(Originally posted to Facebook on October 12th)
This vintage Ethan Allen cog table is probably the single most important piece I’ve ever done. And not for any of the reasons that you’d likely guess. Yes, it required a ton of repairs and a lot of work....but the timing of this piece and what it did to my heart and soul are why it will likely stick out to me for the rest of my career.
This was a custom refinish presented to me by my ex-husbands best friend. I accepted the job when life seemed to be running smoothly, family in tact, smiles on faces...and by the time the table was delivered to my home and work was to begin, my life was in absolute turmoil.
Here was a table, once beautiful, laying in front of me with a broken base, an unbalanced and unhinged exterior, blemishes too dramatic to ever hide from the world. And here was a girl who matched it perfectly. The first day it was in my possession, we sat on the floor together and shed so many tears. How would I ever repair the damage? The breaks were too lethal. The scars were too visible. We were weak. So incredibly weak.
I was told that trauma and heartache act as a roller coaster. The drops are incredibly steep in the beginning, gut wrenching, nauseating. But there are still ups amongst the downs, however few. As time goes on, as the ride continues, those ups become easier to climb, and the downs become less debilitating, and the calm between the two becomes more steady and more comfortable.
And so I started with the base. I cleaned her splinters, I sanded her rough edges, I drilled new, sometimes excruciating holes in her interior so I’d have space to add the dowels that would give her strength. I glued and bound and clamped her together....and I gave her time to heal. I puttied her wounds till they became invisible to passerbys, but still cast the tiniest shadow of her past to those who knew her best. And once the base was secure and capable of supporting her crown, I worked my way up. And then I got tired. So, so, tired. I wanted to be finished with the entire project and skip forward to the final reveal, the finished project where she could just smile again...so I cut corners and overlooked issues and skipped steps that were so incredibly crucial. And it showed. Her stained top was unevenly sanded, jumping from one grit to another without care or concern for the wounds left behind. And the stain made it obvious. In some places it soaked in like a sponge, becoming a dark, ugly mess...and in others it didn’t take at all, only showing her old self, her old scars, her old tones.
And so I began again. I stripped her down, and did the work the way I knew in my soul it needed to be done. I spent countless hours sanding her top, starting with the roughest, most damaging of grits....and slowly graduated through the ranks, getting her softer, more beautiful, with every pass. Never completely hiding her scars, but blending them into her new existence and letting them guide her path, but not shape her destiny.
When I finished this table, we shed more tears together. She was strong, oh my god was she strong. But she wasn’t new. And she never would be. She had structure and reinforcements and a newfound beauty amongst the blemishes. She could function, and she could flourish. And she did.
My work has always been a reflection of my soul, an outlet for my emotions, a diary of my state. I can show you pieces that are blended and wild and adventurous and I can map out the emotional turmoil I was enduring. I can show you pieces that are clean and sleek and rigid, and point out the events that led me to need structure. And I can show you pauses. Weeks where I haven’t picked up a brush. Weeks where it seemed crippling to put art on canvas. And that’s not something to be ashamed of. I haven’t been painting lately. Not at all. And that’s ok. I have been writing a lot, however. Filling notebooks with rambles that the world will never see. And that’s ok, too.
But today I stumbled upon these photos and I took a moment to be grateful...for the ability to let my soul out here and there, to be able to connect with a piece of furniture and allow its healing to guide my own. And this one did in so many ways. I’m thankful for the roller coaster, I’m thankful for the scars, and I’m thankful for anyone who crosses my path who can appreciate them without judgement.
Find your outlet, do the repairs, shed the tears....but always look back with grace and gratitude. Find the beauty in your scars and be proud of the ride. You’re still buckled in and that is monumental.
Which Top Coat Should I Pick!?!?!
