DIY Metal Cutting Options

In addition to my gold leaf paint test, I put my IKEA VITTSJO nesting table hack scraps to use for some metal cutting tool experimentation.  Up until this project, my experience was limited to a manual hacksaw.

True story: when I was shopping for said hacksaw a few years ago I asked a young Home Depot employee if a particular blade would work well for metal.  He replied, “Yes… well, you have to move it back and forth.”  Sage advice, dear child.  Whenever an under-30 guy asks if I need help, I’d like to demand “Find the oldest man you have working the floor and bring him to me!”  There’s an old dude in the hardware department at the Elston Ave store who knows. his. shit.  It’s hit-or-miss with the young’uns.

Anyway: I bought a grinding blade for my miter saw without a second thought but it sent out such a shocking shower of sparks that I ended up trying a couple of other options.  As I did with the gold leaf products test, I just want to put my own process out there in case it’s helpful for anyone else.  But, as Manhattan Nest said recently, “I am not the authority, or even an authority on things like this.”  Read your own user manual, do your own searching, yada, yada.

First up: the hacksaw. 

Hack Saw

Pro: Nice, clean cuts. Cheap ($10ish). Easy to use and safe.

Con: SLOW. Difficult to get perfectly straight cuts, even when using a miter box.

Next: a Skil jigsaw.  I have a set of blades that includes a few metal cutting options.

Jig Saw Blades

Jig Saw Cut

Pro: Fast and relatively safe.  No sparks.  Pretty cheap ($30 for an entry-level saw; $5 or so for a metal cutting blade).

Con: In my experience, a jigsaw was less user-friendly for this job.  To ensure a straight cut, you need to clamp down both the item itself (so that it doesn’t bounce around) and a guide rail (to ensure that your saw stays on a straight path – see an example here).   I don’t have a lot of clamps or a fancy worktable, and it’s difficult to set a guide rail for such a small item.  The cut above isn’t as clean because the metal tube was vibrating.

Finally: a grinding wheel.

Dewalt Grinding Wheel

I used a DeWalt general purpose metal cutting blade ($6) on my Ryobi compound miter saw ($120).  It’s called a grinding wheel because it doesn’t have teeth – it’s more of a file.  It eats away quite a bit of the steel, as seen below in the foreground cut, in contrast to the hacksaw cut in the back.

Grinding Wheel Cut

As I said, I was alarmed at first by the sparks this thing threw off.  I learned online that some people don’t recommend using them because the flying sparks and hot metal can damage your miter saw.  Other people said that it’s fine as long as you don’t do it very often and the saw is within the RPM range of your blade.  I decided to proceed because:

  • I was unsatisfied with the other options.
  • My miter saw cuts very precisely, which was necessary for successfully reassembling the VITTSJO nesting table.
  • The blade states it can be used up to 6,100 RPM and my saw has a max speed of 5,000 RPM.
  • Most importantly, my saw’s manual includes no warnings against using grinding wheels, cutting ferrous metal or anything of the sort.

So, I suited up with unseasonably long sleeves, gloves and protective eye wear.  Jarrod stood by with the camera in one hand and the fire extinguisher in the other – he used the former and not the latter.  You can see some faint sparks coming out the back of the saw in this picture…

Miter Saw Grinding Blade

But trust me when I say it was really more like this:

Metal Saw Sparks

(There are four references in that photo – does anyone recognize the original sources? The white stars are the hardest.)

Gold Leaf Paint Options

My IKEA VITTSJO nesting table hack gave me the luxury of some scrap metal pieces on which to test a few gold leafing paint options.  I did a Google image search when I was considering what sort of paint to use, looking for some clear examples of the different types of finishes. I didn’t have much luck and thought I could contribute to the jpg pool here.

Gold Finishes

From left to right:

Plaid Liquid Leaf in Brass

Amaco Rub ‘n Buff in Gold Leaf

Krylon 18 KT. Gold Leafing Pen

Liquid Leaf Brass

Liquid Leaf was my favorite by far.  It looks rich, kind of marbleized/iridescent, and thick – like it was an actual brass cap on the table leg.  It is liquidy, though, so is more likely to run under any painters tape you might use (Scotch Blue worked great for me; FrogTape less so).  You can see additional pictures of this product at Pencil Shavings Studio and Yellow Brick Home.

