I think every one of us has at least one friend who can always recommend something awesome. I got a message from a friend of mine a while back telling me to watch Galavant because she thought I would get a kick out it. Lucky for me (?) the next day I was stuck with an especially clingy baby so I started binge-watching.
And she was right, it was awesome.
But really weird.
I’ll be completely honest, this is probably not for everyone. If you enjoy musicals, particularly odd musicals (think Spamalot) then you may be one of the few, the proud, the nerdy that this appeals too. It’s very tongue-in-check and full of innuendo. If you’re a big fan of musicals you may catch some parody moments mixed in. One the main characters is Timothy Omundson (Carlton Lassiter from Psych) and there are appearances by Anthony Stewart Head, Ricky Gervais, Jon Stamos, and Weird Al.
As my friend pointed out, it’s kind of miracle it made it through 2 seasons, but I’m still really bummed it was canceled. It does at least wrap-up reasonably well though.
Other things I binged-watched while I was out on maternity leave:
Would I Lie to You (You Tube)
Only Connect (You Tube)
Victoria* (Amazon Prime)
I tried watching Mindhunter (Netflix) and I got through the first season… but I dunno, it just didn’t suck me in like I thought it would. Everyone feels oddly flat and the main character’s kind of a prick.
I did plow through the second season of Stranger Things (Netflix) as soon as it came out. It was good, but it’s just so hard to top the first season. It definitely sets things up for more seasons though so I may never be able to cancel my Netflix subscription and pare down to just one streaming service (I have to keep Prime because 2 day shipping + baby = winning at parenting).
*I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m far more interested in British royals after they’re dead. I really enjoy The Crown (Netflix) too, but with Queen Elizabeth II at over 90 I figure that’s close enough.
A few weeks ago we decided to bite the bullet and replace our fridge and water heater. Both were quite elderly* and we figured it was a much better idea to proactively replace them rather than deal with the consequences of them dying spontaneously. We figured all the other appliances could wait to be replaced until they actually died.
Well, about 2 weeks after replacing the fridge, our dishwasher started leaking. Awesome. I swear they’re going to start greeting us by name at Warner Stellian soon…
While we were dishwasher shopping we also decided fuckit, let’s just replace the microwave too. Maybe if we replace the microwave and dishwasher with new (ie more efficient) models we’ll stop tripping the breaker when we run them at the same time.**
After much pondering, we picked out our latest batch of appliances and got delivery/install scheduled for last Tuesday. My mom is currently staying with us and watching Wesley during the day, so she got to be the one to field the delivery.
Being a weirdo, I get super excited about getting new appliances. I’ve also gotten spoiled over the past 5+ years of living with a dishwasher so the week without one has been a bit of a bummer. I seriously could not wait to get home and check out our new, shiny dishwasher.
Well, if you follow me on Facebook, you’ll know that this is what I actually came home to:
The delivery people came, hauled out the old dishwasher, but when they went to haul in the new dishwasher they discovered it has been significantly damaged. “Smashed in” is what I believe they told my mom.
So now we have a gaping hole where our dishwasher once was, which led to the following exchange with a friend:
Me: Do you like our new dishwasher?!
J: … Does Matt actually fit in there?
It’s a pity Mort doesn’t have opposable thumbs, because he hung out in this new “cave” quit a bit.
On the bright side though, our new microwave arrived that day and was installed just fine.
This gives us a 50% chance success rate with kitchen appliance delivery. Now, I’ve been out of school for a little while now, but I’m pretty sure 50% is a solidly failing grade.
A week after our dishwasher disappointment, we attempted delivery round two. Luckily, unlike with our stove fiasco, this was the end of it and we now have a brand-spankin’-new dishwasher.
We debated back and forth about the color a bit. All our other appliances are white, but I really wanted the dishwasher to blend into the cabinets. I also plan on keeping dark base cabinets whenever we do our big kitchen makeover. The color we ended up going with was “black stainless.” It’s not as industrial looking as true stainless and has more depth to it than plain black. I’m totally diggin’ it.
*Our existing water heater was installed in 1982–our plumber was pretty impressed it was still running.
**We also can’t run our toaster and electric kettle at the same time. Old houses are like a game of electrical Russian Roulette.
Have I ever mentioned Halloween is possibly my favorite holiday? I’m not into horror movies or haunted houses, but costumes + candy? Count me in!
Now that we have Welsey in our lives, we decided to rock the full family theme costume. Matt is a huge Charles Schultz fan (and St Paul happens to be his home town) so we went with a Peanuts theme.
Oh my god, it is so hard to get a good picture of everyone when there’s a baby involved….
