Thursday, September 30, 2010

ID Mommy Bargains: Garage Sale Finds of the week

Okay, so I only got to get out to two sales today that I could squeeze in with my other errands, but I was excited to find this great score today....the whole vintage Fisher Price  farm for $5!  There's just something awesome about a toy that still makes the sound of a cow moo-ing, 30 years later, without any batteries.
There was a guy at the sale, probably in his late 30's, who got all sentimental when he saw that his mom was selling his barn!  He had to open the door..."does it still make the cow sound?!"  I assured him it was going to a good home and would be well loved!  I've been watching out for these vintage Fisher Price toys for my boys and we now have the school house, bus, family house, a little village, and now the farm, each for $5 or less.  They just don't make 'em like this anymore!  Today's "Little People" toys are very cute and also well made, but they seem to take up way more space too.  I like how these are compact, battery-free, and really built to last!

Another great deal I got earlier this week, I don't have a photo yet, but was from a thrift store.  I found a Rubbermaid bin full of Micro Machines fold-up cities, boats, roads, etc and more vehicles for $6.97!  Can't wait to pull those out for the boys to play with, once they are both beyond putting things in their mouths!

Okay, better get back to work...just had to share today's find!  If you live in the Twin Cities, are looking for a deal on used kids' stuff, and aren't up to garage sales today, be sure to head on over to Southdale mall in Edina for the "Just Between Friends" sale going on right NOW!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

DIY Kids' Halloween Costumes

My mom always made our Halloween costumes, and they were the coolest.  I couldn't tell you how many times our "trick or treat" was followed by,  "wait, wait! I have to go get my camera!" while running back into their house, or hollering for their friend or spouse to "come here, you have GOT to see this one!"  I loved our tradition of my dad taking us trick-or-treating, although I remember wishing that Mom could be there to see people's reactions to her work!

I found a really cute monkey costume in great shape for Toby at a garage sale this summer.  I figure that with garage sale prices, he doesn't have to just be whatever his big brother was on his first Halloween.
This is the first year I've decided to make a costume for Sammy.  He loves Thomas, as you all know I'm sure, so I'm working on a homemade costume for him.  He will be dressed as Sir Topham Hatt, and since my husband enjoyed pulling him around the neighborhood in a wagon to trick-or-treat last year, I'm going to "dress" our wagon to look like Thomas.
I just finished making his part of the costume, using a mix of thrift store and garage sale clothing finds.

This part was pretty simple, as it was just a matter of finding the right clothing items in the right colors.  I found some gray pants, but they were a 5T so I had to shorten them a bit.  I found the velvet jacket at a garage sale for $4, the white dress shirt for $1.95 at the thrift store, and the foam top hat for $4 at a Michael's craft store.  I also picked up a 2-pack of huge, black buttons at Michaels for the vest.  I couldn't find a bright yellow vest, so I made one out of a woman's button-down sleeveless shirt thing, also from the thrift store.  I just had to chop off some of the bottom, cut off and fold the collar to make a V-neck, and bring in the sides.  That was probably the most work of it so far.  I haven't decided if I'm going to attempt to give him a round belly...

Next up is "dressing" up the wagon, which I plan to do with cardboard and paint.  He was getting pretty excited about his costume last night when I had him try everything on to pin his pants and vest to be sewn (above, left).  I can't wait to see his face when he finds out he gets to ride his own Thomas through the neighborhood!

I have a few links for those of you who are also already thinking ahead to this year's Halloween and would like to try making your own costumes...

If you are able to sew, you can find many patterns to make your own:
Simplicity patterns for Babies and Toddlers
Simplicity patterns for Children
McCalls Halloween Costume Patterns

Here are some other ideas I found online for making your own costume...

I love this human pinata idea....super creative!!  Pretty time consuming, but cute!

"Quick & Simple" has a list of 16 easy costumes that you can make, like this poodle.  I'd of course finish this off with a little nose and whiskers with some face paint.  I happen to know a great place to get some face paints, too!

"Family Education" has a huge list of ideas.  There aren't any good photos, which is a bummer, but if you are really looking for a lot of ideas, there are plenty!

Family Fun is full of awesome project ideas for every time of year, so of course they have some great ideas too!

You can get some great inspiration from those who have entered their costumes in contests too, like these: Halloween costume contest
Coolest Homemade Costumes contest winners 

What are you planning to dress your kids as this Halloween?  Whether you have the time to make one yourself, or find the perfect fit in a store, I wish you a fun and safe Halloween!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Much Needed Break!