Rub n Buff Gold Leaf

Rub ‘n Buff creates an interesting, antiqued finish.  As a wax, it seems like a good option if you want something closer to an original finish than an overlaid paint.  I found pictures of this product applied to VITTSJO shelves at Home to Three Duncan Boys.

Gold Leafing Pen

The Gold Leafing pen seemed great for detail jobs, but ineffective for broad coverage. It was difficult to apply without streaks.  See Little Green Notebook for additional pictures.

A note to Chicagoans: I was unable to find Rub ‘n Buff at my usual Elston Ave. haunts (Home Depot and Jo-Ann) and Jo-Ann had only a few Liquid Leaf color options.  I ventured outside my comfort zone to the Michaels in Lakeview, which had a big selection of these products.  Definitely worth the trip even though it puts you dangerously close to Wrigleyville, which, I’m sure we all can agree, is an abomination.

In closing, I leave you with an entirely unnecessary cat photo. Have a good weekend!

Cat Nest

When in Doubt, Paint a Door

Seriously, when all other projects feel too daunting/expensive to tackle (I’m looking at you, Bedroom), just paint a door or two. Enormous and immediate gratification.

Take this exterior back door, for example.

Back Door Before

Someone had even scratched their name into the paint. I corrected it for them.


Back Door After

So satisfying! I sanded it a bit and then repainted with Rust-Oleum Stops Rust Protective Enamel in Gloss Smoke Gray.

Back Door Sanding

Door Before and After

Door Knob Before After

Another example: someone got creative with brown paint on the exterior side of our apartment’s back door (the one leading to the catio).  Yech.

Catio Door Before

Furthermore, the original brass door plate had been painted over so many times that you can hardly see the decoration.

Door Plate Before

I sanded the door, cleaned off the dust with Klean-Strip Easy Liquid Sander Deglosser, applied a coat of Kilz and then three coats of white paint.

Catio Door Sanding

I didn’t intend to dive into restoring the door plate, but once it was in our backyard I thought “Well, might as well…”

Door Plate Stripping

It required two rounds of stripper to simply expose the screws that allowed me to pry off the plate.

Door Plate Stripping

Door Plate Stripping Second Coat

Brass Door Plate

Then it was time for a soak in a pot of boiling water, followed by a Bar Keepers Friend + toothbrush scrub, followed by a lot of toothpicks. Rinse and repeat, three times.

Brass Door Plate

Brass Door Plate

Brass Door Plate

In truth, I don’t even love the plate itself – it’s too ornate for my taste and I think the crystal knob looks we’re running a bed & breakfast – but I’m satisfied nevertheless to have recovered it from years of paint. I like seeing it when I come home, even if I’m also thinking “Man, that door needs a new knob.”

Catio Door After

Both of these projects can serve as examples of why I never feel bad for doing things to our rented apartment “without permission.” Are my landlords sacrificing a Saturday to paint a blazing hot exterior door or restore a vintage door plate? Nope. I am. So, please excuse me: while I’m up on this high horse I’m going to replace a ceiling light fixture.

One more thing, on a more personal note: Happy 2nd Birthday to my niece Cora! I’ve been trying to teach her about feminism (gotta start ’em young) but I think our cats have had a bigger impression on her. The other day when prompted to say “Bye, Aunt Marti” she said “Bye, Aunt Kitty!” I couldn’t ask for a better downstairs neighbor.


Operation Obscurement: DIY Window Film

Getting to the point: our kitchen window view isn’t great.

Kitchen Window View

I wanted to obscure this view – especially because we can see straight into our neighbor’s kitchen and they into ours – without sacrificing the small amount of light we get through the window.

After initially considering Gila window film, I balked when I saw that it was 20 bucks plus the cost of the application kit.  I decided instead to try making some free, homemade window film using the same technique I employed to cover the mirror on our bathroom medicine cabinet.

Fabric Covered Window

I used a mixture of starch and water to adhere thin white fabric to the bottom window.  I chose not to do the top window because I wanted to let in as much light as possible.  Just as I did for the bathroom project, I cut the fabric a little bigger than needed and applied it to the glass, using a defunct debit card to push it tightly into the edges. The next day, after it had dried, I used my X-Acto knife to cut off the excess fabric.  It was very easy and much more precise than if I had measured it.

Kitchen Window

I completed this a while back and the fabric has held up really well.  It lets in a soft light while nicely obscuring the view and providing privacy.

Window Ledge