One of the best things about this group of costumes is that it is super simple (and cheap!) to throw together. Plus, you can easily mix-and-match characters depending on kids and genders. We chose to go with Charlie Brown, Linus, and Lucy. Matt thought I should be Marcie (because glasses), but she’s less iconic* and would probably work much better if you had someone dressed as Peppermint Patty.
If I was a good blogger, I would have had our costumes done a month ago, and a DIY post up in early October, but I am nothing if not a procrastinator. Seriously, I’m just impressed I wasn’t still finishing them up on Halloween. I did take some pictures will working on them though, so I’ll have a DIY post up next year…. and hopefully a whole new set of last minute costumes shared on Halloween (we’re tentatively planning Star Trek for next year–Wesley Crusher, Beverly Crusher, and Picard).
*Even as Lucy I think only one person at the office knew who I was supposed to be. I even had a “Psychiatric Help 5[cents]” sign up at my cube. Keep in mind, St Paul has sculptures of the Peanuts characters EVERYWHERE. My boss thought I had just bought a new dress, because apparently wearing a bow on your ass is totally trending as everyday wear….
Hey hey, we’ve actually got some bedroom progress! At the time of writing this we don’t currently have a bedroom door,* and we have a house guest because that’s how we roll around here.
We’ve been meaning to replace our mattress for some time now. Not just because our existing mattress is older, but also because we’d like to upgrade from a full to a queen size bed. Both Matt and I have always had traditional inner spring mattresses, but this time around we were a little intrigued by the mail order, vacuum-packed, foam mattress trend. We ultimately narrowed it down to Leesa and Tuft & Needle (Casper and Purple were the others we looked into). Leesa had the benefit of also being in West Elm showrooms so we could actually test it out before it showed up on our door step. Now, pretty much all these mail-order mattress companies have a risk-free trial period so you can return it after trying it out at home too.** I still wanted to do a pre-test since I really had no idea what to expect with a foam mattress. We were ultimately swayed toward Leesa because West Elm was having a 20% off bedroom furniture (and mattresses!) so we got a pretty good deal on it.
We ordered a bed frame the same day (saaaaale!) and chose to pick it up at the store rather than paying the $150 delivery fee. This also meant we had to assemble the frame ourselves***, but since we’re IKEA pros we didn’t think that would be a problem (spoiler alert: it was super easy).
There’s really nothing to unpacking the mattress. Open the box, pull off the plastic wrap, unroll an unfold, cut away the vacuum packing, and watch it inflate. It actually inflated faster than I expected and looked more or less full size in a couple minutes (although you are supposed to leave it alone for an hour).
I’ve been sleeping really well on it so far. I happen to like a soft mattress and you do feel like you’re just sinking into this. Matt thinks it’s ok, but not great, so it all depends on what you like in a mattress. If you prefer a firmer mattress you could try Tuft & Needle since the reviews say they’re on the firmer side. One thing that’s been especially nice is that the foam has been awesome at absorbing movement so if Matt moves around at all I don’t feel anything (and vice-versa). The only weird thing is that the side of the mattress don’t have the same structure as an inner-spring so if you sit on the edge you sink down more than you would expect
*I mean, we have the door but it’s sitting on the porch getting painted.
**If you order from a third-party seller, like Amazon, make sure the trial period still applies. Apparently sometimes it does not.
***I’m supposed to give a shout-out here to our house guest who took over baby watching so Matt and I could deal with the bed frame and mattress (and obsessive photography). Thanks E!
Oh my goodness, my little peanut is 3 months old! At 15lbs 6oz he’s also not so little anymore. Some moms get weepy as their babies get bigger and bigger but I’m really excited that he’s more alert and able to interact more. The most exciting thing of all is that Wesley is usually sleeping around 5 hours at night!!!
Our little chunker currently enjoys having his noises repeated, listening to Matt play guitar, watching TV and video games (yeah, yeah, we’re horrible parents), kicking wildly at his baby gym, and fake standing (we support him while he pushes against the ground with his legs). We’re getting cuter baby coos out of him as well as more and more smiles (although he mostly resorts to RBF–Resting Baby Face). Wesley has also learned how to roll front to back (although he doesn’t do it with any regularity yet) and is getting a little grabbier with both toys and my hair.
He still does not like being hungry and hates having to burp. He also does not like his crib much which we’ll be trying to deal with before he starts daycare in a month. I’m officially done with my maternity leave, but my mom’s staying with us until November to ease the transition from starting work to starting Wesley in daycare.
