The multi-layered staining level of finishing the bathroom vanity

It’s done, readers!  I can tell you with absolute certainty that this was a tiring project, and I used up all my reserves of elbow grease.  I just had a massage appointment yesterday where I mentioned to my RMT that I might have some tension in my right arm and shoulder from all the sanding and staining I’ve done in the last two weeks (thanks for putting me back to normal, Carolyn!).  The kind of sad news is that after that appointment, I still had one more coat of stain and all the reassembling to do.  But without further ado, here’s the home stretch of my last secret project while Dan was out of town.

If you’ve never met me, you should know that I hate surprises and I love spoilers.  I’m the kind of person who looks up the ending to a movie before watching it, and I frequently read the last page of a book to make sure the main guy doesn’t die.  With that in mind, let’s stop beating around the bush and get right to the before and after.

This was my bathroom vanity on Tuesday April 1 when I started this project:

The BEFORE And here it is today, immediately after I put the hardware back on and I was feeling on top of the world.

FinishedBut it’s important for you to note that this was a long and tedious process, despite the fact that I’ve skipped ahead to the big reveal because I know you wanted to see it.

After reading through the previous post about my sanding adventures, I hope you felt sympathy shoulder aches and pains, and I know you were itching to see the second stage of the project.  To recap, after sanding the front of all the doors and drawers down to bare wood (or close enough to it), I roughed up the rest of the surfaces, vacuumed everything, and then wiped it all down with a tack cloth to remove the dust.  I took the doors and drawers downstairs to lay them out on a drop cloth, and the area around the vanity was tape off and covered with newspaper.

The stain I used was MinWax PolyShades satin finish in Tudor.  I knew from my research that a stain and separate polyurethane would have taken multiple coats of stain to get the depth of colour I was looking for, and then 2 or 3 coats of sealer to make it all nice and pretty.  Thus, it should have been no surprise to me that I was staring down the barrel of needing six coats of stain.  I kind of figured that, but I was thinking that two coats of the stain might be enough because the back of the can only suggested two coats.  It said you could do more, but this made me think that most users of their product chose to do only two coats.  LIES.

I cracked open the can of stain and spent a good few minutes stirring it up.  All of the pigment had settled to the bottom in a black-brown goopy lump, and the rest of the can was essentially just the clear poly.  Let this also be a lesson to everyone to stir the can throughout the application too, not just when you first open it.  I used a cheapo brush to apply the stain, and I did a nice even thin coat.

Door fronts get some colourIt took me until the second or third door front to get a handle on my preferred technique.  You have to work quickly to cover the whole surface and keep the edges of your just-painted stain wet, so you can run your brush over them a few times.  My favourite way to attack these bevel-y doors fronts was to do the horizontal pieces at the top first, then the four corners, making long smooth strokes up and down the side pieces, and then I filled in the lower section last.

The difference between the bare wood and one coat of stain:

Stained versus bare drawer This is where I realized that two coats was not going to cut it.

The stain over the wood filler was still very obvious.  I didn’t use a darker/tinted wood filler because I had white filler on hand, and they were such tiny little holes.  In all future coats of stain, I made sure to apply a thin but liberal coat to these areas.

Coat one over the patched holesThe rest of my week was a blur of scheduling my life around staining.  The doors had to be done front and back, so they took twice as long as the main part of the vanity and the drawer fronts.  I was initially doing one coat a day, usually after work, but I soon realized that would mean I couldn’t finish before Dan gets home.

Coat two colour was a smidge better, but it was very patchy and in the right light, it almost looked identical to the terrible orange stain I was trying to get rid of.

Coat 2
Coat three, and now it’s starting to look like what I imagined:

Coat 3
The patched holes are looking a lot better at this point too:

Better coverage over filled holesThe big ugly blemish you see is a gouged area of the vanity that is totally hidden by the toilet paper holder hardware, so I didn’t bother to fill it.