Hello, friends! Wow, it's been a full WEEK since I've posted, and I've missed you all so.  I've been gone enjoying our annual fall family vacation week!  After a very busy summer of face painting gigs, freelance work, my husband traveling more than ever, toddler potty training, teething baby comforting, and a staggering somewhere-around-50-or-60 showings & 8 open houses for our home on the market, it was time for a much needed B-R-E-A-K!  I thought I'd share a few pics with you...

We started last weekend with a trip to the model train show at our state fairgrounds (big hit with our train loving toddler), and a delicious brunch at my sister and her husband's fab restaurant, Caribe Caribbean Bistro in St. Paul.

The next day we loaded up the Jeep and my dad's fishing boat and headed up north to Brainerd, where we spent 4 nights in a cozy little for-rent-by-owner cabin on Lake Gilbert.  It's been a tradition for us the past few years to rent little cabins on lakes, after Labor Day.  We figure we'll take advantage of this prime vacation time while our kiddo's are too small for school.  We always end up getting a great deal on fall rates and have no crowds anywhere!  This year the deal was even sweeter, as I emailed them a couple weeks beforehand, offering about 33% less than their current rate, and they accepted.  Major deal score! We've found that for the same price as many hotels, we get our own whole cabin, beach, dock, fire pit, grill, and this year: paddle boat and kayaks to use.

Besides a few babies I threw back, I caught one big sunfish and this bass.  Yup, I'm a girl, and I can bait my own hook, take my fish off the hook, and fry him up for dinner.  While I haven't been deer hunting or rebuilt an engine like my older sister, my dad has taught me well!

Yesterday we used a coupon I had for $4 off per person to visit the Minnesota Science Museum, where we had a blast with the boys and enjoyed a very rare opportunity to view actual pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I'm not sure who had more fun exploring the exhibits...Sammy or his daddy!
It's been a great vacation week, and I hope to have some more fun things to share with you this week now that I'm back!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Buyer Beware: Real VS. Fake Wooden Thomas Engines

I am a huge bargain shopper, as you surely know if you are a follower of IDMommy.  A bargain to me is when I get something of good quality for a great price...getting more than you paid for.  However, if you aren't careful, sometimes you may just get what you pay for, or wore yet: less.

My little boy is nuts over Thomas.  We have some wooden Thomas engines and have found all of them to be "really useful engines" when it comes to motivation for our potty training efforts.  Wanting to get a good deal, I thought I'd check out ebay for some more engines to help continue to fuel his motivation to ride the "poo poo train."  So, naturally, when I saw a Mavis engine for $6.99 with free shipping, I jumped at the offer. (Mavis is $27.00 on Amazon) I also ordered a Gordon engine for $4.99.  Wow, great bargain, right?  Wrong, it turns out...

Go With Your Gut.

It was clear to me the minute I opened the padded envelope from Hong Kong that it was a fake.  It was sealed in a crappy plastic bag (above, front).  The wheels were thin, wobbly, and poorly made. It didn't have that quality, heavy weight in my hand of the other engines.  I could see shiny gobs of glue at the seams, and was almost knocked over by the strong smell of paint fumes.  I went online right away and confirmed my suspicions via an ebay forum.  I couldn't find anything explaining how to tell the difference, so I am going to attempt to do just that in today's post.

Perhaps you are thinking, "so what?! My kid can't tell the difference, I saved a ton of money, what's the big deal?" As a product designer myself, I am especially furious when I receive items on ebay that are inferior copies of the original product.  I know how much work goes into designing quality products and finding the right manufacturer to make them in a fashion worth to carry your company's name...not to mention all of the creative and original work that went into the creation and development of the characters themselves. Knowingly funding those who are infringing on copyrighted characters like this is contributing to their act of stealing and making money off of others' talent and hard work.

Demand A Refund.

 I went into my ebay account and sent a message to the seller, that went something like this:

"Hello, I just received the Mavis engine and this is clearly a cheap and poorly made knockoff. You are infringing on copyrighted characters by selling these and misrepresenting them in your auction by labeling them as 'Thomas Wooden Railway' engines. I would like my money back immediately or I will be reporting this to ebay and Learning Curve."

