“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
Failure has long been a constant in my life. I could ponder on a multitude of theories that might explain why this is the case: I’m often impulsive and leap before looking, hoping to sort things out in the fall; I learn from doing and doing without knowledge often results in failure; I owe an exceptional karmic debt for some unknown transgression, which I am paying back one failure at a time; perhaps it is not that failure is a constant but that my pessimistic nature and discriminating pursuit of perfection* colors my appreciation of the outcome of my life’s endeavors. Likely it is a complex mélange of all these theories that guide my belief in a sense of persistent failure.
*I realize that I said in a previous post that the pursuit of perfection is a fool’s errand, but I never claimed not to be a fool.
Nonetheless, the quote at the opening of the post is an accurate representation of how I handle most failures – though, there are certainly some that cut deeper and hurt longer than others. Surprisingly, I have encountered few full-fledged failures since I began refinishing, repurposing and upcycling furniture. Imperfections and compromised visions aplenty, but nothing I would have considered an utter failure. As such, I should have suspected that I was due to miss success at some point and this book shelf appears to have been that point.
I found this at the local Goodwill and fell in love with not only the vintage style, but also with the very concept of the piece. It had a cute little plaque on the back advertising its place in a time long since passed. And a price tag that screamed “TAKE ME HOME”. So I did.
Some misguided former owner had painted over the original finish with some flat white paint. Based on prior experience, I assumed this would be a quick and easy refinish project. I was not at all prepared for the reality of the situation.
Sanding by hand is tedious and tiresome. Sanding with a power sander is loud and messy. Neither of these scenarios is particularly appealing, so I often employ chemical strippers to help cut through the bulk of garbage to minimize sanding time. This book shelf (like the Brainy Smurf bookcase I refinished after this) proved to be almost thoroughly resistant to chemical stripping. In all of the pieces of furniture I had refinished prior to this, I had never encountered anything so baffling difficult to strip. The paint refused to come off. When I finally coaxed off enough of the paint to start working on the original finish, it too refused to come off. After three distinct efforts to find bare wood with stripper, I moved on to sanding.
Using my power sander, I burned through two pieces of 80-grit sandpaper trying to remove the old finish. Eventually I managed to get everything stripped off and ready to stain.
Or so I thought.
After applying a coat of stain, I discovered that there were still large swaths of clear coat in the grain of the wood; especially in the corners where it was most difficult to sand. Furthermore, there were tons of against-the-grain sandpaper scratches that weren’t visible until the stain was applied. Admittedly, at this point, I should have stopped and started over again with the stripper and sandpaper, but I was exasperated at how much time and energy I had put into the project and decided to move on.
Trying to make up for lost time, I further compounded the potential for failure by trying to apply polyurethane to too many surfaces at once. Naturally this resulted in two areas where the excess polyurethane ran in huge, thick streaks. This was the second point in the process where I really should have stopped and started over, but instead I used a little mineral spirits to try to wipe out the streaks. I did manage to get them down much smoother, and probably could have fully corrected the issue with enough time and effort, but instead opted to throw on a second coat.
When all was said and done, the color of stain that I used was not necessarily complementary to the wood grain and all the imperfections outshined what charm was left. I was pretty disheartened by the project and set it aside to focus on other things. As of right now, it is sitting in a corner of the kids’ room, a taunting reminder of my failure, waiting for me to either revisit it and give it the proper finish it deserves, or gift it back from whence it came.