Wesley has yet to show any interest in the cats, but Mort’s been acting like an older sibling with a new baby. He’s figured out places where we pay extra attention to Wesley and will hang out there (look at me! I’m a baby too!). He’ll play with the baby gym, lay on both our changing pads, play with Wesley’s toys, and, after watching us try and get Wesley used to his crib, has started jumping in there (although only when it’s unoccupied). Just last night I had to pull him out of the rock-n-play so I could get Wesley to bed. Schmutz on the other hand, fully recognizes when I have my hands full of baby and chooses those moments to misbehave and just stare me down if I scold her.
Hold on to your hats, this is a long one….
At 3 months in, we’ve had some time to evaluate our stash of baby gear so I have some suggestions for people looking to put together their baby registries. Keep in mind that different life styles will mean different types of gear–there’s no one magic list for everyone. Our biggest criteria was multi-functional pieces. I (of course) also wanted things that looked good–why do so many baby things have to look like a clown exploded on them?
Before I get started on the long list, I do want to point out that there’s very little you really need for a baby, but there are a bunch of things that will make your life much easier If you’re looking for extreme minimalism you really just need a safe place for the baby to sleep, a safe way to transport the baby, a way to feed the baby, and things to dress the baby in. I will be the first to admit that I am not a minimalist, but I also did not want to be completely overrun with baby gear (plus they grow out of stuff SO fast).
I’ve included links to the products for examples only. I am not affiliated with the companies selling the products.
Travel System (or infant car seat + stroller)
Rocker/Glider (or comfy chair of your choice)
High Chair (not essential immediately)
We opted for a travel system (car seat + base + stroller that all click together) and chose the Graco Comfy Cruiser. It’s at a great price point, fairly compact, and the stroller has a nice sized basket. I really like the Chicco Bravo Trio too, especially since you could break down the stroller so it would just be a car seat carrier. For us that one bonus feature didn’t justify the price difference though. Now, you could just get a convertible car seat that will last much longer, but being able to pop a sleeping infant from car to stroller without unstrapping them is REALLY nice.
My mom questioned if we really wanted a 30″ car seat vs a 35″ but here’s my logic: 1) Matt and I both have small cars 2) Neither of us is especially tall so we weren’t anticipating a super long baby 3) By the time Wesley outgrows the 30″ car seat he’ll probably be too heavy for us to really use the car seat as a carrier too so we’ll just switch to a convertible car seat and pop him in and out of the stroller.
What to consider in a travel system:
30 vs 35″ car seat (is your family especially tall in general? Will it fit in your car(s)?)
How easy is it to adjust the car seat harness? (you’ll be doing a lot of adjusting–this is the one area the Comfy Cruiser fell a bit short for us, but it’s not that much of hassle)
Stroller/wheel style (are you jogger? do you like off-roading it? purely city use?)
Ease of folding/compact-ness (where will you be storing it when not in use, will it fit in your car(s)?)
Height (comfy for both parents?)
Stroller storage space
Parent tray/cup holders
Baby tray (do you want it to be fully removable?)
Matt and I both had different opinions when it came to baby carriers so we ended up getting 2–a Baby Bjorn Carrier One and a Baby K’tan. Men and women tend to naturally carry weight differently so this isn’t too surprising. The Bjorn was a little pricey, but we really liked that this model could go from infant to small toddler without any extra pieces needed. I liked the K’tan because it seemed less complicated than a Moby or Boba wrap and more versatile than a sling. It’s also much more compact than the Bjorn so I can fit it in my diaper bag.
Some of the best baby shopping advice I got was from my sister-in-law–don’t buy all the fancy gear. Pick a swing OR bouncer OR rocker… or skip it all until you know what sort of motion your kid likes. We got a Rock-n-Play which is seriously the only baby item that the internet agrees on. It’s worked out great for us so far! I also ended up borrowing a swing from a friend for him to try out, but his rocker is still his favorite.
Not (exactly) on the checklist is some sort of bassinet type thing. It’s highly recommended that babies share your room for a stupid long time, so you may need a sleeping space that fits in your room. I don’t think it’s worth buying a fancy bassinet, but you could see if you can borrow one from a friend or find one cheap/free on Craig’s List. You could also use a pack-n-play (some even come with an infant bassinet attachment), a rock-n-play, or a box. Yes, a box. The Twin Cities did a free baby box program this year so we have our very own European-style baby box. Wesley ended up preferring the rock-n-play though.
