On the podcast today I am talking with Serena Appiah who does DIY furniture refinishing on her YouTube channel and website. We had an eclectic conversation about how to refinish furniture using liming wax, as well as how to upcycle furniture from the thrift store.
The liming wax chest https://thriftdiving.com/liming-wax-oak-wood-chest/
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Eric: Hey Serena, welcome to the show.
Serena: Hey Eric, what's going on? Thank you for having me.
Eric: I almost didn't get here in time. I was literally in the car and I stopped at the my friends vegetable stand and I talked for 20 minutes and then I realized I had a phone call to me.
Serena: Well, I was literally in bed with my hair up and looking like craziness and I thought, I've got to get up and shower and I'm going to talk to Eric soon. I'm glad because I, you know, I had a super busy week. There've been so many projects going on and they're all converging at one time and sometimes, you know, you forget to shower. I don't know that happens to you, but this week it happened to me twice. My family was not very happy.
Eric: Yeah. people in the podcast know my showering habits already and it's usually just amounts to my better half saying, uh, you need to take a shower.
Serena: You're like, okay, okay.
Eric: Oh, I have this great idea! Laura Kampf has a youtube channel and she made this wood fired water heater for her outdoor shower and wow. It Reignited an idea for me for a solar heated water for an outdoor shower.
Serena: Oh my. Okay. I think you might have just given me my project for next spring.
Eric: I'm going to sketch it out. I'll send you the sketch I'm going to do.
Serena: Yeah, please do. That sounds so much. That sounds so much fun.
Eric: So in the intro I told everyone that you have a youtube channel and that we met at the Troy-Bilt meetup in Cleveland, which was a lot of fun. Every year there I kind of click with someone and you just sat down and started talking to me and I'm like, all right, here we go.
Serena: You know what? That event was so much fun. This was for, Troy-Bilt and you know, I really didn't know what to expect. I did know two of the influencers who were going and so I knew there would be some people there that I didn't know and I was really happy to meet you. And I, and I was telling you that, that you have this way about you of just making everybody around you feel comfortable. And I don't know if it's what you say or how you say it, but you are just full of jokes all the time. And I like this guy. And so then when I actually had a chance to watch GardenFork, I thought, wow, you know, this, I, you know, even after a couple of minutes I wasn't bored. I didn't turn away. Like you kept my interest throughout the entire video and you sort of told a story and I'm getting this, this firsthand, look at this thing that you're doing, this garden. Uh, was it a planter that you did from a tree stump? Yeah. And it was just, it was just such a fun video to watch. And I was like, wow. You know, I really like your storytelling.
Eric: Thank you. You can be on the podcast again now.
Serena: Thank you. I'll check that off my list of okay. Compliment. Eric.
Eric: I'll be sending you the jar of maple syrup.
Serena: Yes, please do. I keep thinking about that too.
Eric: Well, I liked, I like yours because it's, it's stuff I would never think to do. So what is your creation story? What, what got you, why did you start a youtube channel?
Serena: So I'll take you on a little backtrack in time. And I'll try to make it short. I know we don't have a lot of time. People were probably driving in their cars right now when, when I was growing up, I always wanted to be creative. I wanted to be an artist and wanting to be a writer. And then, you know, you grow up and life happens and you go to college and you choose something that makes sense. And now I'm a blogger, a DIY blogger at ThriftDiving, and I refinish furniture. I build things and upcycle, repurpose. And so I'm, I'm realizing this childhood dream, but it didn't happen until probably about 2010 when we bought this old house. It was 1973 house. There was wallpaper everywhere. There were avocado, green toilets. And we were, I mean, yeah, I mean the toilets and the shower matched green, Turquoise.
