Category Archives: Front Yard

Shut the Front Door


You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to use that title, although it’s, perhaps, a line that’s a little overused now (to the point that I heard a spin-off line in which a woman exclaimed, “close the front door!”).  Hm, not quite the same effect.

Moving on… our front door was in sad shape.  The stain had worn down to nearly the raw wood and the rough North Texas weather had started taking its toll on it.  In my excitement over starting the project, I failed to take before pictures but managed to scrounge up this picture from Halloween.

So, although the spider and it’s enormous web are probably the most exciting thing you’ve laid eyes on lately, the door is not.  I imagined if the door was alive, it would sigh a lot and look downtrodden like Eeyore, not exactly what we were going for in terms of curb appeal.

See the resemblance?  We needed to inject this baby with some happy pills-  that’s right, it was time to get our stain on.

So while Chris will walk through the steps of refacing a stained door in his post, I would like to take this chance to exclaim to the world how awesome my husband is!  If this outburst of affection seems random, it is.  This is me STILL groveling my way out of making him stain the door Dark Walnut then proceeding to hate the color and make him refinish it in a different stain.  Oops.

I continue to remind Chris that with a first house comes first-time projects comes trial and error.  Well, it’s not my fault that this house has been a full series of trial and errors… mostly when it comes down to selecting a color.  Chris jokes that the entire house has been repainted twice and I’m starting on the third round.  Which is NOT true.  The living room, guest bedrooms, kitchen, and dining room have all only been painted ONCE (although I may want to repaint 3 of those 5 rooms already).  Hey, live and learn, right?

Round One.  We used Minwax Dark Walnut stain from Home Depot which we used on a pair of shelves we built in our bathroom.  It looks amazing in the bathroom- a rich, dark walnut color that really compliments the rest of the bathroom.

On the front door, however, it was WAY too dark.  It lost all of its rich walnut color and instead looked like an uneven coat of black.  And while I am obsessed with black-painted doors right now, it wasn’t the look I was going for.  See?

Needless to say, a redo was in store.  I let Chris have some time to recover from the first round before we started on the second round.  What I originally thought was going to be 2 weeks became 2 months.  Finally, I couldn’t take the agony of an ugly front door any longer.  The time had come.

Round Two.  This time we used Minwax Early American stain from Home Depot.

Don’t be fooled by the picture of the stain on Home Depot’s website.  The stain has more red in it than the picture shows.  The results are fantastic!  Our sad, depressed door went from sad Eeyore to an even more sad black hole, to a beautiful, rich, welcoming entrance.  The color really compliments our oil-rubbed bronze door handle as well.

Isn’t she a beaut?  Now it’s time to do the inside!

Oh, but first I’ll let Chris have his turn to whine about detail each step of the process.


I absolutely love Texas, but I have to admit that the summers really are the worst.  I grew up in South Texas where it’s hot and humid, and now I live in North Texas where it’s hot and dry… and it’s affected the way I think. For example, I took a few courses in materials science in college and when we discussed the various properties, all I could think was “yeah, but how does it stand up to the Texas heat?” It’s a climate that influences every decision you make- what kind of car you buy, what color clothes you wear, even which direction your house faces- which also why you learn how to refinish a front door.

If you’re smart, enjoy the outdoors, and live in Texas, you’ll make sure your backyard is shaded in the afternoon, which means your front door gets the worst of the summer sun. I refinished my parents’ front door a few years ago, but the door was only a few years old and really just needed a fresh coat of urethane; maybe half a day later, I had it back on the hinges looking as good as new. My door, however, was another story: it had been neglected for decades, and it looked like 100 miles of bad road. Something needed to be done but this being Texas, I’d only have a small window in which to do it.

Ah, springtime in Texas: the most beautiful time in the most beautiful place (most of you probably consider this time of year to be late winter). Also, the time when you’d better get all of your outdoor projects out of the way, because in 2 months you’ll be stuck inside until Thanksgiving. I had an excellent Saturday planned: hit the trails on my mountain bike with a friend for a few hours, recover with a few beers, and then back home to begin my summer lawn prep (if you want a green lawn in the summer here, you better start no later than March). Well, I was half right: I was greeted by Julie who announced that I was “just in time to help with the front door,” which meant that she had the camera ready to take pictures of me redoing the door by myself.