Although a high chair won’t be necessary for a bit, we still registered for one, but also chose one that could be reclined quite a bit for smaller babies (Safety First Dine and Recline). This way we could have a nearby, eye-level spot for Wesley at dinner if he’s awake and interested in the goings on. This particular high chair also works as a booster for kids who are ready to sit at the table properly so we should get some good use out of it. The one downside is that this particular high chair does not fold down. We have enough space in our dining room that this isn’t a problem for us, but it may be a deal-breaker for some people. There are also booster seats (with trays) that attach to regular chairs, and seats that hook onto the table itself.
Pack-n-Play–if you travel or want a baby “docking station” on a second floor, different room, or plan to travel
Play Mat/Baby Gym–you can also just use a blanket/carpet and some toys (We picked out this baby gym because it was bright and cheery, but didn’t look like a clown exploded on it. I also really liked this Jonathan Adler one #designSnobMom).
Second car seat base–if you frequently use multiple cars
Changing table–you can turn pretty much any surface into a changing table, heck downstairs we just change diapers on the floor! If you’re buying furniture think about multi-functional pieces–you can put a changing pad on a dresser or deep, short shelves and save yourself some space.
Crib sheets (3)
Mattress Protectors (2)
Receiving blankets (4)
Muslin blankets (4)
I registered for a few different types of swaddle/sleepsacks since I didn’t know what would work for us and Wesley. Don’t go too crazy with the advance stock-piling though because some babies hate being swaddled. Personally I’d suggest starting off with 2-3 different ones in newborn/small sizes. So far my favorite has been the Halo sleepsacks–they have a lightweight muslin option that has been great for summer and they’re pretty flexible so you can do a full burrito, hands out, or arms out swaddle depending on what your baby likes. Now that he’s bigger and it’s colder we have one fleece sleepsack and one 100% cotton one (plus and extra cotton one o keep at daycare) I’ve also heard people highly recommend the Miracle Blanket and Woombie.
You probably will want to somewhat stock up on blankets since you can use them for everything! Keeping baby warm, spill guard, sun shade, nursing cover…the possibilities are endless! I’d start out with at least 3-4 muslin blankets and 3-4 flannel receiving blankets (both seem to frequently come in packages of 4). I’d probably only register for 4 of each because people may (very likely) gift you even more.
White Noise Machine–baby might not care or be fine with just a fan
Nightlight–useful for late night changings/feedings
Burp cloths (10+)
Milk storage (if pumping)
Bottles are another thing you may not want to stock pile right away because babies can be picky. I’d suggest 2-4 different types of bottles (and only 1-2 of each type depending on how they’re packaged). Think of it as creating a sampler pack until you know what your baby actually likes (this is another good time to try and borrow from friends to do a test run before stockpiling your own.) . We’ve had good luck with the Comotomo bottles (which is good because I totally did not follow my own advice here). We’re combo feeding breast milk and formula and we really only use 2-3 bottles at home with another bottle stashed in each diaper bag. We hand wash them between uses and I’ll toss them into the dishwasher if we’re already set to run it. If you’re only breast feeding or only bottle feeding (or your daycare wants you to provide a certain amount) you may need more or less. FYI: If you’ll be putting your baby in childcare, many places won’t take glass bottles.
If you’re breastfeeding and pumping you may want to think about milk storage options too. I really liked the Tomee Tippee storage bags because they can connect to most pumps with some inexpensive adapters, and are nice and compact for storage. Tomee Tippee also has a bottle line that’s compatible with them if you don’t want to be pouring them into a separate bottle… but personally I’d stick that in the “Arguably Useless” category.
A word on burp cloths: you can probably never have too many! I keep one stashed everywhere we might be feeding so we never have to go hunting. They make some cute patterned ones, but I like the basic, cloth diaper option. If you’re crafty you can cute them up on your own too. I didn’t bother because “spit-up” is really just a euphemism for baby puke.
If you’re looking towards the future you may also want to consider some baby spoons and small bowls. Most babies start solids between 4-6 months and the time will go fast! How many you need will depend on how willing you are to hand wash or how often you run your dishwasher.
Nursing pillow–you can use a regular pillow for extra support, or just hold the baby (I do love my Boppy though)
Nursing cover–you may not care/only use bottles when you’re out or you can use a muslin blanket
Baby food storage–if you’re making your own baby food you can just freeze it in an ice cube tray and defrost as needed (I’ll still probably be picking up some of these Oxo Blocks for on-the-go usage though)
Bottle drying rack–we just use our regular drying rack
Bottle warmer–we used an electric kettle and glass measuring cup to make a water bath (never use the microwave). If you want a bottle warmer, just make sure it fits your chosen bottles.
Sectioned formula dispenser–if you’re using formula, you can portion out a few bottles worth for your diaper bag so you don’t have to measure on the go.