Serena: It was, it was horrible. And the problem is that we had spent all of our money by, in this house, we went from a two bedroom to a four bedroom that we needed money to decorate and there was no money. And I literally, Eric, I'm not kidding you. I literally didn't think about how we were gonna decorate the house. When you go from two bedrooms to four there's a lot of echoes in that house. Yeah, no. And you're like, wait a minute. I think I forgot something. Oh, I, I, and I've always loved thrift stores, but I loved them for books and clothing and things and things. I never really thought a lot about buying furniture, even though I dibbled and dabbled a little bit in furniture. And so I started going to the, my, one of my favorite through stores and finding so much amazing stuff that like my dining room table was $12 Ah, I mean literally $12 and I taught myself, it was like that golden oak color, you know, it wasn't really like, it wasn't a bad quality table, but it just, you know, it wasn't, it wasn't bad for a family moving into, you know, a new home, but it was not the color I wanted.
Serena: So I taught myself how to refinish furniture. And I'm not kidding you. Literally 95% of the furniture that we have in our house came from the thrift store. Perfect. I mean, seriously. And if we have it that we purchased it, it's from, you know, probably 2002. So, so over time my blog evolves in to, uh, from painting furniture to suddenly, oh, I want to learn how to use power tools and remove toilets and put up crown molding. So my blog is taking this journey from just from being creative to really be in handy. And now I'm a carpentry student at my unit, a local community college. So now I want to actually start building walls and learning how to do more hands on things with tools and, and understanding the construction of homes and not just painting furniture. Now it's just a little bit of everything and gardening too.
Eric: So now you're going to start building your third home.
Serena: Do you know what that I, that is my dream. That is my dream really is to build a home from scratch. Now I don't know when that's gonna happen, but I th I think my next, my next goal is going to be to build a shed. If I can build a shed, then maybe I can build and I was telling you earlier that I'm working on cleaning out my garage. Like we creatives and I don't know if you're the same way, Eric, but when I do a project, I don't clean up. After I'm done the project, I move into the next thing. Do you clean up?
Eric: No, you should. I'll show you the, send you a picture of my workshop
Serena: and the thing is, is my husband doesn't understand. So he comes out into the garage yesterday and he's just shaking his head and he's like, I don't know why you brought all this mess. I'm like, well, it's not just me. You know, I work with companies, I work with brands, they send me things, but then I'm also creative with these things and I don't put things back. I don't think any creative person does and you just didn't get it. He was like, you're just, I don't understand you. So good. I'm glad to know that you're confirming that I'm right.
Eric: Yeah. I actually, we'll show glimpses of the chaos in the workshop from time to time. It's just to reassure it, reassure people that we're all messy. So did you, did you start making videos when you started your blog or was that something later?
Serena: Well, so when I started my blog, I'm sorry. Yeah, I see. I'm always gonna make this a short story and it ends up being a long one. So when I started my blog in 2010 it was really just documenting what I was doing in the house. But then in 2012 I started getting word that people were making money with their blog. And I thought, wait, I've been doing this for free for two years and people are making money. So it was literally October, 2012 I decided I was going to do my first youtube video. I, I was working outside of the home at that time. I am full time, you know, blogger, youtube now. And I used a sick day and I called in sick because I wanted to paint my fireplace and I had this special kit that I ordered online and I was going to do it and show people how I did it.
Serena: And that was my very first video. And I, I have always been someone who was creative back. Remember when, remember those big camcorders you'd sit on your shoulder? Yeah, yeah. yeah. From like, what's that? That really funny comedy, National Lampoon's European vacation. So when I was in high school, we had rented one of those and I remember setting it up on the table and just kind of leaning down on my knees and I said, hi, this is Serena coming to you live from Marburn road. So I used to pretend that I was on camera all the time. So in 2012 when I decided that I was going to go, you know, quote unquote pro and try and make money at this, I was like, you know what, I'm going to do a youtube channel. And the crazy thing is, is that I'm very comfortable in front of the camera and I had no idea really these years that I had a talent for it. So that's, and I just, and I, and I kept doing it. I enjoyed it and I kept doing it. And even when there was no one watching the video, I just love being on camera and showing people from start to finish what happened with my project. And this includes the fails too, not just, hey, I'm so perfect. No, it's, I can't believe I just did that. Look what I did, here's how we're going to fix it. So that's how I got started.
