Friday, November 27, 2015

On a Whim

I find myself wanting to do woodwork but I have almost no tools and even fewer skills and yet my confidence in my ability to figure it out keeps me going. I haven't actually made anything really fabulous, but perhaps one day I will.

As I said, my tools are limited (drill, jigsaw, slightly damaged and misused random orbital slander) and so when I saw an oscillating tool for what seemed like a good price (and everything I could read about such a beast indicated that there was virtually no job or circumstance for which it was not ideally suited, I bought one.

It's been in its box for well over a week.

Skip to the night before Thanksgiving, the night I was going to apply the first layer of cement over my existing nineties-cream formica kitchen counters in my quest for a kitchen that has at least an air of belonging to this century, if not the appliances.

Attentive (or any!) readers will recall my new cork floor which was way more work than anticipated but with which I am overall pretty satisfied (scroll down a few posts if you want to see them again). The concrete countertops were going to be a lot easier.
By the time I was done with the endless preparations like getting the tools and ingredients (and onlookers) all in one place, rereading yet another blogger's hints and the packaging instructions, I finally began to apply the first layer of cement at around seven on Wednesday night and by the time I had covered my relatively meagre kitchen countertops and found myself blessedly horizontal and under the covers, it was well after midnight. (First hint that I may have been - yet again! - overly optimistic: it takes longer than I'd anticipated).

Here's what I learned:

I'll never do this again without having someone remove the sink and the stove first because those half-inch sections behind both of them are IMPOSSIBLE.

They're right - the Ardex Feather Finish does set up pretty quickly, and more to the point, unless you are actively working every little bit of it that you are not done with, it rapidly gets too stiff to be that useful. If you try to use it anyway, you get a less than ideal finish which the optimist in you says "No problem, I'll just sand it away".
(As an aside, I wish it retained its colour when wet).

Remember the sander I mentioned above? Yeah, only sorta useful.

My original plan and schedule went something like this:

Wednesday: First layer
Thursday: Sand, apply second layer, sand, apply third layer, go out for Thanksgiving dinner (while wishing I could cancel so as to get my kitchen back), apply seal-and-cure, go to bed at a reasonable hour
Friday: Relax, bead, weave shoelaces, whatever, then apply first layer of food-safe acrylic sealer just before bed so no one can walk on it (certain individuals must be confined at night if I am to get any sleep).
Saturday: Like Friday
Sunday: Like Saturday
Monday: Put everything back in the kitchen and admire my work

So it turns out that I spent ALL DAY (or what seems like it) on Thursday sanding. The disks on the power sander just kept clogging and then burnishing which wasn't useful, plus control is iffy because you can't feel when you've done enough or too much.

I switched to a sanding block which was only marginally better in terms of the clogging factor, though quite a bit more efficacious.

Ultimately hand-sanding gave me the best results but my poor hands are less than delighted. Even apart from the stress, cement dust is much more alkaline than skin likes, and even with repeated rinses with vinegar to neutralise it (I learned that trick when I was laying ceramic tile two and a half years ago) my hands are still pretty beat up. The vinegar really does help to release the dried-on bits of cement though.

I started on the second layer, got a small fraction of the way through (used one out of five or six batches of cement), then had to shower, finish making the dessert I was bringing for dinner (no small feat when your kitchen is out-of-bounds because anything will stain or ravage the nascent unprotected countertops), and spend a few hours being gracious and wondering when it would be OK to leave and finish the rest of the second layer.
The second layer turned out much better than the first layer, in part because I can actually learn from previous experience, and also because I installed a lamp so that I could see better in the dark corners. Go figure.

Still needing some sanding though, especially in those corners.

I think the little raised edge at the back of the counters is in another dimension because I'm pretty sure there are at least half a mile more of those than the size of the countertops would indicate. And careful as I was (I thought I was being meticulous until I woke up this morning and saw them in daylight) those corners are awful and if I don't want to add a fourth layer (and I don't) then I need to be sure that the second layer doesn't set the third layer up for failure, which means sanding.

I used glasses to see better.

I stood on a little stool to get closer.

I found all the sandpaper in my house and tried everything that might be suitable.
There were bits that were intractable, and that's not even counting the Really Difficult Parts that I haven't yet started.
 Before I started sanding, I chipped out all the sticky-out little blobs and scraped away the stuff that stuck to my sink and my stove but those hard-to-reach places are very, very rough. I did an awful job there.
I was dealing with the good parts at the window and having a hard time and suddenly next weekend was looking busier than I'd planned.

And then I remembered that I buy stuff for which I don't have an immediate need and wondered if perhaps I might have had The Best Foresight Ever.

This in fact turns out to be the case. Witness my new best friend:
This thing is MAGIC!

(Cue sound of the angelic host which I could not find and cannot sing so you'll have to imagine it)

It gives me the control of hand sanding without hurting my hands and the strength of a power sander without having my nerves hum for ten minutes after I turn it off. I'm feeling much more confident about the potential quality of the finished countertops and I no longer almost wish I hadn't started.

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