In an ideal world, every single piece of furniture in my house would be something I transformed from a thrift store piece. Why? Because this is the single least expensive way to create beautiful furniture. In my head exists an "expense hierarchy." With a few low-quality exceptions, purchasing furniture new will always be the most expensive option. The cost of building furniture yourself adds up quickly, but typically still comes out cheaper than buying something new. Finally, given your initial purchasing cost is low, transforming a thrift store piece is typically the most affordable option.
My DIY barstools are a perfect example of this. I searched thrift stores for about a month looking for barstools to transform. I saw plenty of barstools. The typical price per barstool was $25; occasionally I'd see something for a little more or less. However, I was looking for something very particular: a small backless barstool that would fit completely under the 14" wide bar I was building in my kitchen.
Eventually, I ran out of time. I wanted these barstools done and over with, so when I saw spindles at my Habitat For Humanity for a dollar each, I picked up 8, deciding to make the barstools myself using the spindles as legs.
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I thought I could pull off $8 barstools. I had some leftover butcherblock from my countertops at home that could be the tops. And maybe if I had stuck with that idea, they would have been $15 barstools after purchasing some furring strips for support. But halfway through the project, I decided there was already enough wood in the kitchen, and I should go with a fabric top instead. But adding cushions costs money, so the cost of my $15 barstools rapidly shot up. Here's what I ended up paying:
2 1x2x8 Furring Strips
Furring strips are super cheap, but involve significant amounts of sanding to make them usable.
2 1x3x8 Furring Strips
This is the cheapest spray adhesive I could find, and it was actually plenty strong! I was pleased.
Can of White Spray Paint
Saving Money Secret: do your first couple coats with a cheaper spray paint (I had some that I got for $0.99 at Menards a while back), then the final coat in the nice spray. You get the look of the nicer white without having to purchase multiple cans.
1.5 Yards Fabric
Jackman's is a local fabric store in the St. Louis area. They have a great selection, and are worth checking out if you live in the area!
1 Yard High Density Foam
Yes, I used lots of coupons.
2 Yards Batting
Staples for Staple Gun
This wasn't as cheap as I wanted, but I feel a bit better when I remind myself that if I had remodeled thrift store barstools, it probably would have cost me $15 in supplies in addition to the $50 base barstool cost.
In addition to the materials above, you'll need the following tools:
- Belt Sander (if using furring strips)
- Miter Saw
- Orbital Sander
- Pocket Hole Jig
- 24" Clamps
- Circular Saw
- Rotary Cutter/ Electric Knife
- Staple Gun
Since I used furring strips, I needed to sand them significantly to make them usable. I used 120 grit sandpaper on a belt sander to take most of the rough wood off, then smoothed it out using 180 grit sandpaper on my orbital sander.
Then I cut my wood to the proper lengths. Since I was aiming for my barstools to be 20" wide by 14" deep, and each furring strip was 1 1/4" thick, I cut my furring strips to be 17 1/2" and 11 1/2" long. See picture below.
Additionally, the spindles I purchased were 36" long. This would make a pretty high barstool- ideally, bar-height barstools are between 30 and 32 inches high. I therefore cut my spindles down to be 30 inches long. Since I had three and a half inches of cushion/butcherblock top, this was still a really high barstool, so if you can cut your barstool down further, or have a thinner top, it would work out better.
On my 1 x 3 support pieces, I added two kreg jig holes on each end of the piece to attach the supports to the spindles. I also added two or three kreg jig holes (depending on length of piece) facing up that would eventually attach the butcherblock top to the supports.
On the 1 x 2 support pieces, I just added one hole on each end, which would attach the supports to the spindles.
I started by assembling one side of the base at a time, then connecting them.
There are a couple of things in the above picture that are pretty important. First of all, make sure that you clamp the pieces together before putting in the Kreg screws, else there will be a lot of movement, and you'll risk splitting your spindles. Additionally, you'll want to secure your joints with wood glue for extra support (do this before clamping!). Finally, in my picture, you can see that I've lined up all three pieces of wood against a cabinet door. This is to make sure they are all in a straight, level line with each other.
After creating the two smaller sides, I attached them using the remaining furring strips.