Within an hour I had received a notification from Paypal that my purchase had been fully refunded.  Interesting.  They are clearly making SO much money on these fakes from the people they fool, that it's not even worth them arguing to keep my $5 bucks...they'd rather keep me quiet and keep their Ebay feedback positive.  I could not in good conscience give this thing to my kid and support this illegal infringement, not to mention the possibly toxic paint and choking hazards of loose parts.  I sent the same email once I received my fake Gordon engine and also got my money back. I went on Amazon and purchased a legitimate Gordon for triple the price, and a real Mavis on Ebay.

Warning Signs to Spot a Fake Thomas Engine on Ebay:

After performing a Google search, I found that there is a whole forum on this very topic, ON ebay.
Here is a link to ebay's policy on counterfeit items.

Later I went back and compared the two ebay pages for the real and the fake Mavis engines I bought.  Here are some things I noticed that I will watch for next time.

FAKE Mavis Page:
The Price vs Item Location: They list it in Australian dollars, which made me assume it was coming from Australia so I didn't think to look at the item location, which is actually Hong Kong.

Description: In the item specifics, all it says is the condition is new...there is no mention of the brand of the product.  Even though they are illegally using the Thomas name in the product description heading, they probably figure that listing the Learning Curve brand would be going too far.  Also, the ad said that this "Thomas Wooden Railway" engine is compatible with the "take-along series."  The real ones are not compatible both ways.  The ad said it was not in it's original package because it "was part of a larger set" but maintains that the product is still new.
Photo: Compare very closely the photo on the ebay page with one from another site that you know is more legitimate, like a site for a store that has a real physical location too, or a site with a reputation to uphold, like Amazon, Toys R Us, or Target.  Click on the image to enlarge it and you can SEE the bad quality...

In this photo of the fake you can literally see the GOBS of hot glue oozing out of the seams.  They didn't even bother to pick one the looked decent for photos. The 3D plastic face glued on the front does not match an authentic one, nor do the yellow and black stripes painted on the front.  Look at the wheels too.  They have ridges on the fake one...real ones do not.  The fake has a little rounded bump for the smoke stack, while the real one is taller.  These are things you don't notice while browsing ads, but when you put them side by side, you can tell that the differences are clear.

REAL Mavis Page:

The Price vs Item Location: The currency listed, GBP, matches up with the item location, the United Kingdom. Doesn't prove it's real, but it was a difference between the two that I noted.

Description: This is listed as "new in box." When you look under "item specifics," they seller has selected the specific character, and has listed the brand as being Learning Curve. Again, something they could theoretically fake, but something the one from Hong Kong didn't even bother to specify.

Photo: You can tell when comparing above that this one is real when compared to the fake, and to another legitimate online retailer.

Warning Signs to Spot a Fake in Physical Form:
There are some things you can't see until you really look at the physical product.  Here are a few things to watch for.

Wheels: If you have the ability to do so, check the insides of the wheels.  Authentic trains should have something like "Gullane (Thomas) Limited" and a date in raised letters.
Branding: In addition to the engine's name, most of the real ones have the "Learning Curve" brand and an item number painted on the bottom.

Construction: Above is a photo of the real (left) and fake (right) Gordon engines that I ordered.  The fake ones just stick a phillips head screw in the bottom to attach the two wheel blocks, while the real ones has a smooth, finished piece of hardware.  You can see the item number on the real one as well. The front "face" piece on the fake was already coming loose when it arrived, whereas the real ones are rock solid in their construction.

I'm not an expert on these toys or their manufacturing history.  Some of these little differences could be written off as a result of a change in their manufacturer mid-stream, a change in the design, etc.  But, I think the main thing was that I found enough differences, not only in the look of things but in their quality, that raised a red flag and enabled me to spot the fake.  Hopefully some of these things will help you as well!

So make sure you do a little research ahead of time, especially when purchasing online, to make sure that you are getting the real thing.  Otherwise, it's the seller who's getting the bargain, not you!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fun Friday Finds

I'm mixing things up a bit this week.  This week's "Fun Friday Finds" post will not be online finds, but "physical" finds from the week!

Yes, you guessed it, I'm going to start with more thrift store bragging! Yesterday I got a chance to go to the Unique thrift store with my sister and found a bunch of fun stuff.  Here are just a couple deals...
 This Thomas travel case was just like new with the hang tag still on it, for less than $3.00.  It will be perfect to hold all of Sammy's engines!  It's tucked away for now, ready to come out when his train table is revealed.