Formula mixer–powdered formula dissolves SO easily, just dump it in the bottle with water and shake.
Baby food maker–if you want to make your own baby food there’s no need to pay a premium for a baby-specific food processor. If you already have a food processor or blender you’re good to go, other just pick up any mini food processor.*
Fancy sterilizer–unless your baby has some crazy immune system issues, a good soap-and-water scrubbing should clean everything just fine. You can also periodically toss things in a pot of boiling water (double check that the material can take it, but most baby things can)
Hooded towels (2)
Baby shampoo + wash
A baby bathtub is probably the only thing that’s isn’t really straight forward in this category. I wanted a tub that would fit in my sink/on the counter so baby would be at a comfy (for me!) height during bath time. I liked how compact the Puj tub (or the Puj Flyte)was, but it seemed too big for our bathroom sink and too small for our kitchen sink. The Angelcare bath support jumped out at me too, but it was also the wrong size for our sinks. We ended up going with the Boon Soak bath tub. I thought it would fit in our kitchen sink, but I was wrong because our sink is set up oddly. Luckily, because it’s a tub and not just a support it works just fine on our counter too.
You may want to wait to pick these up until you find you need them.
Soft brush–if your baby has a lot of hair
Cradle cap brush/comb–if your baby develops cradle cap (flaky dead skin gunk on the scalp). Wesley had a very minor case of it and we cleaned it up just with olive oil and gentle massaging with a washcloth, but some babies get it way worse. Google it if you want to be kind of grossed out (don’t worry, it’s not dangerous at all, just icky-looking).
Changing pad covers (2-3)
Obviously you’ll need diapers/wipes/diaper cream too. Don’t get too many newborn sized diapers though–your kid will either outgrow them quickly or be born a monster (8+ lbs) and never fit them. For reference, Wesley was 7lbs 12oz when he was born and we switched to size 1 diapers around 3 weeks.
Because we have a 2 story house, we have changing stations on both floors. Wesley’s nursery has a full changing pad + cover, and downstairs we have a basket stocked with diapers/wipes/cream and a simple folding changing mat. Quite frankly you can change your baby on pretty much anything, but it’s useful to have something easily washable/wipe-able underneath in case they decide join in the moment.
A diaper pail isn’t exactly necessary, but something to contain dirty diapers is definitely very useful. I’m a fan of the Ubbi pail, largely because it doesn’t require specific bags. It’s also mostly steel so less likely to absorb odors than a plastic pail. Price-wise it’s not much different than a steel trash can, but seals better.
Diaper bags will be another pretty personal choice. Are you a travel minimalist? Do you like being prepared for every possible situation? I went with the Skip Hop Duo bag because it seemed like a nice mid-size option and was very well reviewed. One of my friends swears by the Ju Ju Be bags. I got Matt a Diaper Dude Sport (unfortunately I think this style is discontinued and there are limited color options available currently) bag for Father’s Day because every bag I liked he thought was too purse-like. I like our 2 diaper bag system because I always know that mine is properly stocked, it’s hardly necessary to have separate bags though.
Wipe warmer–I know some people who love their wipe warmers, but Wesley’s never complained.
Wipe container–Even though it is arguably useless, I still really like my Oxo weighted wipe dispenser. It just makes all the diapering supplies in the nursery look a little more stream-lined. If you order Amazon brand wipes they also come with a simple dispenser.
Covers for your changing pad covers–this is why you have the first cover, just pull it off and wash it. It’s fine.
I don’t have great advice for how many clothes you should have since it will depend on how messy your kid is and how often you tend to do laundry. Onsies and zip-up sleepers will probably make up the bulk of your baby wardrobe since they’re easy and comfy for sleepy babies. We lucked out and got a TON of hand-me-down clothes. If you’re starting from scratch, my best guess would be to start off with 6-10 onsies and 3-5 sleepers in each size, and maybe 2-5 leggings/soft pants for cooler months. If you’re gifted a ton of brand new clothes, don’t remove tags and wash everything all at once in case you need to exchange things for different sizes.
The zip-up style sleepers are especially nice because they’re really easy to deal with for diaper changes. Some people also really like the baby gowns because there are no snaps/zips, just elastic at the bottom. Neither Matt nor I was a fan though–the elastic was kind of a pain to pull up over wiggly baby legs for diaper changes and it just looked like Wesley was wearing a potato sack.
Baby socks are notoriously bad at staying on, but I will say that the Trumpette brand work pretty well (I just wish they sold some more neutral colored sets too). The only downside is that Matt has started calling them “Little Trump socks.” I’m pretty sure he only continues to do it because I glare at him every time. We’ve had some other socks stay on really well too, but since they were hand-me-downs I don’t have a brand to share.