Eric: Yeah. I, when the Troy-Bilt people first introduced this by email, I, I just did this kind of deep dive into your youtube videos and I liked how you're kind of making something out of nothing. You know, it's like, okay, there's this kind of beat up table and all of a sudden you're like, Oh wow, look at that. And I don't, I'm not good with colors and stuff. The camera operator is much better. But I, I would never think to do the things you did. And is that just kind of innate or did you learn that in school or something or just by doing or ?
Serena: I, you know, I think I just learned it by doing Eric. Like I said, I've, I've, I think I've always been creative, but there was a part of me that, that sort of lost that creativity. You know, you go to college and you think, Oh, I'm supposed to graduate and get a job and sit in an office with four walls and do that every day. Yep. And so when we bought this house, it was almost like this house saved my life because it gave me a reason to get back into being creative. And I'm getting goosebumps as, as I'm talking about it because it's that important to me is, you know, giving yourself time to experiment with things. And Andy and I started actually thinking about that. You know, how, how does somebody become creative? How do you take something or junk or an old table and turn it into something else?
Serena: And I actually, I don't know if I did a video on this, but I actually wrote a blog post on this with asking yourself the, the, the right questions. So for example, you know, let's say you remove a shutter from your house, you're doing some project, and instead of just throwing it in the pile, you know, why not turn it into a different direction and ask yourself, what does this remind me of? What if I turn this upside down? Could I need it for something else? Or what if I add legs to it and make it taller? Could it become a bench or a table or you know, so by asking yourself certain questions, even if you don't think you're a creative person, everybody could come up with some ideas just by asking these detailed questions. And I can send that to you too. So if maybe your audience wants to look at that. But yeah, it's so it's a great way to, I think everybody is creative and I think it's a great way to ask yourself these pointed questions. For me, I think it just comes natural. Oh, if I turn it this way or do that, I could turn it into something else. So yeah, you just have to learn to ask the right questions about certain things.
Eric: For me, it's sometimes has to sit in the corner for awhile and I look at it.
Serena: Yes. Well let me tell you about, let me tell you if this one project that I did, it was a toddler bed. My, my youngest son had had outgrown it and I was, and I actually bought it at the thrift store and I was going to re donate, donate it back to the thrift store, which I do a lot and I, I put it into the back of my van. But with beds in thrift stores and cribs, like certain things you can't donate and they won't take it if it's real rock, you know, rickety and wildly. So I said, well this, you know, I probably just need to tighten it up but I don't, I think I'll just make you know, firewood out of this. Well, as I was pulling it out of the back of my van, I set the toddler bed straight up and I thought, oh my goodness, that looks like a gardening bench.
Serena: Now it looks like a gardening bench for kids. But what if I build a platform and make it a little higher? And I can actually send you that as well. And it's, it's been sitting out on my patio now as a gardening bench, painted, painted a beautiful poppy color and just added a few little details, some cedar to the top and I made a garden bench out of it, you know, something that would have just been discarded or you know, maybe tossed in a landfill or something is now, you know, this cool piece of furniture that's on my patio. Okay.
Eric: I love that. And then you can remember when your, your, your large teenager was a kid, you know.
Serena: Exactly. Exactly. When you look at this furniture and you're like, well I did that with a crib. You know, with cribs, certain cribs you can't donate. Especially like the drop side because kids were getting stuck in them. Yeah. And I'll pad a drop side cribs for, you know, my oldest son, well I didn't want to just, you know, trash it. So I cut the ends of, of the crib off and I made a coffee table for my patio and just again put some cedar boards over top and it served its purpose for about a year or two on my patio. So you just have to think of how can I use parts of things and do something different with it. Then just getting rid of it.