I got to work removing all the hardware. I got the handle and deadbolts off and popped the pins out of the hinges. Once I had the door free, I set it down (outer side facing upward) on two sawhorses. I got a chemical stripper that I brushed on to pull the old varnish off. Using a paint scraper, I worked my way down through the varnish and lightly sanded the wood to get a smooth finish. Since Julie and I decided we liked a dark walnut stain, there was no need to go any further. I applied the new stain as evenly as possibly and it was dark. Like, black. At this point, I was running out of daylight and hesitantly applied one coat of urethane to prevent further deterioration of the wood, knowing I’d just have to strip it off later. What a waste of time!

Fast-forward a few weeks, and I was running out of nice weather. I decided it was time to re-refinish the front door, but this time I was going to do it right. I got up early (for a Saturday, anyway), set the door up, popped in my headphones, and fired up the sander. Again.


The first order of business was to strip off the varnish using Jasco Premium Paint and Epoxy Remover from Home Depot. Surprisingly, this is pretty easy. I applied a chemical stripper that brushes on as a gel (or non-Newtonian fluid, if you prefer). I let it sit for a few minutes before using a paint scraper to turn the old varnish into little piles of goop that I sucked up with a shop-vac before smoothing it over with a sander.

Some tight corners required a sanding block.

Now, let me show you where the two projects differ:

The first time I applied the stain, I didn’t want to go too dark. I tried brushing it on and wiping it off, but this turned out really uneven because it relies on a uniform amount of stain and soak time before wiping in order to be even, and it’s really difficult. So now it was uneven… and still too dark.

After the stain.

After the varnish.


After removing the varnish again, I had to strip off the old stain. I didn’t have to do this the first time around since we were going with a darker stain (and the wood was so faded, anyway), and I didn’t want to do it this time around… because it’s a LOT of work. I started sanding with 60-grit sandpaper, and when I wore that out I moved up to 80-grit, then 120, then 150… and finally 220. About three hours later, I had clean wood with no “dark walnut” junk on it. And my head was rattling from that stupid sander.

This time I decided to use wood conditioner (Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner from Home Depot), which supposedly makes the stain go on more evenly or something. Given how terrible the last round looked, I was willing to spend a few bucks and give it a whirl. It definitely came out more even, but I also used a slightly different method of applying the stain itself.

Finally, it was time for the new stain. I was a little nervous at this point because I really didn’t want to do this again, but I also didn’t want a door that looked like it was refinished by a rookie. I decided to stain one section of wood at a time, hoping that the joints would hide any unevenness. I also decided that this was a naturally lighter stain, so letting it soak longer would give it a really rich color. Not wiping it off at all would allow for a more even finish.

After the stain.

Applying the varnish.

The finished product.

After letting everything dry and doing a few touch-ups, I was finally satisfied with the finish. There are a few places where different types of wood were used and therefore absorbed the stain differently, but there’s really nothing I could do about that, so I’m not too worried.

Two coats of satin urethane later, I was hanging it back up and reinstalling the hardware. We had one brass deadbolt, but some faux oil rubbed bronze spray paint solved that dilemma. And the finished product:

The best part of this project is that Julie can’t saturate it with pictures of the cat. Right?


It seems our little Chloe the cat is becoming quite the celeb.  Did you spot her cameo in one of the above shots? If you missed her, never fear, you know I took a dozen close-ups of her supervising us from the window.



Filed under Before & After, Front Yard

Signed, Sealed, and Delivered


One of the items far, far down on our to-do list involved getting a new mailbox.  Not only was it a little crooked, rusty, and ugly but it took the brute force of Hercules to open.


After a year-and-a-half of tug-of-war with the mailbox, we finally gave in and bought a new one.  Just a standard, black, run-of-the-mill one from Lowe’s for just under $18.

Not too shabby, but also a little lot on the plain side.  So, I turned to the never-ending idea generator (um, hello, Pinterest) for inspiration.  I soon stumbled upon this cute idea for displaying house numbers on a door.  You know what else this would look great on?  A mailbox!

