Tag Archives: wood graining

Renewed: Herringbone shelf

here are many learning opportunities in every project, for both novice and more seasoned crafters. This project has certainly provided many of those. I learned a new faux painting technique. I realized that next time I will try to only work on pieces not currently in use in the house. I learned that it is important to pay attention when working on more or less complex projects lest some amount of redoing will be in order. Then again, isn’t this a blog about redoing and recycling? And, more fundamentally, I continue to learn to accept imperfection and to bravely blaze the trails of the various crafts I attempt.

It has been three months in the making (not because this project is so difficult, but because of procrastination, making too many other things at the same time, and the above mentioned lack of attention). Mike’s patience with this project has been remarkable – from putting up with displaced toiletries for extended periods of time to observing work-in-progress pieces in the kitchen. Here are the requisite before and after shots:


This was a pressboard shelf from our grad student days. Mike used it to store his sheet music. It has seen better days, so I thought I’d repaint it and continue using it as a bookshelf. However, when we moved to our apartment in Boston, our bathroom didn’t have enough storage, and the shelf was a perfect fit for the space. At a danger of claiming someone else’s idea as mine, Martha Stewart describes the herringbone painting technique in detail here. When I saw the herringbone design and the apparent ease of its execution, I thought that it will be a fun project to work on and the resulting “after” would spice up the somewhat subdued colors of our bathroom.

Here are the supplies that I used:

1. Porter-Cable random orbital sander – this was a welcome purchase given that I used to sand all my other refinishing projects by hand.
2. Acrylic paint. I used three colors of Ace-brand paint: Carnivale (F20), Flannel Suit (D44-6), and Seal Point (D36-4). A note on shopping for paint: since I was experimenting with unusually (for me) bright colors, I did not want to have leftover paint that I would have to store in my space-deprived apartment until I could find another use for them. Therefore, I bought sample jars for around $3 each and found that two of each color was sufficient for the project.
3. Paint brush.
4. Painters’ tape.
5. Ace-brand water-based glaze.
6. Triangular rubber graining comb, similar to this one.
7. Minwax water-based polyurethane.
8. Screwdriver to disassemble and assemble the shelf.

Here are the steps:

1. After disassembling the shelf, I sanded each surface of the resulting panels. A random orbital sander is such a fun thing because the sanding disk rotates in random patterns while also vacuuming up all sorts of paint and sawdust.

2. Next, I painted all the internal surfaces solid colors – orange or grey – as seen on the photo below. Two coats of color followed by two coats of polyurethane did the trick:

Herringbone design:

3. For external surfaces – the sides and the top of my shelf – I started with two coats of orange paint and no polyurethane for now. These are the surfaces that would have a herringbone design on them.

4. Using painter’s tape, I covered the sections of the surface that I didn’t want painted, leaving one-inch gaps that would be painted in the next steps.

5. Starting with one of the panels, I painted the entire surface with the mix of glaze and grey paint. Finding the right proportions of paint and glaze took some time. Various websites suggest different quantities of paint, glaze, and water. Through trial and error, I found that one part paint to one part glaze was the perfect combination that was neither too runny nor too quick to dry.

6. Next, I dragged the rubber graining comb diagonally over the entire surface of the panel, which revealed what was to become my grey-orange herringbone design. I found that it is helpful to wipe the comb with a dry cloth after each pass. Here is what it looks like after the painter’s tape was removed:

7. After the paint is dry, apply painter’s tape on the areas that have already been painted with herringbone design to reveal the stripes painted in base color. But before you do this, please, please, PLEASE, mark the direction of the diagonals on the design that you are about to cover. I didn’t do this at first and ended up dragging the comb in the same direction as the covered sections.

8. This time, I mixed my glaze with a lighter shade of grey, and repeated steps 5 and 6, making sure (obsessively, this time) to drag the comb in the direction perpendicular to the previously created design. Once the tape was removed, here’s what it looked like (not perfect at all, I know, but extremely satisfying):

9. Finally, once the paint dried, I applied two coats of polyurethane over the herringbone pattern and reassembled the shelf.

Before using, let the polyurethane dry for 24-48 hours. This allows it to “cure” and prevents the surfaces from being sticky.

Happy crafting and recycling!

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