Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Backsplash that Gave a Little Backtalk

No sooner had I finished up my Mobile Hobby Station when I started getting a harebrained really cool idea.

The backsplash in The Van is, and has been, a perfectly serviceable backsplash, but you have to admit, it is firmly entrenched over there on the boiled-white-rice side of the bland spectrum.

The serving tray and splash of color from the potholders do their best to spice things up (Get it? Kitchen - spice??) but it's still not what I would call caliente. (Get it? Kitchen - hot -- oh never mind. . .)

The Van's decor has always keyed off the rugs for both color and design elements. (I bought two sets of these rugs to account for wear over time without having to change the whole decor, since experience has shown that it will be impossible to find the same rug again when the first set wears out.) When I was building the cabinet doors I took one of the rugs into the paint department and had a whole bunch of little jars of paint mixed up to match (Sort of, but close enough.) its various colors. Then, when I built the cupboard doors, I painted the door-panels to mimic the rugs. To keep the theme going, the towels, sheets, and even the blanket also key off the rugs.

Well at some point while I was building it, I noticed that the base color of the Mobile Hobby Station was a fairly decent match for the deeper red of The Van's decor, and I really liked how rich and interesting the faux leather-look - well - looked.

It was  about this time that the rusty little gears inside my head groaned and squealed to life. Always a dangerous situation.

Now I could have saved myself a whole lot of trouble and time by throwing up a little masking tape around the edges and just painting the backsplash, it would be pretty much like one of those feature walls that are all the rage these days, (Actually I could have saved myself any trouble at all by just leaving well enough alone, but apparently there's something in my DNA that denies me the sensible way out.) but nooo! As usual I was plagued with wanting something fancier than that and, as usual, gave in to the urge!!

 So instead of doing the sensible thing I slapped some butcher paper up and started swinging a pencil around like I knew what I was doing. Luckily no one else was within range or they might have gotten stabbed, or at least penciled.

With a plan as much in my head as on paper, I went back to the workbench, grabbed my 24" flexible curve (If you're wondering why I have a 24" flexible curve you'd have to go way back to the days of pencil-on paper drafting and my boat-building projects.) and adjusted my less than elegant penciled curves into something a little more graceful,

and transferred those curves onto a handy scrap of hardboard. With one side of each curve laid down I hand-drew the other side to form what would eventually become 'borders' for my new backsplash.

Once the various curved border pieces were roughly drawn in, five of them in all, I crudely sliced the hardboard into manageable chunks and retired to the bandsaw for a long, careful, squinty session to finish them up.

With all the pieces cut, but left extra long, I taped them temporarily in place starting over on the left, trimming them to fit as I went. (A lot of back and forth between The Van and the bandsaw!!)

The next step was to sand each piece thoroughly through three different grits, rounding over the edges as I went so in the end they would resemble fired tile more than sawed wood. This had to be done very carefully because the 1/8th inch thick hardboard is not the sturdiest of materials when it's cut into such delicate little pieces. (I swear there must be something wrong inside my brain to keep getting myself into things like this!!)

I won't bore you with endless photos, but once sanded I primed each piece, front and back, sanded again, then painted them using a variety of colors from my collection of little jars from the cabinet door project. And for even more variety and interest I blended two or more colors across several of the pieces. Regardless, each got two color coats for coverage and a third clear-coat for durability.


But before that, while I had all the pieces taped up in place, I ran a pencil line down both sides of each one. Now that I knew where the pieces went up on the backsplash I could start to mask things off for the main painting project. By masking right down the middle of where each piece fit I accomplished a couple of things. First off, I didn't have to use up any of my expensive artists curve tape trying to lay down a perfect masking line right along the pencil mark. Second, by masking down the middle of where the curved pieces will go, I can make the inevitable adjustment as I permanently mount them without risking exposing an edge.

Once I had everything masked and the T-molding pulled out of the way (That's it hanging there in the bottom right of the photo.) it was time to paint the backsplash itself.

Now let's just say that applying finishes is not my strong point, and this project reminded me of that. (More like beat me repeatedly over the head until I went down then stomped the crap out of me!!)

I have chosen to keep any alleged photos of the painful process, including the epic fail, to myself, but if you remember from the Mobile Hobby Station creating the fake-leather look is a multi-step process that includes a base color followed by a stippled black glaze.