Yes, vinyl characters were just the solution!  This pin led back to an Etsy seller, Single Story, who made a variety of different vinyl designs.  Check out her store here: Single Story.  I messaged her with my idea hoping she’d be open to a custom design as I had measured the mailbox to determine the exact size the numbers could be.  A few hours later, she messaged me that she was game and we were off!

Here is the design I came up with, similar to the one I found on Pinterest but I like the font (called Engravers) a little better.

If you’d like to duplicate this for your own purposes, feel free to download the Photoshop template here.

In about a week, I received the custom vinyl characters in the mail.  The seller at Short Story was so wonderful to work with- she even provided detailed instructions in the packaging.

It only took about 10 minutes to apply the vinyls.  We purchased two sets so we could apply to each side of the mailbox.  Our original mailbox only had the numbers on one side, which never made sense to me, since traffic can approach our house from either direction.

This is such a quick and easy way to jazz up your mailbox!


One of the first “projects” I ever did after moving in was actually to fix the mailbox- it was poorly mounted, crooked, missing fasteners, and so bent up it barely opened. I fixed it the same way a cut-rate body shop might fix your car: I hammered it back into a shape that would allow the door to close if slammed hard enough, forced it to be level by putting screws where there’s really not a place for any, and used whatever bolts I had lying around from previous projects to keep it all mounted. This seemed to work for the time being, but the grimace on our Lebron James look-a-like mailman’s face made it obvious that this would eventually need to be resolved.

Anyway, fast-forward to a few months ago in the hardware store, where while I’m carefully selecting lumber for the project to be revealed in our next post, Julie wandered off. She soon called me and told me to come help her pick out a mailbox. Oh, great. I obliged but really didn’t have time to mess with it, so it ended up just rattling around in my backseat for a few months.

Eventually I grew tired of hearing a mailbox clank every time I turned left, so I decided it was time to install it. Julie ordered some vinyl letters and I was tasked with their application. I’ve worked in the automotive industry for a few years, so applying stickers isn’t a foreign concept, and I’ve learned a few tricks:

1. Clean, clean, clean- If there’s any dirt or oil on your surface, your letters won’t adhere properly. I used window cleaner and a wash cloth to make sure I had a clean surface.

2. Apply slowly- Make sure you have everything lined up and even, and start with the easiest point at which to ensure proper placement. For this, I kept even spacing between the bottoms of the numbers and the bottom of the mailbox to ensure everything came out straight.


3. Peel level- The numbers themselves are adhesive, but come on an adhesive backing as well, This backing has to be peeled off after application, so I actually flip the edge over 180* so I can almost “roll” the backing off.

4. Air pockets- The vinyl will have little air bubbles, so make sure you smooth them out. I used a small plastic razor blade which had a nice edge but wouldn’t scratch the paint on the mailbox.

5. Heat- I used Julie’s fancy orange hair dryer to add style and promote adhesion.

I finally got the numbers applied and got the mailbox installed. It actually looks pretty good- it definitely beats the cheap reflective numbers it had previously, and I like having numbers on both sides. Oh, and I don’t need a winch to get the mail anymore.


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Love Me Some Tree Ninja


We had been dreading this day for a whole year.  Tree cutting day.  But, the time had finally arrived.  A few events set this day in motion.

1) My mom, the most un-hippie tree hugger you’ll ever meet, arrived for a weekend visit

2) Chris shot down my attempts at calling a professional tree trimming company (how can you say no to someone who advertises himself as a tree cowboy?!)

3) The tree was becoming so overgrown that branches were beginning to touch the street pavement (nothing kills curb appeal faster than a tree out of control)

Chris moaned and groaned thinking of nearly every excuse in the book to get out of the inevitable.  But it was time.  Time for the Chris versus tree showdown.

Obstacle 1: We met our first obstacle upon discovering that we don’t have a ladder tall enough to reach the branches that needed to be cut and Chris wasn’t ready to take claim to the title of Tree Cowboy.  So, my Dad and Chris set out to Home Depot to rent a ladder.  Two Home Depots later (the one by us has stopped renting tools we found out… boo!), the boys were back home with a humongous ladder in hand.