We considered using Nest for a video monitor, but haven’t actually bothered getting any sort of monitor yet. If you do opt for a video monitor, just be warned you may catch a glimpse of a demon baby in the middle of the night. Once we move Wesley into his own room at night we may get a simple audio monitor, but honestly if you keep your baby close-ish (we keep him parked on the same floor, but don’t move him from room to room if he’s napping) to you during the day and their nursery is close to your bedroom (and you’re not a super heavy sleeper) you may not need a baby monitor at all.
I wanted the fancy infrared thermometer but both the baby care class we attended and our pediatrician both strongly recommended taking a baby’s temperature rectally for the most accurate reading. Sorry kid. There are some fancy nail clippers out there too, but we stuck with the basic again. I did however opt for the fancy Frida Baby Snot Sucker nasal aspirator. I haven’t had a chance to use it yet, but cold and flu season is now upon us…
Pacifer holders/toy clips
A few toys
Babies can be picky about pacifiers too since there are a couple different styles. You may also opt to just not use pacifiers. I originally got a Wubbanub since everyone seemed to love them, and they honestly work pretty well. The only down side is that the pacifier they come with is permanently attached and Wesley ended up preferring a different style (thanks for being difficult kid, that zebra was frickin’ adorable!).
I ordered a Nookum Paci-Plushie later on and it will work with the “button” style pacifiers (MAM brand) that he likes. The Dr Brown’s Lovies are even more flexible (you can pick up an attachment to work with the button styles), but they don’t have as cute of options (yes, my priorities may be a bit skewed). We also have a few “universal” toy/paci holders that clip on to his shirt, but the lovies are nice because he can hold them in place and if he spits out the paci it doesn’t fall far so sometimes he can even find it again on his own.
We didn’t go nuts with toys/teethers since it’s a while before a baby will really care. We picked out a couple brightly colored rattle-y toys, something to hang from his carseat, Sophie la Girafe, and I simply couldn’t resist this Batman teether (he also has a Batman onsies, hat, and shoes… and may even fit into all of them at the same time). Just remember when picking out toys that babies’ eyesight is really bad for while so focus on bright and high-contrast toys.
Ooof…. are you still with me? I know that was a long one. If you have any questions I’ll be happy to field them and if you have any favorite items feel free to chime in in the comments!
*I used to work in a kitchen at a nursing home; I am a goddamed pro at pureeing food. A cutesy face on a blender will not make it work any differently.
Gloves (optional, but stain is a pain to clean off of skin)
The hardest part of staining is getting the final color/finish that you want. I had to experiment a bunch with our doors so our first one took forever.
Round #1 was gel stain over the existing finish–fail. It didn’t cover well… it may have with enough coats, but it would have been really opaque.
Round #2: strip door, 2 coats of gel stain + polyshades–too opaque, splotchy, not lovin’ it.
Round #3: strip door, 2 coats of traditional stain + polyshades–still splotchy and uneven, whomp whomp.
Round #4: strip, traditional stain, “wash” of a darker shade of stain, and a regular polyacrylic–we have a winner!
I ended up going with a traditional stain because it will let the wood grain show through. It’s also super easy to use! Seriously, you can’t mess this up unless you walk away for the entire day.
I applied the stain with a foam brush (mostly because I’m lazy and didn’t want to deal with clean-up of an oil-based product). Working with the grain, brush on the stain in a heavy-ish coat. You don’t want to glob it on, but you don’t need to be super careful about evenness either. The longer you wait, the more the stain will penetrate the darker the finish will be–I waited about 5-10 minutes or so after I had covered the whole door.
Then you’ll want to come in with a clean rag and wipe off all the excess. You want to take off everything that hasn’t soaked into the wood.
To get the color I wanted, I did another coat in a darker stain. This one I rubbed on a thin coat with a rag (as opposed to brushing on then wiping off) because I didn’t want it getting super dark.
I followed up the stain with 2 coats of polyacrylic (I chose a satin finish to match the sheen of our trim paint). Like the first coat of stain, I used a foam brush to apply it. Unlike the stain, you will want to work in thin coats and try and apply it as evenly as possibly. You may see some bubbles in the poly, do your best to smooth them out, but small amounts will smooth out on their own.
For the bedrooms and bathroom with opted to paint the inside white like the trim. I always stained first because the stain is more likely to drip to the other side the of the door. I also chose to stain the edges of the door, but that shouldn’t make a big difference either way. I used a small foam roller (and a brush to get into the trim details) to prime and paint. If you’re doing a two-toned piece go carefully along the edges without too much pressure and you should get a pretty smooth edge. If you get too much paint over the edge you wipe it off with a rag.