The original backsplash is Melamine and I wasn't sure how it would take this particular paint, one of those two-in-one primer-color paints, so after scrubbing the whole area down well with alcohol I brushed on a small test patch and let it cure overnight. The next morning I rubbed at it with my fingers and it seemed to stay in place just fine.

Yes, of course I knew better, but hell, my test sample was sticking and who am I to pass up skipping a few steps now and then!!! (Oh the complicated life of the stupidly optimistic. . . )

I spent the next two days carefully applying two coats of the base color.

That went just fine, but on the third day everything went all to hell.

I had just begun to apply the glaze. starting over in the corner and planning to work my way out from there, when I just barely ticked the adjacent wall with the edge of the stippling brush. To my horror a one inch triangular flap of the base color peeled right up!!

Ten minutes later I had peeled the entire two days worth of paint job off, wadded it up into a rubbery mass and threw it away; with feeling I might add. . . It came off in sheets requiring nothing more exotic than my fingers, all except for that little test patch that is. For some damn reason that little bit of paint held tight enough that I had to scrape it off!

Thoroughly disheartened but too far into it to back out now, I grabbed a couple sheets of sandpaper and proceeded to make one hell of a mess sanding some 'tooth' into the Melamine in the hopes that I could get the paint to stick next time. The Melamine sanded easily enough, but it produced a finer-than-talc dust that ended up everywhere, so everything got put on hold as I turned a couple of buckets of clear water milky white and produced an impressive pile of used rags as I washed everything inside The Van down. (I just noticed this morning that there was still a dusty white thumbprint on the fan switch for the vent!)

OK, I've dwelled on my epic fail long enough. My second try at painting the backsplash, done entirely by brush instead of the quicker roller application to ensure I got the paint laid down well into the 'tooth', worked much better than the first, although I took special care to be thorough when cutting the paint at the mask-line before pulling the tape away. No sense in pushing it!!

Now, three wasted days later, all I had to do was get all my little curved border pieces mounted up where they belong.

That might look like I've spread white glue on the back of the piece above, but it's actually calking. It's a trick I've used before when mounting things, especially small things, that won't have any significant forces applied to them later.

Think about it, Not only will it protect the back of my hardboard pieces from the inevitable splashes, calk, at least high quality calk, is formulated to stick tightly to a variety of surfaces so time and abuse doesn't pull it loose, so, though it usually doesn't say so on the packaging, calk is actually fairly adhesive. And when spread thinly like in the photo above the calk is a lot less messy than most glues.

The trick to dealing with any spills or squeeze out is plenty of water and a constant supply of fresh rags. Of course this is also true of many glues but in my experience even when you think you've done a good job of wiping up glue, it often leaves a subtle trace behind. Calk seems to clean up a lot better and by using clear calk, any excess that does get missed won't show that much anyway.

When working alone, as I usually do, Power Poles or third hands come in handy and I have a variety of lengths on-hand from ceiling high to these shorter, stand-on-the-counter-and-hold-the-uppers-in-place-while-I-get-that-first-screw-in. But turns out that even my shortest were still too long for the condensed dimension between The Van's counter and uppers, so I ended up cutting a couple of them down by three more inches. There's two nested tubes plus the solid center rod that can be jacked up by squeezing the handles inside there so it takes a lot of cutting!

Calk's adhesive qualities kick in pretty quickly and it grips faster than most glues, but even so, until cured it can't be fully trusted on it's own and I didn't want to leave a bunch of nail holes behind, so using some blocking, a couple of the shortened Power Poles as braces, and several hand-clamps configured into the push instead of squeeze mode I installed the border pieces one at a time, clamping, or more like bracing, each one for several hours before going onto the next.

Before bracing though, I pushed each piece in place, hard, by hand and cleaned up any squeeze-out with little torn bits of damp paper shop-towels, using each piece for just one swipe to avoid making more mess than I was cleaning up.

(If you look close at the base of the nearest Power Pole you can see a white smear. That's a dab of calk I smeared on there so I wouldn't have to guess at the cure-time. Once the smear was completely clear I could assume that the calk had cured enough to keep the border piece in place.)

Eventually, finally, I got all the border pieces installed

and after more time and effort than anticipated,

The Van's backsplash isn't boring anymore.

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