You did your homework and picked out a rockstar paint product, you went above and beyond completing your prep work, you painted that furniture up in the most gorgeous color….now it’s time to protect your work. Wise Owl Chalk Synthesis Paint (like most chalk style paints) is extremely porous. While that is awesome for adhesion purposes because it’s going to stick to most things, it also means most things are gonna stick to it...so you’ve gotta protect it! You’ve got four options with Wise Owl when it comes to clear coating your paint: salve, wax, hemp seed oil, or varnish. Which is best? What sets them apart? Which should you choose? Let’s jump in…
Furniture Salve: Gives a smooth, water resistant finish, that is strong enough to hold up to average wear and tear. Super easy to apply (brush or wipe on, lightly wipe off excess). Contains hemp seed oil, which adds to its durability, but can cause slight yellowing over white paint. Has a million additional uses beyond painted furniture. Comes in seven scents.
Wax: Comes in three options- natural hemp wax, clear wax, and colored wax. The hemp wax is a beeswax base with hemp seed oil which provides additional durability. It has a slight yellow color due to the hemp addition, so it may cause yellowing to white paints. The clear wax is actually our furniture salve formula with no hemp seed oil and no essential oils. It is clear so it will not alter your paint colors, and it is food grade so it is perfect for cutting boards, butcher blocks, and cheese boards. The colored wax has a hemp seed oil base that currently comes in black or black walnut. It can be used as a sealant over an entire piece, or as an accent color to create depth and dimension. It also works great as a stain alternative on raw wood.
Hemp Seed Oil: Comes in a liquid form that is easy to apply and provides a durable, water resistant finish that rivals many polyurethanes. Food safe formula, perfect for cutting boards and butcher blocks. Provides a true matte finish, which is perfect if you love the look of chalk style paint! Can be used to wet sand your paint to a velvety soft finish and goes beautifully over raw or stained wood.
Varnish: Comes in matte and satin options. Is water proof when fully cured, outdoor grade, and incredibly durable. Made with crystal clear resins (as opposed to most top coats that utilize amber resins) so it is chemically incapable of yellowing your paint over time. It is our only water based top coat, but provides an industrial strength finish, suitable for high traffic areas, floors, and cabinets.
Have you tried any of them? Or all four? Do you have a favorite?? In my painting classes, we primarily stick with furniture salve because it is so easy to apply and doesn’t require extended dry time, so students can take their piece home with them at the end of the class. But for my business practices, I varnish every single piece to ensure the highest level of durability possible. (Although, I typically salve as well because its just so amazing and gives a clean, soft look.)
Coming up soon, we will break down each of the four options individually, going over ingredients, application processes, and tips & tricks to getting a perfect finish. Stay tuned!!
Want to know the key to getting perfect coverage, seamless blending, and a flawless finish? Let’s chat…
(This post is specifically about the chalk line, not the One Hour Enamel. That series of posts is coming soon! Before you paint, you’ll need to properly assess your piece and prep accordingly. I’ve done a full series on prepping, priming, and the reasons behind choosing Wise Owl...check the categories over to the right to catch up!)
-First things, first. You need paint. Wise Owl Chalk Synthesis Paint currently comes in 67 highly pigmented, off the charts, gorgeous colors...with a new seasonal launch of 9 additional options coming in just a few days! This isn’t your grandma’s paint line...yes, we’ve got plenty of neutrals, grays, off whites, and beiges...but there’s also every shade of blue you can fathom, hot raspberry pinks, neon yellows, deep jewels, and chameleon colors that defy pigmenting logic. If you like to experiment, the colors mix beautifully and expand your options indefinitely. So, figure out what direction you want to take your project, snag a beautiful color, and jump in. (Quick tip...once you get your paint, you may notice little black metal tabs securing the lid. Grab a small flat head screw driver or even your car key and pry the tab off, twisting from the inside of the can outward to remove. I’ll drop a video down below if you want to see it in action!)