Our doors took 1 coat of primer and 2 coats of paint (Benjamin Moore Advance, like our trim). I didn’t bother doing a poly coat on the doors because the paint I use already has a really nice finish on it’s own.
We now have all the upstairs doors refinished! I have no desire to change the downstairs doors so I completely done with doors! Wheee!
I would love to refinish the floors in the house to be similar in color (I love me a dark wood floor with white trim!*) but I honestly don’t know if we’ll ever get around to that. I do want to darken up the stair railings though since I think they look a little odd with the dark doors.
*Plus, based on the finish on our stairs I think the original floor color was quite dark.
Setting the scene: Matt’s upstairs working on putting the latch back on our bedroom door and I’m downstairs with a friend of mine playing along with Only Connect.*
Me: Did you just hear Matt?
E: I don’t think so? …Maybe he was calling for help because he broke his hand.
Me: But if he had a broken hand he could still come downstairs for help.
E: Maybe he broke his leg…. But then he could still at least crawl closer to the stairs and yell louder.
Both of us continue watching Only Connect.
A while later Matt comes down and joins us.
Matt: It turns out this lock has a “feature.” If you push this bit in… Demonstrates and shows that part of bolt will pop out, even if the knob was in the “unlocked” position. Well, I didn’t know this and I closed the door.
Me: And you locked yourself in the bedroom?
Matt: And I locked myself in the bedroom.
Me: Ah… were you yelling for me earlier?
Matt: Yes, I was hoping you’d be able to help me get out.
Me: I thought I heard something. We figured if you really needed something you’d keep yelling.
To be fair, I was snuggling a sleeping baby and didn’t want to disturb him and I didn’t think Matt was up to anything inherently dangerous. I also didn’t realize that locking yourself into a room when the lock doesn’t even require a key was even an option. It was, however, our specific choice of lock that led to the problem in the first place.
The door originally had a deadbolt installed on it and it was just chunky and ugly. “Low-profile” deadbolts apparently don’t exist (except some super-mod and silver varieties), but I did find a pocket-door lock in oil rubbed bronze that would fit the existing hole and blend into the new finish. Instead of a key you can unlock it from the other side with a screwdriver (high security was not a concern of ours for an interior door lock). Because it’s designed for a pocket door however, part of it pops out so you can pull the door out of the pocket in the wall…. but if that bit’s extended it will act like a lock on a swinging door.
*Holy crap the puzzles are hard. It’s even harder because there are a number British and European references that I’m not really exposed to in the US.
Coarse, Medium, and Fine sandpapers (roughly 80, 150, and 200 grit)
Alrighty, by now you should have bare wood, but it’s still probably seen better days. If you have weird white residue in spots, don’t fret.
See? It happened to me too and it’s nothing to worry about–just dried up bits of stripper that didn’t get completely wiped off. It will come right off with some sanding. It can be washed off too, but you need to sand anyway, so why make extra work for yourself?
I started sanding with an 80 grit paper and my palm sander (I still used a sanding block and loose sand paper to get into the smaller and more detailed areas). The coarser paper will even out any small scratches in the surface and also take off any tiny bits of varnish you may have missed with the stripper. When sanding, always sand with the grain of the wood as much as humanly possible.
After going over everything with 80 grit, dust everything down with a tack cloth (an ever-so-slightly damp rag works too). This is when I inspect for any significant gouges. Since these doors are old I wasn’t aiming for a perfectly smooth surface. That just feels disingenuous. I did however want to patch the worst of the worst. Some of the doors had dog scratches down the front. One had NO carved into it, probably by some angsty asshole teenager. Several had assorted old screw holes. These were all things that I didn’t really feel added to the character and would need to be filled in.
Using wood filler is easy, blob it over the hole/crack/gouge then use your putty knife to scrape off the excess. Set the edge of your putty knife flat against the surface and with a firm, even pressure pull it over the putty you laid down. It sands off very easily, so don’t panic if it looks a little lumpy. Also don’t panic if you didn’t completely fill in the hole–let the first layer dry and add another.
If you’re going to be staining, make sure to use stainable wood filler. I’ve tried a few different kinds and my favorite so far is Plastic Wood. Don’t bother buying a giant tub though. It dries out fairly quickly and is difficult to work with if it gets too dry (I’ve had the same issue with other fillers I’ve tried too). Personally I also think a metal putty knife works better for wood filler, but you could definitely use a plastic one if that’s what you have.