Obstacle 2: Enter hippie-mom with her claims that we needed a special spray to use on the tree after cutting branches.  “It’s like Neosporin for trees!” she claimed.  Fiiine.  Another trip to Home Depot and we had the ultimate tree band-aid.

And we were off!

Let me take this time to mention how this is yet another project we severely underestimated the timing on.  What we thought would take an hour, two at the max, took ALL day.  Even with 6 pairs of hands helping.  Oh yeah, you know we roped in brother 1 and 2 as well (what else are they good for?  KIDDING!… sort of).

As Chris and my dad whacked away at the tree, my mom surveyed (aka represented the feelings of the tree through her hippie ways), my middle brother cut the fallen branches into smaller limbs, and my youngest brother and I dragged the limbs to the curb for trash pick-up.  Several hours later, we surveyed our handywork.

Then began the big debate.  There was something wrong.  Mr. tree looked like he had a bad haircut.  Everything looked great on the two sides and in the back.  But the front… oooh boy.  It looked like he was bald in front except for one rebellious spot sticking straight out.  Sort of like Howie Mandel’s soul patch.


Side A (Dad and Julie): The patch has gotta go.  Whack it off!

Side B (Mom and Chris): Leave the patch!  The integrity of the tree will be gone otherwise. (Have I mentioned the word hippie yet?)

Well, side A won.  Naturally.  We’re the most stubborn afterall.

The soul patch was cut off and our tree emerged as its beautiful self again.  Ahhh.  Much better.

Our front yard is almost up to par with the lawn two doors down that we so covet.  They have perfectly manicured bermuda grass compared to our very lush, but very St. Augustine lawn.  It’s so unfair!  *sigh.  Some day we’ll steal back the mental title of “Lawn of the Neighborhood.”  Some day.


Correction: I’m the Tree Ninja. What my lovely wife failed to mention is that a few weeks before, I climbed up into the tree with a sawzall and cut all the branches I could reach. The problem is that you can only climb out so far on a branch before things get really unstable. I wanted to wear a helmet, but Julie said no because I would “look stupid.” Right, because climbing a tree with a sawzall doesn’t already look stupid or anything.

Anyway, to say that the branches were low is something of an understatement- you couldn’t walk in front of our house without getting whacked in the face, and the only thing keeping it off the ground was the fact that most of the branches were resting on top of my project car. Oh, and the daily advertisements for tree-cutting services taped to our door was another giveaway that maybe it was in fact time to do something about it.

I hated yard work as a kid. Not only were we the only kids in the neighborhood that had to do it, but it was usually my mom going on a clipping frenzy while my sister and I picked up the debris. I pretty much have nightmares about picking up leaves and tree limbs, so I agreed to risk life and limb (no pun intended) to cut the stupid branches under one condition: I didn’t have to pick anything up.

After picking up a ladder and tree saw from Home Depot, Julie’s dad and I stared at the tree for a few minutes attempting to determine which branches needed to be cut, and in what order. We finally picked a starting point, gave the ladder a few good shakes to ensure stability, and we were ready to hack away. I’m not scared of heights, but there’s something unnerving about cutting off tree limbs. For starters, you’re about 15 feet off the ground. Seconds, you’re on a rickety ladder, throwing your body weight back and forth to make the cuts (it’s that or hang on by one hand and make wimpy cuts).

A few hours later (I knew from the beginning that it would take all day, by the way), we had a pile of branches about the size of a Sherman tank… but something wasn’t quite right. The tree looked like a boat listing to port, and we weren’t quite sure why. Julie and her dad were convinced more branches needed to come down, but I didn’t want to lose any more shade in the front lawn. After a few minutes of arguing (I’m sure the nosy neighbors were delighted), we compromised and decided to cut one more branch. Huzzah! The tree looked great, and we were DONE.

Oh, and the neighbors whose lawn Julie covets? They don’t do their own work, they have lame grass, and they don’t get the satisfaction of climbing trees with power tools.

Tree Ninja to the rescue!

Just chillaxin’ between cuts.

The rest of us look so hard at work!

A visual after we sprayed the tree “band-aid”

Ahhh so much better without the soul patch (sorry we forgot to take before picture!  Don’t hate us!)

Aw, pretty house!

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