I wood filled and sanded the pocket holes on the lower supports so they wouldn't be seen (I didn't bother with the top holes; they wouldn't be visible on the final barstool,) then spray painted the base white.
When spray painting, I started with some cheaper white spray paint that I got for $0.99, then finished with Rustoleum's 2X White Semi-Gloss paint. This was a cost saving measure- by spraying with the cheaper spray paint for the initial cover job, I didn't have to purchase more than one of the more expensive Rustoleum cans.
While waiting for the spray paint to dry, I made my cushion. I started by cutting my leftover butcherblock to be the width and depth I wanted my finished barstool to be, 20" wide x 14" deep.
I then cut my foam to be the same dimensions using a rotary cutter. This wasn't the ideal tool: an electric knife is the correct tool for cutting foam, but I didn't want to purchase one of those, so I made due with the rotary cutter I already had.
After cutting my foam, I secured it to the butcherblock using spray adhesive.
Then I wrapped it in batting (like a present!) and secured with foam adhesive. On the first cushion I made, I used two layers of batting, but that seemed like overkill, so on the second I only used one.
Finally, I wrapped the entire butcherblock/foam/batting combo with the fabric I'd picked out, and secured it with staples from my staple gun. I used 5/16" and 1/4" staples I already had around the house.
And then my cushion was ready to be attached!
I had the perfect tiny TV table that I used for this, which made clamping the base to the cushion much easier. Since the cushion compresses as you clamp, it's great to be able to secure it on all four sides.
Then I screwed in all the Kreg screws into the holes I created earlier.
To add extra support, I put one corner brace on each spindle leg. I started this while my barstool was still clamped, adding the screws that went into the butcherblock, then unclamped the barstool and placed it on the ground to add the screws going into the spindles. This allowed me to always screw down, which is significantly easier than screwing sideways or up.
I love my barstools! I think they add a pop of color to the kitchen, plus they're super functional and give me an eat-in kitchen!
In the early 1970s and nearing retirement, my grandparents decided to purchase a small cabin (and a boat!) a little over an hour away from their western Wisconsin home. They had quite the social life back then, with an array of family and friends rotating through to play card games, go boating, and sign the meticulously kept guest books.
As we approach 50 years of ownership, some things have changed. Cabin decor is now managed by my aunt, while my father is in charge of cabin maintenance. The boat is considered "vintage," and is a regular conversation piece when we take it to the lake. The guest book is much emptier than it was back in the day, so we now encourage all guests to write a full paragraph to help fill it up. One thing, though, that hasn't changed, is this table:
Rumor has it, the table came with the purchase of the cabin in 1970 and was considered "old" then. In the past 48 years, it has possibly seen a coat of fresh paint and the addition of support braces. That's it.
In addition to the unpainted support braces, the tabletop was warped and stained, and the paint was very, very chipped, and not in that cool "distressed" chip way, either. More the "check out how well this neon orange color from the '60s goes with the turquoise color this table was in the 40s'" way. And so, after my plans were approved by the decor manager, I refinished the table.
The plan was to strip and stain the tabletop, and give an new coat of white paint to the legs. I debated what to do with the legs for a long time. The problem is that the early layers of paint are almost certainly oil-based, which is why the white (probably) latex paint is chipping off. The only real fix for this problem is to strip the table legs completely, like I'm doing with the tabletop. But do you see those grooves?? It would take forever, and frankly, I just don't love this table enough for that. So I settled for just plopping another layer of white on them, and having to recoat in a couple years when it starts chipping off again.
My dad, the cabin maintenance manager and generally a trustworthy source of handiness tips, recommended that I strip the tabletop with a belt sander (which we already had) instead of chemical stripper (that we would have needed to purchase.) So with my dad's (un)trustworthy Harbor Freight belt sander and 36 grit sandpaper in hand, I got to work.
It started out well. Here's a picture from about a minute of sanding:
I kept going...
At this point I had clogged up not one, but two new 36 grit sanding belts. The sander moved so fast that instead of tearing the paint off, it melted it, clogging the belt. That's what all the grey in the picture is: white, turquoise, and neon orange paint melted together. At this point, it was apparent that unless I wanted to go through 10 sanding belts, the belt sanding method was not going to work. As a sidenote, it was also about at this point when my dad said "Oh yeah, I remember running into this problem with the garage in the early nineties. I forgot about that, sorry." Thanks a bunch, Dad.