Coat four was done in the wee hours of the morning before I had to go to work, and it looked very similar to coat three:

Coat 4 Coat 4 coverageCoat five is where the magic starts to happen, and you know it only needs one more date with the brush to make it pretty:

Coat 5, still wetThe extra glossiness you’re seeing is because the stain is still wet.  It definitely doesn’t dry like that.

After coat six went on and dried, I brought the drawers back upstairs to be reunited with the vanity.  The doors still had several more coats and a few more days of being confined to the basement.

Drawers done!It was a really nice moment when I could see that the drawers matched the rest of the vanity colour.  I was afraid that they would somehow be more/less intense even though I did the same number of coats.

The colour matches, bonus!I did a few touch-up spots on the vanity front before I considered it done, so technically, parts of it received seven coats.  The front panel piece needed a bit more coverage, and so did a few spots on the bars at the front.

Since I knew the doors would be a few days away, once everything in the bathroom was dry, I put the pulls back on the drawers and slid them back into the vanity.  I also removed all the newspaper and green tape, and I reinstalled the toiler paper holder, to make my life easier.  It was three more days of no-doors on the vanity, and I just finished the last coat on the door fronts last night.

And here she is, all put back together again.
Buh-bye weird swirly decorative hardware platesAnd my toilet paper is back where it belongs!

Toilet paper is where is should be again! Before we get too la-di-dah about how nice it looks, I want to tell you about the struggle I had to put the hardware back on.

Oooooo, shinyThe screws that hold the hinges in place are the teensy-weensiest little screws I’ve even seen.  They also require a square-head screw driver, which in itself is not unusual, but the size of screwdriver it requires does not exist.  Well, it might exist, but I don’t have one.  When I took all the hardware off last week, I ended up using what looks like a screwdriver one would use to repair glasses, which had a flat-head on it, and I just jammed it in the square hole diagonally and it did the job.  Taking them out was easy.  Putting them back together was a chore and a half.

You guys aren't my friends, hingesFor the door fronts, I stained them with the pieces lying down flat on the floor, so some stain inevitably pooled in each of the holes for the hinges.  For the holes on the vanity, the holes are on a vertical surface, so there couldn’t be any pooling, and these were much easier to screw back into.  I ended up having to re-drill the holes on the doors to clear out any dried stain.  But I didn’t realize this until I tried to muscle my way through screwing the hinges back on, and now my fingers are killing me.  With such a tiny little screwdriver, my fingers ended up doing all the work, and I will most definitely have tender/blistered fingers tomorrow.  Oh well.  All back together.

You will also notice that I chose not to reattach the weird swirly plates that were behind the drawer pulls.  They remind me of the very-2001 tablecloths one of the caterers at my work uses, with a damask swirly pattern all over it.  Blegh.  Luckily, the knobs just held the plates in place and they were in no way attached to the rest of the hardware, so they are gone.

So what would I do differently if I did it again?  I wasn’t really happy with how the edges on the doors turned out, and I will blame the bevels.  While I did thin even coats, once you left it to dry, the varnish is like a slow-moving molasses, and it still ends up dripping a bit if your version of thin was not thin enough.  This resulted in less-than-smooth edges of the drawers, but I’m OK with it, since you can’t see them when the doors are closed.

Wonky edgesIsn’t she beautiful?

FinishedView from the hallway


About joeyandjanice

Two crazy kids trying to make sense of the jumble surrounding making the jump from renting to owning our first home. Join us here as we stumble towards the biggest purchase of our lives.
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3 Responses to The multi-layered staining level of finishing the bathroom vanity

  1. Angel says:

    That looks great! You did an awesome job! Crazy how much work that takes, but looks like it was well worth it. 🙂

  2. EatDrink&DIY says:

    Looks amazing! A job seriously well done. Wine time!!

  3. Beautiful! Yeah, staining is a big project. Did you really get away with just three coats? Lucky! I just did a vanity and it took SIX!! (And boy, am I sick of staining now, lol.)

    Yours came together great!

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