-Give your paint a quick stir and pour it into a separate container. Wise Owl is made completely from scratch (it’s not a box store brand of latex paint with chalk additives poured in), so the minerals and chalk are incorporated from the very beginning of the manufacturing process and truly become part of the grind. This means you won’t have that sediment of minerals sinking to the bottom of your paint can like you’ll see with lots of brands...which means less stirring is required, shelf life is extended, and it helps immensely with self leveling. Give it a quick stir just to be extra sure everything is fully incorporated after shipping and then pour some into a separate container. Because Wise Owl doesn’t have the harsh chemicals and preservatives in it like the more toxic brands, it can be somewhat sensitive to bacteria and contaminants. So, instead of dipping a paint brush into your paint and risking contaminating the entire pint with potential ick that was on your brush (even just minerals from your tap water from the last time you rinsed your brush), pour some off into a separate container and keep the remainder of your pint pure.
-Get a good brush and soak it in water before using. You know I love Cling On. Like, I love, love, love them and will never go back to another brand. I’m going to do an entire post just about how amazing they are, but for the purposes of today’s chat, I’ll sum it up quickly...The Cling On brushes are made with synthetic bristles, attached with concrete resin so you will never deal with shedding. They are made with DuPont filaments, which means your paint will glide off the bristles with ease and clean up in a jiffy (just suspend the bristles in clean water and watch the paint fall right out!). And if you use the brush damp (not dripping! Soak it for an hour before your first use, and then squeeze all the excess water out) it will drastically help with the self leveling properties of the paint and give you a flawless finish.
-Once your piece is properly prepped, you’ve picked your color, and you’ve got a good quality brush, jump in with paint. With the chalk synthesis paint, your coverage will be amazing in just one to two coats...but I personally PREFER to do multiple, thinner coats, for a couple reasons. First, is dry time. The paint dries incredibly fast, which is awesome because it means you can complete your project in less time….but if you lay your paint on too thick, it can cause issues. Let’s say you apply one super thick coat instead of two thin ones. The surface area of your paint will be in contact with the air around it and dry faster than the underlayer that is adhering to your furniture. As the lower portion dries, the moisture will be released THROUGH the already dried upper layer and can cause quite a bit of crackling. Sometimes this is awesome, but if you are like me and prefer a sleek, modern, finish...this is a total headache. So be sure that your first coat is nice and thin, even, and has ample dry time before hitting it with a second coat. (Typically I suggest 4-6 hours between coats, but that can vary a bit depending on your temperature, humidity, and thickness of coats). The second reason I prefer two thinner coats is because it creates better adhesion. That first thin coat won’t necessarily be the prettiest (I call it the awkward teenage stage), but it will adhere much stronger than a thicker coat can….and that means the longevity and strength of your work will be drastically improved. Plus, it makes that second coat go on like a dream and the beauty of it over that first ugly coat is extra satisfying.
-Assess your work between coats. The paint is self leveling and because of that, nine times out of ten, I don’t need to do any additional work to smooth out my finish between coats. On occasion, if you find a brush stroke, a fuzzy stuck to your paint, or some other blemish, approach it before moving further. You can easily sand your paint to a smooth finish with fine sandpaper, but for most situations, a quick swipe with a baby wipe will actually do the trick without damaging your paint or causing any discoloring. The moisture in the wipe will reactivate the paint and allow it to smooth over, move around where needed, and level out again while drying. If you are blending colors, a quick light spritz with water is all you need to open up the dry time once again and allow the paint to blend flawlessly. (This is hugely thanks to the clay aspects of the paint, making it a dream to blend). You’ve got a decent window to play with (about 24 hours) before the paint starts the curing process...so within that window, you can easily reactivate the paint and adjust anything needed.
-Once you are satisfied with your coverage (typically two coats, on very rare occasion you may need three especially if using oranges or reds which are notorious for being tricky), allow it to dry completely (4 hours before waxing or salving, 24 hours before varnishing if you are worried about tannin bleed thru) and then apply a top coat. We will dive into all the ins and outs of Wise Owl top coats in a future post, but here is a quick run down: You’ve got three options - salve, wax, or varnish. Decide how much durability you need, how much water resistance your piece requires, the sheen you’d prefer, and how much dry time you can allow and then pick your weapon. The paint itself cures in 28 days and will actually provide a fairly durable level of protection all on its own. But due to its porous nature, I HIGHLY recommend protecting it further with a clear coat.