I've also been collecting old 1980's Micro Machines for the boys (and stashing them away until Toby is old enough for small parts).  I remember my brother playing with Micro Machines, and already have a little city that folds up into a van-shaped carrying case, and a few cars.  The ones I've found at one Unique Thrift store were under a glass case, and about $1 each.  On this trip I found these 9 Micro Machine cars taped in a baggie to the carrying case (the black thing in the back) for under $4.  Then, I scored this awesome "Super Auto World Playset" (going for $289 on Amazon...whatever!) that also pivots on that blue piece to become more compact.  It was a whole $1.95!!  I can't wait to pull these out on some cold Minnesota day when we're snowed in, can't go to garage sales, and need something "new" to play with!

For less than $2 I picked up this vintage Fisher Price "Jolly Jumping Jack" dated 1969 for Toby.  When you pull the red ring, the arms and legs go up and down, eyes move, and it squeaks.  It's really cute and works great, and the stickers and hanging strap are in great condition too!

Today my mom and I also attended the Junk Bonanza in Shakopee, where we found so many really creative ideas for turning old thrift store finds and antiques into new treasures.  It was really a fun and inspirational outing!!  I posted a few initial photos on my Junk Mail Gems blog, and plan to share more photos of individual vendors in the days to come.  Check back at that blog for more great ways to repurpose your great thrifty finds!!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Picky Sticky Picture Stickers

You may remember my previous post about how I take photos of my boys every week with a sign that says their current age...

With my first boy I taped the sign above his head on the chair he was sitting in.  With my second, I've been setting it on or next to him.  I have recently discovered the flaw in this plan, as he has started to grab his sign and eat it.
 A friend of mine just sent me a link to these great "Picky Sticky Picture Stickers," designed specifically for this purpose!  Simply peel and stick them to your baby's clothing and snap your photo.  What a great way to market this idea...just had to pass it on!  Maybe I should start printing my signs on some sticker paper instead!

Monday, September 13, 2010

ID Mommy Projects: Make Your Own Train Table!

 My little boy is officially in love with trains.  He eats with them, he sleeps with them, he stuffs his backpack with them when we leave the house, his underwear has pictures of them, and he pretends that whatever car he's riding in is Thomas.  His does not name colors "red, green," or "blue." They are "red like James, green like Percy," and "blue like Thomas." I'm not sure if it's going to be a short phase or a lifetime hobby, but for now, I enjoy indulging him.  Not only have we gone on several train themed family outings, but we've even successfully used trains as motivation when potty training.  As a result, we have begun accumulating wooden train tracks (at garage sales and thrift stores), which got me thinking about train tables.

Store bought train tables are expensive. You can get a simple one for around $100 or a little less, there are many between $200-$300, or you can really bust the bank with this Thomas table for $550.  I've seen many on CraigsList too, although they still can be expensive even used.  When it really comes down to it, kids are going to have just as much fun with their trains whether you spend $500 or $15 on it.

I really wanted to make one myself.  After all, I practically have a college degree in train table building, with my industrial design & model making background.  I had planned on watching at garage sales for a cheap coffee table that I could attach edges to and paint to function as a train table.  Then I thought maybe it would be better just to build the surface itself, to fit over the top of one of our coffee tables, so it could be removed and easily leaned up against the wall when we wanted it out of the way.

But, then I came across this table at the thrift store for $6.95 and couldn't pass it up.  It had the best of both was coffee table height, train table size, already had a lip around the edge to keep trains from falling off, was green on the surface, and the legs actually folded up!! The thing was built like a rock, and I would not be worried about it buckling under the weight of even a couple kids. I'm thinking this may have been somebody's do-it-yourself train table project already.  That, or someone had some very interesting color scheme in their living room.

I stupidly did not buy it the day I saw it, proceeded to kick myself for 24 hours for not buying it, then raced back to the thrift store the next day and luckily it was still there. Whew!

Here's how I transformed the ugly $6.95 table into a sweet train table...

Prepare for Painting

First I removed the screws that attached the legs to the hinges and the hinges to the table so I could paint them.  TIP: Use a permanent marker or pencil to label the pieces so they can go together the same when you're ready to re-assemble:

I always put the screws right into some kind of container, whether it's a baggie or food container, to make sure nothing gets lost.

Next I sanded the legs and the frame.  There are two goals here: 1) roughen up the wood so the new paint sticks well, and 2) remove any loose or chipping paint or drips/bubbles from the previous paint job.  Chipping old paint will bleed through to chipping new paint.

