Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Island Paradise, Part 1

I’m trying to muster some warm and fuzzy feelings about this process with that lovely title. Truthfully, this project was a MONSTER and it has so consumed my husband that I am not allowed to speak of any other home improvement ideas while he is in the middle of it for fear of his head exploding. I love you, my sweet and oh so talented hubby, and I’m so sorry for getting you into this mess! Just remember there are sometimes lots of bumpy roads on the way to paradise.

I mentioned in our first house update that we wanted to convert this bar in our kitchen:
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 To something that looked more like this:
(source is Style at Home magazine)

We did some research and I started with a company outside of Austin that builds custom wooden countertops. (We thought wood would be more economical than granite while still giving us the updated look we were going for.) I gave them our dimensions and requests for routed edges and dark stained wood and the quote came back at $3,500. After I stopped laughing/crying, I hit the internet for more research. Word on the street web was that you can stain IKEA butcher block countertops, and they are super affordable. We read and read and read some more and finally decided to go with these:

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Ikea Numerar Counters, Beech 

The only problem was that IKEA doesn’t make the dimensions we needed. The deep option was too short, and the long piece was too shallow. In the end, we decided to get two of the long pieces and splice them together.  

Three things needed to be done to the counter tops before we began the process of staining them the color we wanted. First, we had to connect the two pieces. Then, we had to do the cut out for the sink. Finally, we wanted the counter to look more like a table top and less like a true butcher block, so we needed to route the edges. Brian could have handled the first two jobs, but we don’t have a router, so we needed to hire that part out. The carpenter that did the work for us gave us an AMAZING price for doing all three of these things, so that definitely ended up saving Brian some time and headache. This was his first and last break on this project!)

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When the carpenter was done, Brian set up shop in our garage and got to work. We researched some stain colors and techniques and purchased a few samples from Lowe’s & Home Depot. This is where things started to get CRAZY. All of the tutorials we read showed the Beech Ikea counters taking stain beautifully. We followed all of the steps including sanding and conditioning the wood, but these bad boys didn’t want to take the stain. We kept ending up with an oak look… which we did NOT want.  Luckily we had lots of scrap pieces to work with, because it took us FOREVER to find the right combination. Where we ended up was still not as dark as we were hoping for, but the Beech just wouldn’t take any more stain. The final formula to get the color we ended with was this:

1. One coat of Minwax Gel Stain in Red Elm. (We did not want a red tone, but for some reason, the Beech took in the most color when we used something with red dye in it. We got some dark saturation on this first coat, and then spent the next 4 coats covering the red to get more of a brown.)

2. Two coats of Minwax Gel Stain in Hickory.

3. Two coats of Rustoleum Wipe-able Stain in American Walnut.

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We waited at least 24 hours between each coat, and at least 48 hours after the final coat on each side before we flipped it over. In case you’ve lost count, that’s 5 coats of stain x 2 sides of counter top + drying time = two full weeks of just staining. Now you’re beginning to understand the “Brian’s head may explode any minute” comment above. He was such a trooper, and I motivated him by singing my own version of Dory’s Finding Nemo song (Just keep staining. Just keep staining. Just keep staining, staining, staining…) I’m not sure if it helped.

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Once ALL of that staining was done, it was time to drill the holes for the fixtures and prepare the counter for the sealant. To do this, Brian rigged up a crazy contraption to hold the new sink in place so that he could measure and mark where the holes need to go. He needed to drill for the faucet, the soap dispenser, and the air switch for the garbage disposal (one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard of.)

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I am so excited about the undermount sink - so purty!

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Again, we did lots of research before deciding on Waterlox. This was the product used by the company mentioned above to seal all of their wooden counters. It’s strong enough to be used on floors, and when used properly, it waterproofs wood surfaces. We went back and forth between the original glossy finish and the satin finish. In a perfect world, we would have chosen something in between the two. I read that the satin will lighten the finish a little bit. We had worked so hard to get to the depth of color that we had, and we didn’t want to take any chances of lightening the stain. That ended up being the deciding factor in choosing the original formula. 

 The Waterlox went on pretty easily. There was a little bit of a learning curve, but Brian started on the bottom so that he could perfect his technique before flipping it over and finishing the top. (He used a small, dense foam roller to apply it.) After even more research, we learned that we would need 3 coats on the bottom of the counter and 6 coats on top (because we would be using the wood in a wet area). Again, there was a minimum 24 hours drying between each coat. Are you noticing a trend here? The project that WOULD. NOT. END. I think people have built entire houses in less time!

The three coats on the bottom looked great – I ended up really liking the glossiness. We waited a couple days for that to dry, and then we flipped it over again. This is where Brian nearly lost it. I was worried that he might wrap a chain around it, attach it to the back of his truck, and drag it away from our house never to be seen again. He didn’t realize that when he was sealing the bottom, a small rim of Waterlox was forming around the sink edge on the top of the counter (which had been facing down at that point). LIFE/DIY LESSON – you should ALWAYS be mindful of and wipe the edges when you are working with something that is two-sided. I have to remember this when the time comes to re-paint the kitchen cabinets! 

What came next was pouting, sanding, more pouting, creative/artsy stain application, stomping around, swearing, and more pouting. Bri is some sort of magician, though, because although it’s not perfect, you have to know what you’re looking for now to find the imperfections. Poor guy. He now has to apply the six coats of Waterlox and then the Island top will be ready for installation. We both can’t wait for that day to come!

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