decor style, so their network shows helped me find it. I enter their home giveaways all the time, but it was the 2017 Urban Oasis Giveaway that I fell in love with and it inspired almost all of my exterior and 1st floor interior color schemes. The pink door was my fastest departure, couldn’t do it. These are pictures of the areas I copied most:

I’ve already been asked if there is anything I’d do differently. I was able to quickly respond with one item, but there are three. I would have added a small can light above my stain glass window, similar to the one I put over the kitchen sink, so that window could stay illuminated at night. It’s one of my favorite original features of the house saved thanks to Architectural Art Glass Studio. I would have returned lights to the 1st floor bedroom closets. All three of the closets were reduced in size for duct work or a pocket door addition, so I didn’t think a light would be needed. I was wrong. The final item is I would have found the money and allowed Tiburon Energy to do foam insulation. I believe my master bedroom would have much better temperature regulation and I’d have less air seepage around my outlets if I had gone that route. It would have been an $8,000 investment that would have paid off long-term with energy savings.

Any regrets, many, but would I do it again? ABSOLUTELY! I shed a lot of tears and weight; not everything went according to plan, but it was a miraculous journey that I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to take. My life had purpose for the last three years. I learned and grew in so many areas. I’ve written this before, but what I’ve discovered is that at age 53 I truly enjoy working with my hands. I have a connection with the craftmanship that goes into old homes. I want to honor it and enjoy bringing it back to life. Call me weird, but my house spoke to me throughout this journey; she (her name is Janet, after my beloved mother) gave me a supreme sense of appreciation for saving her. I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback from my neighbors, which is also humbling and appreciated. This house was an eyesore on the street for a very long time. I learned that the last owner actually used the backyard as a junk yard, which now explains why I dig up so many random car parts whenever I do yard work.

20201109_091635On October 24 I hosted another open house to show off the finished project. Once again I forgot to take pictures, but about 30 people came through and each got a souvenir bottle of hand sanitizer (making personalized hand sanitizers may become my new side hustle). With the news coverage of Covid-19 cases escalating the week leading into it I’m shocked anyone came. Of those that did about 40% were first timers. A business client and her husband gave up OSU football to see her a second time. They’ve been steady followers of the blog. I loved having her filled with people and great conversation. She deserves more of that. I’ve restored a beautiful house. The hard part will be making it feel like a home, which is a struggle given one vision I had for my life in this house will never come to be. The day ended with some close friends joining me for dinner and a toast of the completion.  Hopefully the global leaders will quickly eradicate this pandemic, so that I can host more gatherings like that. 

No final post on a restoration is complete without before, during, and after pictures:

Exterior: The thing I’m most proud of outdoors is the front yard. Believe it or not the very first project I did at the house was using my drop spreader to treat for weeds, which outnumbered the grass. I’ve been regularly treating the yard ever since, either myself or with a service. I put down tall fescue grass seed the first two springs, wrong time of year as summer heat got me before it really established. Finally this fall I rented a dethatcher to pull out the matted dead grass and weeds and then an overseeder and put down approximately 25 pounds of seed. With the paint job, pergola, and landscape the house is stunning, but it will only look better next spring when the grass is really full and luscious.

Original Light Fixtures: The house had been striped of all copper and metal. The 20201116_074221looters took what they thought would make money at the scrape yard, but they left things of real value. All of the original moulding, unpainted, was still in the house and most of it was in really great shape, just dirty.  That is why I personally removed, labeled, and bound together rooms before my demo crew started.  All of the doors, even the ones too damaged to use, still had their glass doorknobs These sell for $20 and up on Ebay.  Many rooms still had original light fixtures, albeit covered in paint or nicotine. I was not expecting the brass when I boiled some in hot water to remove the paint. Every original light that was left I was able to salvage, clean, rewire, and reuse.

Entry Foyer: The doors, entry and closet, were the greatest transformation. I lived with that front door through one of the coldest winters in Cincinnati’s history. The idea to put wallpaper in the hall closet was one of my favorite suggestions from a friend. Hopefully guest will be inspired by the message. I found it on a site Murals Your Way. This will be my signature mark if I ever get to restore another house.

Living Room: This room is a blend of my new found style and my mother’s. The rug, sofa, and oversized chair I selected from Haverty’s, but the rest of the decor, was my mom’s. I told my salesperson that the lamp and table must stay. I discovered my mother and Elvis (yes Elvis Presley) shared the same taste as a similar white lamp is part of the tour of Graceland. The only thing this space needs is the gas log set for the fire place. Clearly large screen televisions were not on the minds of the original builders as the height of the fireplace forces the elevation of the TV to be too high. The work my father and I did to allow for the running of electric and cabling makes it look like it was always meant to be.

Dining Room: I love the placement of the original wall sconces in this room. They were originally located in the living room, but clearly three of them were missing based on the holes in the wall. Of course the biggest transformation of this room was the removal of the wall that separated the dining room from kitchen and hall. You may ask why I have pictures of the yard with the dining room? Well the walnut trees you see are what created my gorgeous dining room table. The legs I had a full year before I bought the house. I just thought they’d make a great table I’d like to make one day, little did I know. It truly turned out amazing and having the chairs match the legs the way they do……..my mind’s eye hit the bullseye with that project.

Kitchen: Even before I saw the HGTV house I wanted blue cabinets, my favorite color. That house just confirmed I was making a great decision. Without question saving the original built-in was the greatest accomplishment of this space. The profile of the doors from an almost 100 year old cabinet I was able to select for my brand new cabinets. I impressed myself with noticing and making that detail happen. I’m so grateful Sosa Flooring (Sergio and Martin) were able to restore the floors properly. Until I made that correction the kitchen was not enjoyable to use and it loomed as my worst contractor decision of entire project that I had trouble forgiving myself for making.

1st Floor Hall and Bedrooms: When I saw the hint of brick from the fireplace I knew something special was being revealed. My cousin and his friends used a hammer and hand chisel to uncover the entire brick wall. A coating of LastiSeal stopped the crumbling and flaking to leave me with a gorgeous statement wall. Nothing super remarkable about either rooms. The first acts as my office. I still can’t believe it took me two years of searching salvage stores in the region before I found a door at Columbus Architectural Salvage. It turned out to be the exact size and swing for my opening. I just had to strip the paint and stain it to match the others. The hall and guestroom are decorated in tribute to my mom, so they stand out as my favorite areas of the house.

1st Floor Bathroom: The demoing of this bathroom was the toughest part of entire house. The original tile was set in concrete and wire mesh. My cousin and his friends were put to the test moving the original cast iron tub. I had done tile work on a much smaller scale, so what I pulled off in that space still amazes me. I know a professional would have easily charged me $5,000 or more. My goal was to restore the original look as much as possible. I used 4″x4″ tile on the floor, repeated the chair moulding, used 1″ hex on the floor. The “rug effect” was a twist and challenge for a advanced DIYer. In retrospect I should have just gone with a gray grout throughout. Putting white on white and black on black was a nightmare to do. It turned out OK, but it was also the reason I moved into the house without a functioning bathroom for the first two weeks. Converting a $15 salvage cabinet door to a mirror and putting it on a barndoor rail for the medicine cabinet was one of my most creative moments in the whole restoration.