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Addressing An “Easy” Project

So, one of the “minor” details of our porch makeover is the superugly address plaque our landlord provided us.

Frankly, I thought this would be the single easiest project we’d conquer during our transformation — I’d planned to simply remove the numbers, sand & paint the board, add a simple trim border (to imitate a framed photo), spray paint the numbers & put them back up. Donezo. Couldn’t be easier.

Rental House Rule #13: The can labeled “Easy Project” is almost always full of worms.

Here’s the first fly I noticed in my ointment:

The screws holding the numbers onto the wood were stripped. Almost every one of them. I couldn’t get a screwdriver to grip enough to twist even one of those suckers out of there.

Crud.

This realization flushed my spray painting plan down the loo, since I couldn’t very well spray paint the numbers without taking them off the wood.

But was I dissuaded? Hellz no.

I’d just leave the plaque in place and paint the wood & numbers individually using painter’s tape, brush-on paint and acrylic sealer. (All of which I already own, keeping the project in the more-or-less-free zone!)

Crud. Crud.

None of the local hardware stores would fire up their plank-ripper to make 4 cuts on a single, 79-cent piece of wood trim… ?? Whaaa ?? I just don’t see why not ;->

And I don’t own a miter saw.

So, there goes the “framed photo” look. I would have liked to use an actual picture frame, but:

1) The dimensions of the existing plaque are weird, so I doubt I could find one the right size.

2) I refuse to pay full price for a picture frame & I didn’t want to postpone the project until I could find one that would work at Goodwill.

I still think it would look cool though, to do an imitation-framed-art address plaque. I would, of course, use nicer numbers & a really nice piece of wood for the background. I’d also add a little thin plywood “mat” too, to really drive home the framed look.

But, que sera, sera. So, I moved on to the idea of sanding/painting the existing sign with it still on the wall, and adding a sunburst border.

Some people carefully plot projects out using graph paper and exact measurements. I prefer a loose sketch on a cocktail napkin.

My plan was to use wooden shims & various other lengths/widths of wooden sticks I have laying around to really add some depth & variation to the star burst. (And to fill in weird, empty spots.) I would soldier on with my “paint the plaque while it’s still on the wall” plan, then paint or stain the wood sticks & glue them around the edges of the plaque.

But… when I barely touched the plaque with sandpaper, it practically fell apart. It’s just so old and brittle. And warped.

Crudsicles!

As I silently cursed my Murphy’s Law life, I realized that this was ridiculous. I said to myself, “Self… why are you driving yourself insane over a stupid piece of scrap wood?” And I replied to myself, “Good point, self. Screw this noise.”

In other words, I decided salvaging the original piece of scrap plywood and corroded metal numbers just wasn’t worth the hassle. I love to reuse materials, but there’s gotta be a limit.

Still, wanting to keep things under control, budget-wise, I figured I’d just buy a simple wooden plaque from the craft store and paint it myself using the paints we already have on hand. That way, it’ll coordinate with the rest of the porch, not draw too much attention & allow me the opportunity to put/DIY some really cool, eye-catching wall decor on the opposite side of the front door.

I chose an almond base paint (the same color I used above the front door) with an espresso trim. I got the espresso paint for our wicker table & chairs and I lurve it. It’s got a very, very vague purpley undertone. 🙂

I gave the face and edges a quick twice-over with the almond paint, allowing about 30 minutes dry-time between thin, even coats.

Then I trimmed an angle into a cheapo 1/4-inch brush & covered the edges of the plaque with the espresso paint.

I didn’t bother to tape it off. I figured I could make a straight enough line to get by without it.

It didn’t look too bad — but of course, I had to go and pick at it :-/

As it dried, I envisioned how nice a tidy little band of Rustoleum redwood paint (what I used for the porch stencil/trim) would look on the flat surface between the rounded edge of the plaque and its face.

So… I grabbed one of Sonia’s kiddie paintbrushes (don’t fret, she has plenty), did my little angle-trim thang & went to town.

Did I tape off this time? Nope.

“Is this a good idea?” I asked myself.

“Shut up, self,” I replied. “You’re such a buzz-kill.”

AWWWW CRUD!!!!!!!!

“Yeah, laugh it up, self. Laugh at the poor shakey-handed old lady. Very funny.”

Fine. One more attempt before I chuck this thing off the nearest bridge & just let people guess what our house number is.

Anyway, once all my hubris (and the egg on my face) had dried, I swallowed my pride, taped off the whole sign in order to touch up my smudges.

And, since brush control seems to be my nemesis on this project, I also decided to switch tools to something far more sophisticated & specialized…

Q-Tips.

I adore Q-Tips. They’re so very multi-functional!

In this case, they acted as paint detailers.

I removed a lot of the cotton (I’d say about 65%) from a Q-Tip, barely dipped it in my red paint, and dabbed away.

Tip: When using tape on a curved surface, use really small lengths of tape & overlap them generously. This keep your curved line more true as well as making tape removal simple. If you don’t overlap them enough, you will encounter a “I just need to carefully slide my fingernail under this slightly loose corner of this tiny piece of tape in order to take it off without smudging my… DANGIT! situation.