Chemically stripping the table was also probably out at this point: who knew what the stripper would do to the melted grey mess that was now attached to my table? So my dad goes into his massive garage (he has a habit of building monster garages on every property he owns. This is his 3rd, if you were wondering) and pulls out this contraption:
Yes, that is a wire brush attached to an angle grinder! It is apparently super dangerous and can quickly take a huge chunk out of your arm, as evidenced by the fact my dad was not inclined to let me, a 28 year-old regular operator of power tools, use it. So instead, I have a bunch of pictures of him attempting to strip the table with this thing.
The angle grinder brush thing was moderately successful- it got enough of the paint off the table that when I tried the belt sander again, it didn't clog a fresh belt. I ultimately ended up with this:
Note the mess in the lower right hand corner. Here it is up close:
We suspect that this table was used as a cutting board in it's early days. I sanded as much as I could to get rid of the jagged bits, but I would have been sanding for quite awhile to get rid of the knife marks, so I didn't really try.
After fully sanding the table, it looked like this:
I sanded for quite awhile with the 36 grit sandpaper to make sure that the boards were even, and that the tabletop was flat (unlike when I started.) If you were curious, when I was done sanding the cutting board area looked like this:
You can't see it in the pictures above, but there were considerable marks from the 36 grit belt sander sandpaper. I used my orbital sander and sanded with 50,80, 120, 150 and 220 grit sandpaper in an attempt to get rid of them. I wasn't successful, and it was really obvious when I stained the tabletop.
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If I was going to do this again, I'd try a higher grit sandpaper with the belt sander instead of the orbital sander, and see if that helped remove the marks. I'm not too upset about them though; it adds an appropriate distressed look to the tabletop, and blends in with all the cutting marks that were there anyway.
I stained the tabletop with some Minwax English Chestnut stain that I had sitting around, and topped it off with 3 coats of Waterlox Original. The Waterlox was left over from my countertops, which is why I used it. That stuff is expensive, and I don't think I'd recommend purchasing it for such a small project (you'd have so much leftover, and it does not keep!)
Finally, I painted the legs. This was the project of things we already had (I bought nothing to refinish this table!) so the legs were painted with this random paint my dad had in the Monster Garage.
The finished table:
Despite the giant hassle of the belt sander/angle grinder brush thing to strip the table, I am so pleased with how it turned out! It was a quick and free(!) project that brought new life to a table that was at least 70 years old.
Let me take you back to Summer 2017. My entryway had problems. Like "needs a serious organizational intervention" level of problems.
So when I was wandering around my favorite thrift store and saw a dresser the exact width of the staircase, I jumped on it! Extra exciting bonus: the dresser was under $10. That helped the jumping.
Clearly, some of the knobs were missing, and both the bottom of the front of the dresser, and the top of the dresser, were pretty scratched up. Additionally, one of the drawer fronts had a major crack in it- I could have ripped a chunk of the wood off if I'd wanted too. But, anything would be better than the current state of the entryway, so the dresser came home with me anyway.
My end goal was to make this into a bench with two bottom drawers on the left half, and a recycling bin on the right half. To make this happen, I did the following things:
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Step 1: Pry Off The Top- During the purchasing/packing into tiny hatchback car/hauling up elevator routine, I had noticed that the top of the dresser was lifting up slightly. Should I have actually wanted to use this as a dresser, I would’ve smacked some wood glue in, weighted it down with heavy books for a few hours, then went on my merry way. But since I actually wanted to tear the dresser into pieces and make it into something different, I considered this a huge opportunity. So instead of immediately hacking at the top with a giant saw like a power tool fanatic, I grabbed my trusty pry bar (from this really great set, actually,) and slowly lifted the top from the rest of the dresser. Sure enough, the glue was weak enough that I managed this successfully!