Before you do any painting you'll need to make sure all of the dust is off of the wood from the previous step.  Loose dust underneath will result in loose paint that will flake off later.  Use a brush, or a cloth.  TIP: Making the cloth (or in my case a paper towel) slightly damp will help it to pick up the dust better.

I would have liked to keep the green surface on the table, as it's a good place to start with "grass."  However, it was not properly laminated to begin with and had large bubbles.  While hills may be fun to play on, they don't work so well to keep track pieces together.  To remove the green laminate, I started by slicing into one of the bubbles with a utility knife.

Once I had a slit cut I slipped in a needle nose pliers to get a grip on some of the laminate.

Here it is with a spot peeled away.  It broke into chunks as I peeled it up.

Once I had this larger hole made, I used a spackle blade to slide underneath the laminate and lift it up in larger chunks.  The laminate was tucked under the side frame pieces, so I went around all four edges with the knife so it would break cleanly around the edges.

 While this was the most time consuming part of the preparation, I'm glad I removed the laminate because paint does not stick to it well anyway, and the surface is going to take the brunt of the abuse. I know that the chances of you finding a table with laminate that needs removing is slim, so hopefully you can skip past these steps, but I thought I'd share how I did it.  

Re-Finishing The Table

Next I spray painted the legs and frame using several coats of white spray paint.  Make sure to shake the can well according to the directions.  If you get a clogged nozzle, you'll have a useless can of paint.  TIP: Between coats and when you're done, tip the can completely upside down and depress the nozzle for a few seconds until plain air comes out.  It'll clean paint out of the nozzle, preventing it from clogging.  Just a little something I learned in design school.  ;-)

I did this over several days.  It was really hot and humid at the time so the paint took a while to dry, and I only really worked on it during nap times.

Decorating the surface:

You don't have to be an amazing artist to make grass...You can go as simple as painting it green for grass and leaving it at that. To fancy it up a bit, add a couple blue blobs for lakes, or even add some streets.  I wanted to keep this a surprise for my son so I did this all myself.  However, it would be fun to get your kids involved in making it at this point.  Let them set up their track on the table, and figure out from there where you want to have roads placed.  You can use a pencil or marker to draw what you want where, then go back later and paint it with some acrylic paint.
Since my plan was to cover the whole table with a clear resin, I wanted a little texture to my grass.  My goal was to make a really realistic looking scene, with a little dimension, but still have the durability needed to stand up to a toddler.  I found a large roll of grass, designed for train sets, at my local hobby store for $12.99.

I trimmed off the excess so I had one perfect fitting piece.

I returned a couple days later and picked up a jar of "mat adhesive" for $8.99 to glue it down with, once I realized that a spray mount would not be feasible with such a large piece.  In this case I think it was worth it paying so much for glue to get the right stuff, to ensure that the grass would stay firmly attached.  If the grass ever bubbled up down the road, it could crack the clear resin surface.

I painted the wood surface white with some extra white interior latex we had around from previous house projects.  (I did this because the "mat adhesive" instructions said to paint the surface first.)

Then I applied the mat adhesive, doing half of the table at a time so I could have the grass perfectly positioned, and just fold it in half to apply the glue to both the grass and table.  Once it got to it's clear, tacky state per the directions, I un-folded it and used a roller to press it down into place.  Then I repeated the process for the other half...folding the grass mat over, applying glue, then fixing it down.  It worked well and it paid off to get the right glue and apply it liberally.

Once the grass dried on well, it was time to scrape off grass wherever I wanted to put roads, the lake, and river...

I used a long screw to scrape the outline of my roads and water.

I wanted to make the roads wide enough for two lanes of Hot Wheels, since that's the size car that Sammy has the most of.  So, I used one of his Beetle cars as a guide.

Straight roads are really quick to do, if you have a straight edge to run your nail or screw along!

Next, according to the grass mat instructions, I wet the grass that I wanted to remove.  I used a little spray bottle of water for ultimate control, which I already had on hand because I sell them on my Paintertainment site.  I sprayed small areas and then scraped with my flat X-acto blade.  It worked really well.

 I started with the edges, and then cleared out the inside spaces.

I did this in small sections at a time, to ensure the grass stayed wet where I was working.

I also put a paper towel nearby to drop the larger chunks of grass on as I went.

Painting Roads

Here's what it looked like after all my roads and water were scraped off.  Ooooh...this is really getting fun now! Time to paint some roads and water...