Eric: Do you ever, do anything with street fines? I mean, do you happen to be driving down the subdivision road and people like have a thing at the, that's stuck at the mailbox there and you grab it?
Serena: Oh yes. That, that's definitely happened. Yep. Anything is up for grabs. But, you know, the, the thing that I've learned is that over time when you have this passion for, uh, like refinishing things, what happens is that your garage starts to get really, really packed until, you know, and, and so my husband complained at that time as well. But one thing that I started doing was pulling back a little bit. Like I'll see something great on the curb and I'll say, oh, it looks good, but I don't have the space. So now, you know, when my garage is overrun, it's usually a overrun with tools and gardening things. I don't bring as much furniture home now because we've pretty much decorated most parts of our home. So if there is something I bring home, it has to replace something else so that you don't become a pack rat. But yes. Yeah, yeah.
Eric: There's been times I was, and the, I lived in, I lived in this more upscale neighborhood in Brooklyn and there was this oak, a dresser out on the curb, you know, with the trash and the sanitation guys were coming down the street, you know, so I'm, I'm pulling out the drawers and I'm getting rid, put this in my car and the Sanitation guy's going, oh, no, no, we want that. I'm like, no, I want that. So, I mean, I didn't have to wrestle with them, but I was like, I was like, come on guys, the boss wants this. He's like, "okay". You know? But it was such a nice piece of furniture that the sanitation, they, they, I mean, so they Musk, that's amazing what they see, I would think.
Serena: Oh, I'm sure. I'm sure. I mean it, to me, it doesn't make any sense that people get rid of stuff like this. But, but that's the thing, sometimes people don't see that it can be something amazing. You know the, the show that was on Netflix. Marie Kondo. Yeah. Yes. So I think what's happening, like right now there's this big boom in thrift store donations. People are just getting rid of everything because they're like, oh this doesn't spark joy. This doesn't spark joy either. But the thing people have to realize is that sometimes with just a coat of paint, you know, even if you don't think you're creative, the information is there and it's really not hard to paint furniture. I mean you, it's almost like you can't mess it up as long as you pick the right products to use. And I have information on my blog about that too. But you know, sometimes just a different color will suddenly make you think, oh my gosh, well this is great. I mean especially if you've got old furniture from like your, your grandparents or your mother, you can reuse that stuff cause it's usually better quality than this stuff you buy in the stores now.
Eric: Well that was going to be my next question is kind of a, a quick PR Waco reference to your blog. which is thrift diving.com, thrift like thrift store and then diving like diving board, thrift diving, all one word. So what, I mean your typical piece of furniture is going to have stain and then maybe polyurethane on top. And how can you get paint on top of that without the paint flaking off?
Serena: Yeah. You know, there's, there's a lot of pings that are on the market now that are like, I consider them furniture paints. You know, there's paint that you buy at like home depot or Lowe's or any of those stores that are like regular latex wall paint, some DIY bloggers. We'll use that and you can, but it's, the process is a little different. So I would always recommend people to get a good furniture paint. And can I mention some of the brands?
Eric: Yeah. Cause I, I know I know nothing about this, so, yeah, sure, sure.
Serena: Well, some of it, some of the brands that people probably have heard about as Annie Sloan chalk paint and what it is, it has a calcium carbonate in it and it just makes it a lot hardier for sticking to virtually, almost any surface. So there's Annie Sloan chalk paint a, there's one that I actually am going to be using and soon country chic beyond pain is another one. They're a brand that I work with in the past, but I find that it's really easy to use just out of the box, out of the, you know, out of the bottle. If you've never painted anything, they even recommend using a roller. I mean, anybody has rolled their walls, right? You can roll your walls, you could roll your furniture, about the chipping, you know, like I said with these furniture paints that are on the market now, they, they say, oh, there's no stripping, there's no sanding.