Now that all your holes/dents/gouges/graffiti are all filled in, it’s time to sand with a medium grit paper. I used 150-120 grit,* again with my palm sander. This will smooth out your 80 grit sanded layer and smooth out any blips left from the wood filler. If you find areas that need a filler touch up, dust them off, fill again, let dry, and sand.
When sanding over the filled spots you want to remove an filler that’s sitting on the surface and leave only the filler left in the divet. Pretty much just keep sanding until you see the original shape of the hole you filled.
Finally, I went over everything with a fine grit sandpaper (I used 200 grit). I chose to used just a sanding block instead of a palm sander since all the real work should have been done on the coarse and medium sands.
At this point you’ll want to clean everything off really well. Vacuum, tack cloth, canned air–whatever it takes. If you find dust congregating in any crevices you can dig it out with a tooth pick. Basically you want your surface to be completely dust free before finishing it.
Up Next: Staining (or Painting)
* I had a mix on hand… have I mentioned I am SO not a professional?
Matt’s starting calling Wesley “Wessels” so I came to obvious (seeming) conclusion that he was having a nerd moment.
Me: Nuclear wessels!
Matt: *blank look*
Me: Nuclear wessels! … you do know the reference, right?
Me: The Voyage Home! Star Trek!! THE ONE WITH THE WHALES!!!
Why yes, I did get progressively more hysterical as I tried to explain. I’m pretty sure The One With the Whales is the official alternate title for The Voyage Home. I’m also sure I’m not the only one who would immediately think of this scene after hearing the word “wessels.”
And for the non-nerds out there, if you’re wondering why this is such a well known part of the movie, keep in mind that it came out in 1986.
During the cold war.
And there’s a Russian guy wandering around then-present-day San Francisco.*
Asking for nukes.
*Yes Star Trek is based in the future, they time-traveled because they needed whales, ok?
Sexy music is optional, but I highly recommend it.
Anytime you want to refinish a piece of wood furniture with a different stain, the first step is to strip off the old finish. Even if you plan on painting you may still want to strip off the old finish if it’s lumpy. If you’ve been looking into re-staining a piece you may have discovered gel stain and its claims of little-to-no prep work. I’ll get into more detail on stain later on, but if you’re interested in preserving the wood grain you’ll want to skip the gel stain and read on. Like a lot of DIY projects it’s time consuming, but not technically difficult. Actually, it’s really hard to screw this up too badly at all.
In the past I’ve used Smart Strip but this time around I decided to give Citri-Strip a go. It’s still low odor and biodegradable, but it more readily available at pretty much every big box hardware store. The process is the same with both, just make sure to work in a well ventilated area with appropriate skin protection.
Paint the stripper on your surface in a fairly thick coat. If you’re using Citri-Strip do NOT use a foam brush, the stripper will start eating through the foam. Yes, I learned this lesson the hard way and inexpensive chip brushes are definitely the way to go. Do your best to cover the entire surface, but the Citri-Strip can be hard to see so you may end up missing something (but don’t worry!). For my particular project I found that waiting about 15-20 minutes after applying the stripper was perfect.
Once your stripper has kicked in (it will change color a bit and show some bubbling) it’s time to scrape it all off. I was working over a plastic (disposable) drop cloth, but I also lined a metal bowl with a plastic bag to catch most of the gunk. Use a plastic (less likely to scratch) putty knife to scrape off all the stripper and all the finish it’s taken off. Not gonna lie, it’s pretty gross. If you have any intricate corners or trim, you can scrape them out with a stiff scrub brush.
Side note: did you know it’s near impossible to find a putty knife narrower than 1.5″? If you have a raised panel door like I do the indents around the panels may be less than 1.5″…. argh! I eventually picked up 1.5″ plastic putty knife and used a hack saw to shave just a little bit off the edge–perfection for under $1 and about 2 extra minutes of work.
There will probably be some little bits of gunk that get left behind. If you let them dry out a bit you can brush the off with a clean scrub brush or vacuum them up with a shop vac. Then I looked for any areas that were still shiny with varnish and, if needed, dabbed on some more stripper.
Any areas that were proving especially stubborn I would scrub with a wire brush instead of scraping with a putty knife. This was especially helpful in the more detailed areas. I only used the wire brush on the toughest spots because it can scratch up the wood. Use it sparingly and only scrub (medium firmness, no need to put your back into it) with the grain and you should be fine. If you plan on re-staining you’ll want to make sure you have every bit of varnish off otherwise the stain won’t absorb into those areas and you’ll get an uneven finish. No bueno.