-Sit back and look at what you just created. It really is that simple. For me, prep work takes far longer than paint time, no matter how crazy of a finish I’m going for. The paint makes the work a piece of cake, as long as you give it a good surface to adhere to. When painting with Wise Owl, the hardest part is picking a color. And don’t ever forget...it’s just paint. If you aren’t thrilled, you can fix it. Spray some water on it and blend that bad boy up, or just paint right over it. Nothing is locked in until the paint cures so don’t let the nerves take over just yet.
Too Long; Didn’t Read:
-Pick your color
-Pour your paint into a second container to avoid contamination
-Get a good brush and dampen it
-Paint two thin coats, with ample dry time in between
-Add a clear coat to protect your finish
Up next? We’ll talk about all the options for clear coating your work. Why Wise Owl top coats are the best of the best, which option is best for every scenario, and how to properly apply for the best results.
And as always, if you have questions about the products, would like a custom color consultation, need a partner for trouble shooting...send me a note! That's what I'm here for! And if you are ready to jump in, click the "Shop" tab at the top of the page to swing and snag all your goodies. Every order ships for just five bucks, and every fifty dollars you spend gets you entered into my monthly drawing to win some cash to use on more paint!
(Originally posted to Facebook on September 27)
I’ve had to write two self bios this week...and while that feels uncomfortably strange, even for this girl who writes about pretty personal shit on a regular basis, it made me realize it’s been a really long time since I actually introduced myself here. I think the last time I did this, I had a few hundred people following along and most of them were already my friends and knew far more about me than I could fit in a few paragraphs. There’ve been quite a few new faces around lately and I’m going to step outside my little box and say hello....
So, uh, hello. 😘 I’m Sam...I’m the owner, designer, builder, and artist behind The Copper Elm. I have lived around the world, but for quite a few years have called Colorado my home. I’ve got two shops here, one in the incredible RiNo District of Denver and one in my quaint little town of Castle Rock. I sell paint (Wise Owl 💗🦉💗), refinished furniture, repurposed home decor, and odds and ends that I find beautiful, fascinating, or both.
I have a passion for teaching, but was recently told by a student/friend/human being that I admire incredibly that my teaching skills play a far second to my mentoring skills....and that was probably the biggest compliment I’ve ever received in this business. I get a rush from selling my own furniture but it doesn’t even compare to the thrill when one of my friends or clients sells a piece of theirs. I love nothing more than watching and (if I’m lucky enough) helping someone see their true potential, unlock their hidden artistic talents, and become the creative person they always dreamed they could.
My life is absolutely centered around the most important person on earth...my four year old son. He’s a spit fire, smarter than I can handle, funnier than he thinks, and cuter than anything in my world. He’s the reason I created this business and the reason I continue every single day. I’m a work from home mom who wakes up every morning and hustles from dawn to dusk so that I can support this teeny family of ours and watch him grow on the daily.
I’m a girl who wears her heart on her sleeve and that gets me into more trouble than anything else. (Well, besides maybe my mouth...that gets me into quite a bit of trouble too....) I love incredibly hard, even when people don’t deserve it. I’m one that forgives easily, and instead of harboring anger, I tend to put all my emotions back into helping those who hurt me. Often times, that leaves me with very little left for myself and that’s something I’m working on...
I’m in my mid thirties and it’s beginning to show in all the best ways. Ive got wrinkles near my eyes because when I laugh, I laugh with my entire soul and it tends to contort my face in ways that don’t show up so cute in photos. I’ve got scars on my body from the things I’ve conquered, and I wear them with pride because they remind me just how much I have survived and just how much more I can endure. I spent a lot of years apologizing for who I was, conforming to what others found to be appealing, and hiding behind lies that made me more attractive to the world. I’ve spent the last twelve months of my life changing that. I was hurt in ways that are somewhat unimaginable, even to myself, and they’ve taught me such a great deal about where I truly stand on this earth. If I love, I say so. If I’m hurt, I say so. If I feel indifferent, I walk away. It’s incredibly cliche, but life is too short to hold back and so, I don’t.