This is a really simple way to get super clean, crisp looking center lines on your road.  You might think that it makes sense to paint the road black and then do dashed lines on top in yellow, but this method will get you the best looking "dashes" for the least amount of time and least coats of paint.  I used acryclic artist's paint for this.  Start by painting a solid yellow line down the center.  It doesn't have to be perfectly uniform in it's thickness, because you'll tidy it up with black next.

Once the yellow dries, take some black and paint along either side of the yellow stripe.  This is where you can make sure it's uniform in thickness...just paint over the yellow wherever it looks too thick.

After you've painted the edges of the road and along either side of the yellow line, and filled in the rest of the black, just paint some black across the yellow stripe to create breaks in the line.  Now you have little rectangular dashes on your road with crisp corners, all aligned with the curve of the street.  It's easier than trying to create a bunch of little rectangles in yellow, on top of black, which would take a lot of precision and many coats to cover the black!

Making The Water
Next I painted the water in blue.  I used a fluorescent blue paint for this, but you can use anything.  This is going to be mostly covered up with glitter anyway but I wanted a nice blue base.

Unfortunately I had a little camera accident and lost the photos of me applying glitter to the lake.  But, what I basically did was just cover all of the blue "water" with Elmer's school glue, making sure to get good coverage.  You can smear it into an even coat with your finger too.  Next, I sprinkled the glitter over the glue, making sure to cover ALL of the glue areas liberally.  Don't worry about having too much glitter piled on your table at this point...we'll remove the excess.  I used some glitter that I found at Michael's, which looked almost like little chopped up pieces of blue cellophane, and was perfect for the ripply water effect I was going for.

Here's what the glitter looks like on the lake.  Don't worry about pouring it exactly in the lines.  It's actually better to go over the edges of the water, to make sure they all get glitter coverage.  I dumped the entire bottle of glitter over the water and river.

Next, wait a while for the glue to dry.  This was really coarse glitter, so I also laid a piece of paper over it and rubbed it with my hand to make it as flat as I could and stuck into the glue.  (I didn't want pieces sticking up out of the resin at the end so I was trying to get as low profile as possible)

After the glue dries, it's time to remove the excess. Lay a big piece of paper or cardboard on the ground, but before doing so, make a crease in it by folding it in half and then opening it back up.  I used newspaper above, which already has a crease.  Put the table on one end and angle it down, and lightly bang on the back with your palm to get the loose glitter to fall on the paper.

Now you can salvage all of the loose glitter by lifting up the edges so it all falls into the crease...

Now bend your cardboard or paper (or roll the paper into a funnel like I did above) and pour the remaining glitter back into the bottle.

I ended up only actually using half of the glitter, so now I have more for future projects.

Painting Trees
Here again I had some more photos and some video clips of me painting trees, but they were lost.  Basically trees from an aerial view look like round blobs, so that's what I did.  I took a green acrylic artist's paint and made bunches of trees as shown above.  Then I went back over them with a slightly darker and a slightly lighter shade of green to add a little depth. 

Painting The Beach

Next, I used a little light brown and tan to paint a beach along one area of the lake.  I thought the texture of the grass coming through helped it look more like sand, so I painted it instead of scraping it off and gluing sand down, which also would look cool.

Making a Dock

I wanted to add a little dock, because Sammy loves to fish off the dock and I figured he'd want some place to dock his toy boats too.  I pulled out some woodgrain patterned Contact paper from a previous project.  I cut a rectangular piece of the light wood, making sure the grain ran across the dock.  Next, I used a hole punch on the darker paper to make perfect little circles, which would function as the posts of the dock.  Using an X-Acto knife, I peeled the paper off the back of the circles to expose the sticky side, and stuck three along each side of the dock.  Next, I removed the paper backing to expose the sticky surface of the dock itself, and simply stuck it on the lake by the beach, like a sticker.

Pouring the Surface

Next was the part I had been waiting for, but also the part that made me most nervous...covering the whole thing in clear resin.  I didn't want to screw this up because it could ruin all the work I had done, but it turned out great.  Here's what I did.

First, I sprayed over the whole thing to seal it with a clear coat, as suggested by the instructions in my package of resin.  If you skipped all the train table grass and glitter and all that textured stuff and just painted everything, you could really be done at this point...just make sure you have a good clear coating over everything to protect it.  A clear Shellac varnish works great too and you can paint it on in many layers for more protection.  You also may want to run a bead of clear caulking, hot glue, or some other glue around the four edges.  This will help prevent the resin from leaking through any cracks around the edges of the table.