So, after twice around, slowly and gently I peeled away my tape…

and… not too bad!

There was bound to be a little seepage of the paint in areas where the wood (pine) was knotted, because the tape simply couldn’t affix flatly enough to prevent all seepage.

But the majority of the tape held wonderfully, and I got a more or less straight line. Finally.

So with a few more dabs of the Q-Tip — to cover the red smudges on the brown border & a couple of random flaws on the almond-colored face — I was somewhat satisfied with my work.

Now, all I needed to do was paint on the numbers, seal the whole thing up with some acrylic sealer & hang it on the wall!

But, as my freehand paint “skillz” are obviously not what they once were, I chose to go with a stencil. So I did a “cool free fonts” online search and found a great one that has a vaguely Celtic feel without being too Erin Go Bragh.

Then I downloaded it (it really was free!), typed out our house number, enlarged it to fit the dimensions of my plaque and hit print. Viola. Ready to measure/trace/cut my stencil.

First I measured both horizontally & vertically to find the exact center of my plaque & made a teeny mark with a pencil.

Then I cut a clear sheet of stencil film — with the printer paper with my address on it underneath — to fit my plaque & taped it on a thick piece of cardboard.

Tip: Leave the paper slightly larger than the stencil film so you can anchor both. If they’re the same size, the paper can slip around under the film.

Next, I traced & cut out my numbers. In retrospect, I guess I didn’t need to trace them, as the numbers were clearly visible through the stencil anyway… but I’m gonna pretend it was a good idea anyway, because my pride has been injured enough on this project already.

Tip: Always trace your stencil, even if you really don’t need to. (Because it’ll make me feel like less of a dumb*ss.)

Once I’d cut all the numbers, I carefully taped the stencil to my plaque & started the painting process.

I was as careful as humanly possible while painting/peeling away the stencil, hoping I wouldn’t need to break out the old Q-Tips again…

I used the same deep red color I’d used on the thin stripe, gently blotting the teeeeeeniest bit possible with a painting sponge I pirated from Sonia’s stash. (Seriously, she has tons. The kid loves to paint. I have no idea why.) 

I figured there’d be a little bit of bleeding around the edges, because the surface of the wood wasn’t totally smooth. But I wasn’t too, too worried about it, because the surface wasn’t totally bumpy, either. It would surely need a bit of touching up, but I expected to be more or less pleased with the results.

So, when I peeled the stencil up and found this…

Well, let’s just say I wasn’t the happiest I’ve ever been.

There may have been some very loud swearing. Just a little.

The shape of the numbers had been completely lost. The paint seeping into the grain of the wood underneath the stencil’s cut edges had turned a graceful, distinctive font into a muddy, sloppy-looking mess.

CRUUUUUUUUUUUUUDDD!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And if you think this lone number looks bad, you should have seen the whole address. It looked like a sign you’d find on the “smelly” bunkhouse at Camp Myfolksarecheap.

Shakey old-lady syndrome or not, I could have done better freehand. Heck, Sonia could have done better freehand.

Now it was personal. I was seething. I would make this project work if it was the last mother f-ing thing I ever did!!!

I grabbed another Sonia brush and started smoothing out the lines. Even more of the shape got lost, but at least it didn’t look like I’d painted it mid-seizure anymore. But it still looked kind of plain.

I figured a contrasting border would help, so I outlined each number with the espresso paint I’d used on the plaque edge.

And finally, finally…

I like it.

It’s certainly not what I set out to do, but I like it.

Each number is uniform, yet vaguely unique. And I find the juxtaposition of the formal shape and detailed edge with the crudely hand-painted numbers charming.

And it only cost me $8 and most of my sanity!

I still need to hit it with 2 quick layers of acrylic sealer to increase its durability, since it will hang outdoors.

But I figured I’d spare you that funfest.

There’s really nothing to show: Just apply very thin, even layers, allowing enough time for each layer to fully dry in between.

It looks milky in the can, but dries clear.

So, that’s the crazyinsane drama I’ve been going through for the past week. All over an address plaque. You can bet I’m saving the old one to reinstall when we eventually move. After all the hassle, I’m definitely taking this bad boy with me. The spoils of war and all that… 🙂

Before

After

“I told you I could pull it off.”

“Yeah, self, keep telling yourself that.”

So, what did I take away from all this hassle?

1) Carefully check out the materials you plan to repurpose before you get all attached to the idea. (I actually knew this, but got all cavalier for some reason.)

2) Painter’s tape is worth the time & expense. (I actually knew this, but got all lazy for some reason.)

3) Don’t buy supplies like spray paint, wood glue & shims until you’re sure you really can use them. (I actually knew this, but got all impatient for some reason.)

4) Don’t take the pitfalls of DIY personally and scream swear words at the top of your lungs into the still summer night. (I actually knew this, but got all screamy for some reason.)

5) Don’t get all cocky. (That one I’m not sure I ever really knew.)

NEXT POST: MORE PORCH PROGRESS (PROBABLY LIGHTING. MAYBE STEPS.)

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2 thoughts on “Addressing An “Easy” Project

  1. maryann on said:

    You will own used book and rehabbed furniture someday when my sister parts with her stuff! I admire your tenacity on these projects.

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