This is me. I’m just a girl trying to do something good in this world, hoping to find some folks to do that good with, while having a few good drinks and a lot of good laughs along the way....
If you’d care to share, I’d love to be formally introduced...who are you? Where are you? Are your wrinkles from smiles or frowns? Do you drink whiskey or wine (I switch back and forth depending on the day)? What brings you here?
Who’s ready to paint?? We’ve talked about priming your furniture, we’ve talked about what IS in Wise Owl paint and what so amazingly is NOT, we’ve talked about the two awesome badass chicks that run this incredible company...and it’s ALMOST time to dip that brush in and have some fun, but first, a necessity….
Let’s talk about that awful four letter word that we all despise: PREP.
Prep work is a beast that most of us hate to tackle, and plenty of folks skip altogether. But if you want your beautiful paint job to last...prep work is a non negotiable. I don’t care what any paint brand tells you, you NEED to prep. (And yes, I am fully prepared to receive major backlash for saying this, and I don’t care...I’m unwavering when it comes to prep work. Period.) Depending on the condition of your furniture, your prep work can vary quite a bit. You might get away with 20 minutes of light cleaning or it might take a whole week of work. You need to assess your surface, come up with a game plan, and jump in.
There are four main steps of prep work: Cleaning, Repairs, Sanding, Priming. Some projects require all 4, some are fine with just 1. You can never do TOO MUCH prepping, but you sure can cut corners and pay for it later. If in doubt, go above and beyond. It’ll make your painting a million times better, I promise. Let’s break these steps down and get to it…
-Cleaning: This is the one prep step that is absolutely necessary, NO MATTER WHAT. Dirt, grime, grease, oils, residue, cobwebs…they all can cause major headaches with your paint (the finish, the adhesion, the durability, etc). If you are dealing with a brand new piece of furniture, straight from the factory, made entirely of raw wood, with no sap, no splintering, no issues what so ever...you can likely get away with a dusting. But just about every other scenario will require some sort of actual cleaning products. Depending on how dirty your piece is, you may go the gentle route with warm water and some dish soap or a little more hardcore with an all purpose cleaner (I have two major preferences: LA’s Totally Awesome Cleaner from the dollar store - cheap, tough, but super stinky and not eco friendly or Whip-It from Walmart/Sam’s Club/Amazon - plant based, strong enough to eat straight through paint, eco friendly and non toxic). If your piece has a wax coating or was previously cleaned with Pledge or a similar furniture polish, you’ll want to grab Mineral Spirits and a scrubby pad or even better, steel wool...get to scrubbing and that top coat will melt away. If your piece has a somewhat shiny finish, a good deglosser can help dull it and give your furniture a little more tooth for your paint to stick to. I personally try to stay away from harsh cleaners like TSP. TSP (Trisodium Phosphate) is actually banned in plenty of states, thanks to its crazy dangerous nature. It can cause difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat, vision loss, and skin irritation. It can lead to oxygen depletion in water sources (so think twice before washing it down the drain) and if used to encapsulate lead based paint, it’ll do a good job of converting that lead dust into lead phosphate, which is great for removal...and awful at the same time because lead phosphate is a possible carcinogen. I just steer clear.
No matter what your approach, it’s important to get your furniture in the cleanest shape possible…..and then wash it one more time. Yep, I know, I know. But you need one more quick cleaning with plain water to get any possible cleaning product residue off before you move forward. So give it one last rinse before moving on.