Step 2: Reconfigure Drawer Positioning- Originally this dresser had a top row consisting of three drawers, with three lower rows of two drawers. I wanted all the rows to have two drawers (or, more specifically, look like they had two drawers.) Since I had pried out the top dividers already, it was relatively simple to pry off one of the pieces of wood the length of the drawer. I reattached that piece to the middle of the dresser using wood glue and pocket hole screws
Step 3: Clear Out Bench Area- I put the two bottom drawers in to give me a better visual idea of what I was working with, and then started prying out pieces that would be in the way of the seating area. I started with what had been the drawer guides in the original dresser.
At this point, I decided I had cleared out as much as I could without actually cutting wood. The first piece I cut I actually used a hand saw- I didn’t think I could get my jigsaw into the small space. Hand saws are not as time consuming as you’d expect- as long as your piece is small.
Step 5: Create Center Divide- This section separates the left and right sides from each other, and provides support to the side of the bench. I took some of the drawer guides that I had pried out and cut them to fit the width of the dresser, creating the divide. All were attached with wood glue and pocket hole screws. The purpose of these was for the side of the bench to have something to attach to in multiple places.
Step 6: Add Bench Supports- I used the drawer divider that I had sawed out in Step 4 to create a center support for my bench seat. I also used some of the drawer guides that I’d pulled out to be supports in the back.
Step 7: Clear Out Recycling Side- My plan is to place a trash bin on the recycle side to collect any smaller items, with the remaining space for broken down boxes. That means that I needed to clear out the entire right side of all of the drawer supports and dividers. I also added a piece of plywood to the bottom as reinforcement- I didn’t trust the super old flimsy plywood that was there to hold, no matter how light I’m expecting my recycling to be.
Before clearing out right side...
After clearing out right side...
Step 8: Break Apart Drawers- I planned to use the drawer fronts, sides, and backs in the rest of the project, so I started breaking down the drawers. I used both a hand saw and a circular saw to saw them into pieces, since I couldn’t get either my jigsaw or the circular saw to fit on the side with the drawer front.
Step 9: Build and Attach the Door- I originally planned to buy a suitably sized piece of plywood, and then glue the drawer fronts to the piece of plywood for my door. However, I struggled to find a large enough piece of plywood that was not an entire sheet (which would have cost me around $50 for a ¾” piece.)
So instead, I decided to make the door using the spare pieces of drawer. I glued/screwed the drawer backs together using pocket hole screws to create a flat front to glue my drawers onto.
Since the drawer backs were only 3/8” thick, I decided to reinforce this by building a frame on the back. I used some ¾” spare pieces of wood I had sitting around from former projects, of pretty much all widths, to build the frame. In retrospect, this may have been overkill, since it resulted in a really thick door, but the door is functional, so I can't complain.
I then glued the drawer fronts to the front of the door, and reinforced the glue with brad nails (using my awesome brad nail gun!!) Finally, I attached the door to the dresser using some classic style hinges.
Step 10: Make the Bench Backrest- I chose to use the materials from my drawer to form the back of the bench area. I cut these to size using my circular saw, then secured them to the dresser using wood glue and brad nails. This was one of the easiest (and most relaxing!) parts of the project.
Step 11: Cut and Attach Top- I used the original top of the dresser (that was pried off in step 1) to make the top of the recycle bin section and the seat bench. Ideally, you would make these cuts with a table saw, but as someone who lacked a table saw, I had to make due with my circular saw.
The top of the right half was secured with a piano hinge, so that I could lift up the top to add things to the bin. I secured the bench seat with wood glue and screws (that I added from below). The top "arm rest" and back of the bench was secured with wood glue and brad nails. At this point, I was mostly focused on how my bench actually looked like a bench! And as an added bonus, it was sturdy enough for me to sit on!
Step 11: Finish- I painted the bench with a nice cream color I found in the "oops" part of Home Depot. I attempted to turn the paint into chalk paint, which did not go well, possibly because the paint was "oops" paint in the first place. But the end result wasn't too bad:
I also made a cushion for the bench; you can find the tutorial for that here!
This is the most difficult furniture project I've attempted so far. At the beginning, I wasn't sure how it would turn out. I worried the bench wouldn't be stable, or I'd screw up cutting the top, or I'd get halfway through and realize there was no way I could complete this successfully. But it all worked out, and even if there were things I'd do differently (hello giant, heavy, unnecessary door), I'm proud that I completed this at all. Have you ever had a project that you were scared to start? Did you finish it? Inspire me!