Painting the Chairs
Tom Sawyer and Me, Sort Of
Susan Reep, 7/2008
Tom Sawyer whitewashed a fence and I painted some old metal yard chairs white. I did it outside on the brand new balcony of my mountain cabin. Paint and white are about the only things my venture had in common with Tom Sawyer’s, though. His was a communal pursuit that brought him many valuable items such as dead rats, partially eaten apples, orange peels, and other assorted treasures. My solitary pursuit brought rewards of a different nature, but I didn’t want dead creatures and partially-eaten food items anyhow. Aunt Polly was happy that the fence was done, but I’m not so sure how happy my husband is going to be about the chairs.
You see, paint and I don’t really get along. I like paint fine but it likes me too well and insists on decorating my body, clothing, and, really, any other surface nearby and not so nearby, in addition to the object being painted. It’s a one-sided love affair.
I guess I could blame it on my sisters. They like antique stores and one day we found one going out of business, everything 35% off. I spotted a real treasure – three old, joined-together metal chairs that had once been part of a glider. They were really cool and reminded me of my youth. Actually, I’m not sure we ever owned any metal yard chairs when I was growing up, but if we didn’t, we should have. These were rusty with peeling red, white, and blue seats, but the main selling point was that my feet reached the ground when I sat in them! Only $211 also – with that 35% off.
Wow! I could buy them for the cabin and I could repaint them myself! Never mind that I had never sanded, primed and painted a piece of furniture. Inspired by having recently decorated a friend’s old dining room table with hobby paints, I felt ready to take this on. How hard could it be, really?
Buy paint. Colorful paint to decorate the finished product with. Hold on – Rust-oleum only comes in a few colors? Ok then, the decorations will be yellow, red and blue, the primer gray and the chairs white. Sparkling, pristine high-gloss white Rust-oleum. My husband got the sandpaper, I took it all up to the cabin and voila! Ready to start.
Problem number one: the sandpaper wasn’t all the same. There was Super Fine, Extra Fine, and Very Fine. Which should I use? Maybe Super, because in the progression of worthiness, wouldn’t super be better than extra or very? According to the package, however, Super Fine was for a final wet sanding. Since I’d never heard of that I didn’t see why I should do it. Very Fine was to be used with water for feather-edging spot repairs. The chairs certainly had a lot of spots, and in retrospect, perhaps I should have found out more about this technique. But I settled on Extra Fine. After lots of words about incomprehensible techniques, the package said, “Scuff metal primer coats with this grit.” So could it have been called True Fine?
I was still lost but the words “primer” and “metal” were used in conjunction with True Extra Fine Grit so that was mine, baby. I was going for the grit.
Next problem: the sandpaper wasn’t named, just numbered. Why was this getting so difficult? They were 400, 320, and 240. Numbers and me – we never really got along. It wasn’t like the paint, that one-sided love affair. We were mutually antagonistic. Further inspection of the package, however, revealed that Extra Fine was 320. Fine. I would not get frustrated! Like Tom, I would maintain an easy-going attitude. Nonetheless, I was glad no one was around to witness my easy-going attitude.
I sanded. I completely demolished the sand paper, which ended up in crumbles, but while doing so I demolished the paint, too. I sanded those suckers with abandon, at least the parts that showed. I might have done the back and the bottom, but truly, that sandpaper had disintegrated by then. I didn’t know if I dared use 400 or 240! 320 wasn’t good for much. Of course, I’m blaming the numbers because where numbers are concerned, we eliminate the possibility of operator error. Hah!
Time to paint! Aha, I was about to create an object as inventive as Tom’s farming out the fence job. That worked for him, but my creativity was going to be concrete. No, paint, well, hmmm. Read the can, Susan. Wash the object with dish soap. Be careful of…be careful of? Old paint that could contain lead? Well, this was definitely old paint, old enough to contain lead, and I sanded enough of it to get a healthy lungful. No need to panic, however. Recalling old polar expeditions, those guys ate a whole heck of a lot of food out of those lead cans before they went nuts. And died. Most people would say I’m already a little nuts, so who would notice ratcheting up the nuts-factor by a small amount? And I’ve decided not to die until I’m 104 anyhow, so that wasn’t even a consideration.
It’s hard to describe the satisfaction one feels from putting dull gray Rust-oleum on a partially-sanded object. Actually, it was fun and the seats and seat backs were easy. By easy, I mean, it’s ok if the primer is streaky, right? It’s just the first coat. Or so I told myself. The main thing is, the paint and I were getting along fine. We were mellow, so mellow that I didn’t mind all the edges and nooks and crannies crying out for paint – and there were oh so many of them. But I was going to paint with the best of them: no surfaces left untouched in my paint job! And we’re focusing on the surfaces here that belong to the chair. I can’t help it if I’m just generous and don’t want any other surfaces left out.
Sanding – check. Primer – check. Time for the top coat. Paint and Susan are tied so far, in a harmonious relationship. But all those little edges and tops and bottoms are getting tedious so it’ll be good to get the top coat on and move to the fun part – decorating. Apparently, unbeknownst to me, the battle lines were drawn. The white was streaky. Dagnabbit, it was going to take two coats! Ok, well, I can handle two coats. Remember Tom’s attitude – carefree, unrushed.
In a carefree, unrushed fashion, therefore, I wondered how the stool I was sitting on while painting happened to have one leg in the paint can. The paint was getting aggressive. Perhaps it was a lover’s quarrel. The paint was loving me a little too much. What was it doing on the plastic that was protecting the deck? For that matter, what was it doing on the deck? But I’ll get back at you, Paint. Just wait and see. You are water-based! I can wash you off the deck and the stool. When you dry, I can peel you off because you are latex. What’s that? You can get peeled off the chair, too? No fair. Let’s make up. At least you dry quickly.
Now that that little problem was taken care of, we again were on an even keel. Open the can with that nifty little key-like device, stir the paint, and start again. And look at how well that second coat is going on! Why, it’s beautiful! Wait a minute, be careful of that plastic – it seems to be full of holes. Ok, just keep the paint away from the holes. Step back here or you’ll touch the side of that chair with your jeans, and so far, clothing has remained unpainted. Aw man, that stir stick is wet! Shoot, my foot is now covered with wet paint but clever person that I am, I notice a paper towel. Step on it to absorb that paint. Dang, is that my hair in the paint can as I am bending over? Great, after all the money I spend to cover the gray, now it’s white. It occurs to me that an all-out attack is occurring and the paint is winning. Truce.
The only problem with the truce is that the white flag is stuck to the bottom of my foot in the form of a paper towel. This is getting out of hand. Or out of foot! Time out.
The truce held and I finished the second coat without too much difficulty. I kept everything out of the paint except the brush, and as far as I was concerned, that meant truce over, victory for me. I had the upper hand, finally. I vanquished the paint. For now. Tomorrow I decorate, and since I have no idea what I am going to do until the brush hits the paint and then the chair surface, there is still time for the paint to get me in its messy, rubbery grip.
Perhaps Tom had the right idea – farm the job out and relax, collecting treasures as other people lined up to do the work. But see, as I painted, I saw a Nuttall’s Woodpecker, a hummingbird, some Stellar’s Jays, some as yet unidentified birds, and two squirrels mating. My camera is always within reach and I got some great photos of those squirrels. So I got my rewards also. And I enjoyed them much more than I would have old orange peels and dead rats. Best of all, my camera remained paint-free, and the day after tomorrow I’ll be enjoying the balcony and the birds from my new, decorated, metal yard chairs.