For the resin, I used Envirotex Lite pour-on finish because it is simple to use and doesn't create the knock-you-over fumes that other resins create.  They also sell this at Michael's craft stores, so I was able to use coupons and get it half off.  They are normally $29 for each kit of this size, and I needed two 1-quart kits to cover this large area.

Next, I made sure the table surface was level on the floor of the garage, and the temperature was within the acceptable range per the resin instructions.  I gathered a couple plastic containers to mix in, and a wood paint mixing stick to stir.  The instructions recommended pouring the mixture from one container to another for better mixing.

First I opened all the bottles, next I poured both bottles of resin into a container, and then both bottles of hardener.
Next step was to mix vigorously, but only for a couple minutes.  Once the two parts are mixed together, you have to work fast to get it poured. I made sure to end my mixing in this cut-open milk jug, because I thought the handle would be nice for pouring.

I started by the lake because I wanted to make sure the glitter was all covered.

I poured in a back-and-fourth motion as I went across the table, making sure to reach the edges as well. Sorry about the blurry photo...I was trying to work quickly while photographing myself here!

It wasn't quite fluid enough to just level itself out over the whole surface immediately, as you can see here.  It looks like thick syrup.

So, from here I used the broad edge of my paint mixing stick to spread the resin across the surface evenly.  You need to move quickly when doing this, and ensure that every area is covered, especially all of the edges.  Also, try not to scrape down to the level of the grass and glitter, so you don't scratch it up.  It's a lot like spreading frosting on a cake.  Clear frosting that will turn rock hard if you don't do it quickly, on a cake that will crumble if you touch it with the knife.  ;-), isn't it?!  You can see the reflection of our messy garage.  ;-)  You can also see on the right edge there that the grass isn't quite covered all the's a little bumpy.  I put a small chunk of wood under the opposite edge to help gravity pull more resin that way.

Next, exhale.  No really...I don't mean sit back and take a breather...I mean literally exhale a couple inches over the freshly poured resin.  The carbon dioxide that you release when you breathe actually makes the tiny air bubbles in the resin pop, removing them from the surface and making it crystal clear.  Neat-o, huh? Science is cool and can be applied to art, too!

And here it sat to cure. The instructions will tell you how many hours it will take to cure and then to totally harden, depending on the temperature.  I didn't really have space to do this in the house (and didn't want Sammy to see it yet), so I did it in the garage.  You should try to find a dust-free area to do it.  The garage is NOT dust-free, but was better than outside, where stuff could fall out of the trees onto it.  I did have to pick a mosquito and a couple dog hairs out of the resin when I was smoothing it, but other than that, it came out pretty clean.

After letting the table cure for a couple days, I re-attached the legs.  They all fit perfectly where they were, of course, because I had labeled them as mentioned earlier.

And, we're done!!  I love how glossy and reflective the finish is, yet it has depth and texture from the materials underneath.  Sammy still has not yet seen his surprise train table...I can't WAIT to show him, but I'll be stashing this away to give him either for his birthday (train themed of course) in a few months, or if we are able to sell our house and move as a moving day present (since we don't have room for this anywhere in our current house!). I'd say the whole project took me probably a couple weeks, although I could have done it quicker because I did not work on it every day.  It definitely was a fun project to work on between my paid gigs!

Alright, now let's see how much this thing actually cost me in the end...

$7.00 - Train Table
$5.00 - white spray paint
$13.00 - Grass
$9.00 - Mat Adhesive (glue for grass)
$3.00 - Glitter (for water)
$30.00 - Clear Resin (with 50% off coupons)
$0.00 - Stuff I already had on hand (tools, clear coat spray, acrylic paint, school glue, Contact paper, etc)

Grand total: about $67.00

Okay, so yes, you can buy a train table for probably less than this.  And, you can make one for a lot less than this if you skip all the "3D" elements of grass and glittery water that I added.  However, I had a blast making this, I know it's the only one out there like it, and if it were manufactured and sold in a store, I know it would go for a lot more than the expensive ones you can buy now!

Other Ideas Online...

Want to REALLY start from scratch? You can buy instructions to build the table itself at sites like this, or you can go to this site and get plans for free.

If your kid is more into trucks and tractors than trains, Instructables has a nice post about how to turn a train table into a construction table.  Looks like fun!!


Related Posts with Thumbnails