***One more little tip about cleaning. A lot of folks choose to clean as a LAST prep step after they do repairs and sand. I completely understand that you’ll have to clean that sanding dust, wood glue residue, etc off in a bit anyway, so cleaning twice seems stupid. But if you sand BEFORE cleaning, you can actually cause more issues in the long run. Let’s say your furniture was cleaned with Pledge. If you don’t remove the Pledge first, and just jump right in with your palm sander, the heat and pressure from your sander can actually melt the wax coating on the furniture and push it further INTO your wood. This means you’ll have a much harder time removing that coating later, and dare I say, it may never come up. Clean twice and save yourself the stress.***
-Repairs: Now is the time to fix any defects. Starting with the absolute basics, give your piece a little push...is it wobbly? Are the legs all sturdy or do they need their bolts and screws tightened down? If you have a little give, tighten that bad boy up. I’m a huge fan of wood glue and brad nails to reinforce sides, backings, etc. If the veneer is lifting, inject a little glue under the surface and clamp, clamp, clamp. If the sides are pulling away, glue it, tie it all down with ratchet straps, and throw some nails in to lock it up. For major separation, I prefer to drill holes and glue in dowels for extra durability and strength. (I love this kit! Its five bucks and comes with a drill bit, guard, and dowels so everything will fit perfectly) If you’ve got chips or divots in your wood or veneer, fill with wood putty or bondo (I prefer the automotive bondo, and actually skip the wood bondo.). Pull your drawers out and tighten all the slides down with a screw driver (If they are broken, replace them now before you start painting! You can get replacement kits at any hardware store). If you have missing details, trim, feet, etc...make a mold of the existing pieces and match it up! You don’t want to glue trim on AFTER you’ve finished painting, so take the time to get it in proper shape now!
-Sanding: This is step that may or may not be necessary, depending on what you are dealing with. You may need to sand for two main scenarios...smoothing it out and roughing it up. If your piece has splintered edges, scratches, or imperfections, you can sand it all smooth to create an even canvas for your paint. If your piece is super slick and shiny, sanding can rough it up and give your paint more tooth to grip on to. Wise Owl Chalk Synthesis Paint is really adhesive, but it won’t stick to a high lacquered surface, so scuff it up, make it ugly, and give your paint a fighting chance. Start with a rougher grit sandpaper and gradually work your way up to a finer finish. You don’t want to just attack a dresser with 80 grit and walk away...you’ll have a super rough, damaged surface, and it’ll show through your paint finish. Work up to a 220 grit to get a smooth surface that still has enough grip for your paint. (If I’m planning to stain instead of paint, I prefer to go all the way up to 400 grit for the most even surface.)
-Priming: I did an entire series of posts about priming (I’ll link them down below), but the main thoughts are this...If you are worried about tannins or stains bleeding through your paint job, prime. If you are worried that your paint won’t stick to a slick surface, prime. If you are painting a super dark piece bright white, prime. If your furniture stinks, prime. If you are painting with enamel, prime. If you are in doubt, prime. Wise Owl Primer is a piece of cake to work with...its water based and low vocs...it goes on just like paint and will give you the best chance at a quality finish.
I hate seeing posts that make major assumptions, saying that your piece just needs a quick cleaning before you can paint. Each piece of furniture is different and each will require different levels of prep work. For me personally, I tend to go a little above and beyond with my prep work because I sell my pieces professionally and I NEED them to last the long haul. Take the extra time to properly prep your piece, no matter which brand of paint you are using, and you’ll have a far better experience painting, guaranteed.
And as always, if you are in doubt, send me a picture!!! I’m happy to look over your piece, assess it as much as possible, and come up with a game plan to get it in the right condition before you pick up your paint brush.
Too Long; Didn’t Read:
-Clean your piece no matter what
-Repair any damages or blemishes before you start painting
-Sand to smooth rough areas and rough up smooth areas
-When in doubt, prime!
Next up…..we gonna paint, baby!
(This post contains a couple affiliate links. These links don't cost you a single penny, but they help pay my bills. As always, I absolutely stand behind the products I recommend!)