Refinishing the stairs–topcoat

After sanding, I applied three coats of Bona Mega using a lambswool applicator.

After sanding, I applied three coats of Bona Mega using a lambswool applicator.

After the final sanding, I vacuumed and taped the walls, then was ready to apply my topcoat. I chose Bona Mega to match the existing finish and applied the Mega using a 5″ lambswool applicator, following the manufacturer’s directions. It was a surprisingly forgiving process–pour the finish and spread to an even coat with the applicator. So long as the next coat is applied within 48 hours, you don’t need to sand between coats, but I did hand sand with 220 grit before my final coat. Because stairs are high-traffic, I applied four coats over the course of a weekend. While it cured to final hardness, we could consider runner options.

Refinishing the Stairs–Sanding

Sanding the stairwell before refinishing.

Sanding off the old finish was slow work made more bearable with good dust collection.

Welcoming the excuse for a new tool, I picked up Festool’s DTS 400 REQ to reach areas where my Festool ETS 150/3 wouldn’t reach (aside: the DTS 400 REQ worked well for its intended purpose, but I agree with one reviewer who missed the symmetry of the DX 93: You go through more paper not being able to rotate a sheet on the pad). I began sanding at 60 grit and regretted I didn’t have any 40 grit (or even lower) on hand. I used the ETS 150 as much as possible, then switched over to the DTS 400 to reach into the corners of the treads and risers, working through higher grits to 180. After a weekend of sanding, I vacuumed the freshly-stripped wood and wiped it down with a damp cloth. As a probably-not-necessary step (or act of masochism), I then took a quick pass over the stairs with a card scraper. With one last vacuuming, the stairs were ready for a new top coat.

Refinishing the Stairs–Before

Carpeted staircase

Carpeting covered the entire stairwell.

After ten years of indoor and outdoor projects, we were left with one last effort that wouldn’t require removing sections of the roof or overhauling basement drainage: refinishing our upper staircase.

The stairs were covered in the same bad carpeting as the downstairs bedrooms when we moved. Unlike with the bedrooms, where we removed carpet and underlying linoleum to reveal the original fir floors, we left the stairs untouched while we worked on the rest of the house. The carpet wasn’t pretty, but it was inoffensive, protected the stairs, and provided sure footing for pets and toddlers. With the summer in full swing and all my contractual obligations fulfilled, it was time to confront the stairs.

I began by thoroughly vacuuming to minimize spreading dust when pulling up the carpet. Then it was simply a matter of finding an edge and bringing a pair of needle nose pliers to bear. The carpeting came up easily, and for the first time in the history of our pulling up floor coverings in the house, it revealed no ugly surprises–no glued down linoleum, no layers of newsprint, no strips of tacked down salvaged tin strips, not even padding or tack strips.

Instead we found worn but serviceable old growth treads and risers with a failing finish, an ideal candidate for refinishing.

Carpet removed from the staircase

The carpet comes up, revealing no ugly surprises.

Mackintosh Tea Table–Construction

A tea table by Charles Rennie Mackintosh

The carved leaves present the greatest joinery challenge in this reproduction of a Mackintosh tea table design.

Reproduced in quarter sawn white oak, this tea table designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh shows its art nouveau and Arts & Crafts roots, perhaps mores than in the original’s white painted finish. The carved leaves are the most daunting aspect of the build; otherwise construction relies on dadoes and half-blind dovetails. Patterns for the shelf, top, and cutouts help make quick work of repetitive actions.

More Information

  • Read more about the table’s design here.
  • I detailed this build in the October 2017 issue of Popular Woodworking.

Mackintosh Tea Table–Design

Willow Tea Room Table

Mackintosh’s design for a tea table features an elliptical top over a base with four slatted legs. Set to follow the curve of the top, the legs feature carved leaves set in cutouts.

In a world where living room furniture is often designed around the TV, a tea table can seem an anachronism. Shorter than a dining table, they provided a space for conversation over tea. Today they can still serve for intimate dining or largish occasional tables. This design by the Scottish Architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh features an elliptical top over a base with four slatted legs. The legs are set at an angle relative to the base so that they appear to follow the curve of the top. Cutouts frame carved leaves, an organic embellishment showing an art nouveau influence.

Glass Tile Backsplash–Installation

the backsplash ready for grout

The tile installed and ready for grout.


Having tiled with ceramic tiles, I expected using glass to be very similar. That expectation was met. The reading I did beforehand (This Old House and DIY network were especially useful) suggested special care to avoid scratching the tile’s show surface and to accommodate glass’s translucent characteristic. In practice, I found the glass tile not especially prone to scratching, and the opaque color applied to the back meant my thin set lines didn’t telegraph through the tile, so quickly gave up on knocking them down. The one place I did take special care throughout the project was when cutting tiles–they seemed more prone to chip out than ceramic tiles, so when making cuts, I would cut in from one edge slightly then flip the piece over and finish the cut.

Layout is perhaps the most important aspect of a tiling project, and the kitchen set up made that task easy for this project. I worked in from each exposed edge toward either a corner or bank of cabinets and was able to run 7 full courses of tiles up the wall. The irregular vertical positioning of outlets made for some awkward cuts, but we were still able to install the entire backsplash, grout, and caulk over four days.

Tools and Materials

Glass Tile Backsplash–Before

The kitchen before a new glass tile backsplash.

The renovated kitchen in my sister-in-law’s kitchen included a wall paper treatment featuring marbled burgundy and floral border. Image via Zillow.

Over the holidays, my wife and I installed a glass tile backsplash in my sister-in-law’s new house, replacing the wallpaper installed by a previous owner as part of the kitchen renovation. Although labor intensive, it’s not too technically challenging a project. It helped that they’d stripped the wallpaper and scuff sanded the sheetrock beneath to provide tooth for the thin-set we used to adhere the tile.

The backsplash prepped for tile

Once the wallpaper was stripped and the sheetrock scuff sanded, the backsplash was ready for tiling.

Glasgow School of Art

Glasgow School of Art

Mackintosh designed the Glasgow School of Art in two phases. This archival photo from the GSA’s collection shows it after completion of the second phase.

Although it met with mixed reviews upon its completion in 1909, Mackintosh’s design for the Glasgow School of Art is now generally regarded as his masterpiece. Built in two phases, it bookends the peak of his creativity. Today later construction has crowded the building, so it is interesting to see it captured, as in this photo from the School’s archive, in its original context.