Made with Love: Rejuvenating My Kids’ Wood Wagon with My Fix It Up Life

By Bruce Johnson

Guest Bloggers Mark and Theresa of MyFixItUpLife are back with a fun project sure to pull on your heart strings. Follow along as the couples embrace the spirit of “Find. Finish. Love.” to revive an old wood wagon as a heart-felt gift for their kids. 

This wagon may not be the greatest woodworking project you’ll ever behold, but it’s made with love for my kids. Thing is, we never used it.MyFixitUpLife_Wagon_Made-With-LOve_Minwax1630-1-800x600

As with many intentions in life, we got busy. And it got stuffed in a forgotten corner; piled on with more forgotten stuff. Forgotten.

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But this wagon has a story. It’s dear to us. It’s wrapped up in how Theresa and I met and our first project together. Time to take life by the handle again and to start making new memories.

The wagon is made with wood that carpenters use to build shelter—spruce and fir mostly. You can get it anywhere and it’s usually a little, let’s say, lived in. It has all the dings and scrapes you’d expect a workmanlike hunk of wood to have.

What I enjoy about working with these kinds of woods is that their beauty is brought out by what you put into working and shaping and loving them.

And, this wagon looks slightly like a monster truck because I made it originally for Jack’s older sister when I lived closer to the beach. Its first lot in life was to be a beach wagon.

But we got busy.

And life happened.

Time to make some changes. Hello past, here comes tomorrow.

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Made with love, to us, sometimes means going back to the beginning. The spruce boards I made the original out of needed some serious sanding. Not a ton of fun, but we used three grits of paper (60, 100, 150) t0 bring the spruce boards back to vibrance. Also, sanding opens the grain of the wood, ideal for stain penetration.

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Before applying our coatings, we took extra care to get the dust off the wood. Compressed air is great for this. If you don’t have a compressor, using an old paint brush is great too. Follow up with some spray detergent and a damp rag (like you’d clean your kitchen counter).

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The neglected spruce deck boards on the wagon gulped in the Minwax® Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner, which we like to use as a base coat so the stain soaks in as evenly as possible.

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Since the wagon’s rails were coming apart, I re-made them from a Douglas fir 4×4, carpenter-grade. It has the tightest, straightest grain of the construction wood available at the home center.

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I love this gray, Minwax® Wood Finish™ in “Classic Gray. When staining individual parts like this it pays to have a plan, because you have to stain all six sides at once. For these parts, we stained the front, the edges, then stood them up on the thin side and covered the remaining surfaces. It’s not perfect, but it works. Always check for streaks and runs (inevitable because: Gravity). Just strike them off with the brush.

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Since gravity  is always on, I use it to my advantage. Before using a stain—and this may not be in the Minwax® rule book—I tip cans upside for a few minutes before using them. To my mind, this lets the stain move uniformly through the can without me stirring it with a stick for longer than necessary. I still stir it with a stick. No shaking.

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Small parts can be frustrating to sand. When possible I use an inexpensive—and versatile; you can use a stationary sander for all kinds of stuff—bench-top sander.

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Applying this dark stain (it’s Minwax® Wood Finish™ in “Ebony”) was like applying a liquid mirror. And while we could have gone with the more sort of obvious colors of childhood here, we wanted a look that was a little more furniture than toy.

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Using this stain required me to slow down and go to a quiet place. There’s a balance between how quickly you can apply it and how quickly the wood drinks it in off the brush’s ferrules (bristles). There’s something just a little perfect about the balance.

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The last coat is one of my favorite things for outdoor protection. Even though this wagon will spend most of its life indoors, it’ll see beach sand or rain or who knows what from time to time, so I locked in the color and locked out the weather with Minwax® Helmsman® Spar Urethane.

Bring it Mother Nature.

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It pays to have a plan. Since I wanted to brush the urethane on the sides, I needed a place for them to dry where they’d barely contact anything so I made a little hanger. Is this perfect? No. But neither is life.

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Love is said to be perfect though. And that—we hope—is what both kids feel when they see, use and roll around with this project from my heart.

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From now through September 30th, take advantage of our Fall Home Celebration rebate and save up to $15 on select Minwax® products that make and keep your floors beautiful. These specially formulated products enhance the natural beauty of your floors and can help protect them so they look great for years to come.

Be sure to check out Minwax’s new “Made With Love. Finished With Minwax.” campaign currently going on. The theme is ‘Find. Finish. Love.,’ celebrating the thrill of finding real wood pieces – sometimes in the least expected places – and the joy of making them into something we love.

MyFixitUpLife shares design inspiration, DIY tips, and behind-the-scenes interviews MyFixitUpLife’s husband-and-wife duo, Mark & Theresa, design, renovate, and share how-to tips to make your projects easier and more fun.

About Bruce Johnson

Author-craftsman Bruce Johnson has introduced millions of do-it-yourselfers, craftspeople and antique collectors to the world of wood finishing and antique restoration. As the official spokesperson for Minwax®, the leading manufacturer of wood finishing and wood care products, Bruce motivates people to take the initiative to beautify their surroundings. Through his many books, magazine articles and columns, as well as frequent appearances on national television talk shows, Johnson is recognized as an authority in the do-it-yourself community. Appearing on PBS, HGTV, The Discovery Channel, and currently hosting “DIY Woodworking” and “Build A Log Cabin”, on the DIY cable network, Johnson has brought the illustrious craft of wood finishing to the forefront of the American home.

An expert in wood refinishing, antique restoration, and home improvement, Bruce has published more than a dozen books on these topics, including Fifty Simple Ways To Save Your House, The Wood Finisher, The Weekend Refinisher, and The Official Identification and Price Guide to the Arts and Crafts Movement. For more than 20-years, he penned an antique refinishing advice column, “Knock on Wood,” which ran in dozens of antique/collectibles publications. Currently, he writes a column on Arts & Crafts for Style 1900 magazine.

A rare combination of craftsman and journalist, Johnson began his career as a high school English teacher, but left teaching to set up his “Knock on Wood Antique Repair & Restoration” shop. He spent the next 10 years as a full-time professional refinisher, but eventually returned to writing. Yet, Johnson says, he won’t ever be without a workbench and a couple of refinishing projects down in the basement.

Johnson is also the founder and director of the Arts and Crafts Conference and Antique Show held every February in Asheville, North Carolina, at the Grove Park Inn. The conference, which includes the largest Arts and Crafts antiques show, attracts more than 1500 Arts and Crafts collectors each year to its many seminars, tours, demonstrations and exhibits. Johnson is proud to have played a role in reviving interest in designers like Gustav Stickley, who founded the Arts and Crafts movement. His latest book, “Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Furniture,” was awarded the 2009 Thomas Wolfe Literary Award. These furnishings are treasured by such collectors as Steven Spielberg and Bruce Willis, among many others.

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