Serena: You can just open up the bottle. And well, that's true for the most part. I mean, you want to make sure you clean it with a good degreaser, like maybe simple green. Once you clean it, you can paint it even if it's got top coats on it. But here's the thing, if it's a piece that that's got a lot of traffic on it, so if it's like a kitchen table address are top places where there's going to be a lot of things put on top of it. Yup. You definitely have to probably do about two or three coats of paint and you're going to want to do like a top coat two or three. So you're, you're doing multiple layers. So one thing that's kind of like, I don't want to say if it's a misnomer, but some of these furniture paints will say, oh, there's no priming.
Serena: You don't have to prime. Well because you're adding so many coats. It's like a primer. So you know, you don't have to strip it. So when you think of painting furniture, you don't have to necessarily strip it down to the bare wood and then paint it. That's what a lot of people think they have to do nowadays and they don't. If you want to lightly just sand it, that's fine. I usually don't. But I think you probably would get better results if you just lightly sand it and just know you're going to have to add two or three coats plus a top coat, you know, one or two coats of that. If it's going to be, especially if it's going to be something that's getting a lot of wear and tear. And then you've got, you know, beautiful furniture that looks updated. It looks more light and airy.
Serena: Some of the older stuff, it's just so dark and dreary. But here's what I tell people and I've got a post on my blog and I believe I even did a youtube video, when should you not paint wood furniture? So if there's something that's an antique, and by Antique I mean something that's at least a hundred years old or something that's got a lot of value. Uh, don't paint those because right now painting furniture, it's kind of trendy, but I feel like it's starting to move back to more natural furniture. so don't do it just to be trendy. Don't do it, uh, and ruin the value of something. Or if you're like, grandma, Betty is going to roll over in her grave because you painted her hutch from like 1850. Don't, don't do that. Don't do that wood. When I, when I first started working with what ad, don't consider myself to be a woodworker, but there are things that I've built.
Serena: For example, my bathroom vanity, I built that from scratch. That was the first large piece that I had built and yet, and it turned out really, really nice. I mean, there was some kinks in there, you know, maybe some drawers they didn't close quite properly. Those are hard to do. Yes. But for first attempt it was really good and buying that wood and, and finishing that wood in the way that I did. And again, I'll leave links if you have show notes. Yeah. but it really caused me to look at the value of wood, you know, by, in that red oak was not cheap. And to think of even even slathering paint on that beautiful piece of vanity, I thought maybe I shouldn't be painting furniture as much, you know, let's take it case by case. You know, so look at the piece. If you've got a beautiful woodgrain on there, especially if it's an oak, you know, you can actually do some really cool finishing where you're using like liming wax where it's like a white wax.
Serena: I don't know if you've heard of that Eric, but it's settled into the grain. Oh, it's beautiful. It's a beautiful, beautiful finish. And so it's called Liming wax, but it's also called Suruce oak. So it's taking oak with that deep grain and just rubbing that wax into the grain so that you can see the grain. It's highlighted. And if you go to my youtube channel there, if you search, go to thrift diving and search for, I think it was a wooden chest, just type in thrift diving, wooden chest. There's a wooden jet. Honestly, it looks like it looks like a casket and the shape of it looks like a casket, but it was a $40 chest OIC chest that I got from the thrift store. It was a little worn. It was that golden oak color I didn't like. And I thought, you know what we're gonna do, some would die and do some liming wax in. The finish of it is just absolutely gorgeous. So if you've got oak, don't just paint it, like really highlight that beautiful green. and another time when you shouldn't paint furniture is if you're using the wrong products. So for example, if you're just, you know, getting a can of spray paint and just, you couldn't do that, but do that on things that are like laminate, like cheap ikea stuff. Yep. Don't do that on good quality wood.
Eric: I actually, I, I'm a big Ikea Fan. Do you ever do any eye anything with stuff from Ikea? Kind of rehack it into something else or,
Serena: I don't specifically buy stuff from Ikea to do that with, but there was a garden, oh gosh, what do you call it? It's, Oh, there was, it was like a kitchen cart that I found. I found it at the thrift store. It was actually probably $60 at all at Ikea, but I found it for $20 at the thrift store. And yes, I know, right. Love a discount. And I actually turned it into, it was almost like, hey, I call it a command center. It was really cool. Like I removed the slats on the second shelf and, and used my router to route some pieces of wood and turned it into like a file cabinet. It's kind of hard to explain, but it was a really cool project to see this now. Yeah. I don't think I did it a video because back then I was not filming everything.
Serena: Now on my youtube t I feel, I feel everything. I mean if I'm cleaning my car out, I film it because I'm like, this could be content. But yeah, back then, you know, it was, my videos were coming every now and then I would maybe film it or maybe not, but now everything gets filmed. So I do have the blog post, I'll send you that link. Neat. but yeah, so I, I don't do a lot of Ikea stuff, but really it's the projects that I work on is, or the projects that I'm really, really passionate about and I think it has to be that way. So that's why I don't, I don't know about you, but I don't plan my content out in the future. I don't know what I'm going to be working on.
Eric: Oh good. You're like me then. Yeah, I was in the car and I'm like, what am I going to do this weekend?
Serena: It's for me, it's all about, and I know like from a business standpoint, it's really not the way to operate, but I feel like when you operate from a place of passion, people can feel that passion and they're much more likely to love what you do because they see the excitement and, and you know the pride that you feel when you've made something and you're like, oh my gosh guys, you're not going to believe this. It turned out so good. Here's how it went. People feel that. But if I just have to make something because it's on the calendar, I'm not really feeling it. So I'm like you, I operate just whatever I feel passionate about. So who knows? I may find a piece of furniture from Ikea and be like, oh, you know what, that would look great with this. So we can't say it won't come
Eric: this weekend. so I'm going to say this, so now I have to commit to it, but I'm, I'm big on making no knead bread and I was watching somebody. Oh they, they're these re-enactors. They do like, like revolutionary time reenacting and they made a bread on a hearth just at an open fire. And I thought I wonder if we can hack. No need bread to be done in a campfire. So that involves two, my three, my favorite things. Cast iron, no name red and open fire.
Serena: Ooh. Can you send some of that too? If it turns out, can you send me some of that too with that? With the Maple Syrup,
Eric: I'll get the maple syrup here. The bread I might have to eat it.
Serena: Come on one day. Express shipping. It can get here, it can get here.
Eric: All right. So I imagine people are pulling into their parking spot and they are thinking about quitting their jobs and going to the thrift store and then making a living. But I mean you have been, you have a magic touch cause I don't know if people realize this, but it is incredibly hard to make a living, you know, on the Internet the way we are. and you've done really well. So that'd be fun. And I, I I just think that people need to learn more about your world there. Cause it's, it's all about using what got, and that's one of my big things in the world. Repurposing rather than going out and buying something.
Serena: Right. And it's fun too. It's, it's fun to just flex your creative muscle. You know, like you said, people are pulling into their jobs right now and they're like, oh, not another day of this. You know, they want something to look forward to when they come home. You know, if they have time at the end of the evening getting the kids ready, getting some time to themselves. Why not tackle a project? You may not be able to finish it in 30 minutes, but you know, if you finish it that week, now you've got something else to look forward to. Then just go into work every day.
Eric: Yay. Now you can start your blog.
Serena: Exactly. And then your, and then your garage can get fooled too.
Eric: Our earlier one was if you have want more information about Serena, it's at thrift diving.com or go to youtube and type in thrift diving. It'll be in the show notes here. And any other questions for us? It's email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org. And Serena, you're going to go to the garden fork podcast page on iTunes and write us a positive review, right?
Serena: Yes, I will
Eric: I keep harping on people to do that,
Serena: so I will do that. Thank you Serena. Thank you so much, Eric. This was fun.