Who Paints a Sink?

Bathroom, Blog, Home, Woodworking / Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

The previous owner of our house, that’s who. I guess the real question is, “Why would someone paint a sink?” That is an answer I don’t think I will ever have, but I do know what to do about it. Start from scratch.

It kind of all started from that, a sink that was painted in our bathroom. It was godawful after a couple months of use. Our best bet is that the previous owner of the house slapped a coat of paint on it to make it look better for the sale. We were fooled. But as the paint started peeling off to reveal the original color underneath, a color that could only be described as “band-aid”, we decided it was time for a grand intervention.

Parts of the bathroom vanity makeover were long in the making. For example, we found a vessel sink we liked at the Habitat for Humanity Restore ages ago and it’s been sitting in our basement on a shelf in the corner ever since. Along with the new faucet we got to match. When you find an unused sink at the Restore for $40, you jump on it and design the rest of the bathroom around it. 

At some point in the past six months, Ellie wanted to replace the lights in the bathroom. I know I’ve talked about using the vanity lights for the greenhouse build in the basement, but I cannot recall if I wrote about it. Basically, we took down two fixtures which each had three bulb sockets and replaced them with single bulb fixtures that better fit the aesthetic we were going for. It made the bathroom look better, partially because we felt we only ever needed a single bulb in each fixture and it made the already ugly fixtures look even worse. 

But then this past week or so, we really jumped into high gear and decided to get the bathroom vanity remodeling done. What we had left to do was prime and paint the cabinet, remove the countertop/sink/faucet, install the new countertop, sink, and faucet, patch the walls, and even out the paint job. It took about a week of evenings to get it done and a long day over the weekend but now we are at a point where the bathroom feels totally different and I’m quite proud of the work (though it did take a couple days for it all to grow on me). Let’s take a look at the steps.

I cannot for the life of me find a good photo of what the bathroom looked like immediately before starting. All I seem to have is a photo of when we first moved into the house. A simple paint job made that look a whole lot better.

Bathroom Vanity Starting Point

The walls were painted a light gray. The countertop doesn’t look it in this photo, but it was a yellowy color. And the sink looks freshly painted. The corners where the soap dispenser was started to peel real bad because the water just sat under the dispenser and softened the paint. Every time we’d clean it, more would chip away. The drawer pulls were replaced shortly after this photo was taken because the ones in the photo were likely to break your finger off every time you tried to open a door or a drawer. And the vanity itself was painted white, poorly, and it was maybe the tenth coat of paint over the years. The hinges also had about ten coats of paint on them as well.

We started by pulling the doors and drawers off the vanity. We removed the hinges and the pulls. The hinges went into a container with paint stripper and the doors and drawers went down into the basement with me. Ellie stayed upstairs and sanded the vanity body. I whipped out the power sander and started stripping back coats of paint. We weren’t shooting for bare wood, but we did want to even out the layers of paint that had been slapped on over the years. As I was sanding away, I peeled back bad color choice after bad color choice. That green from the walls above appears to also have made an appearance on the vanity. Since everything was flat, it made sanding a breeze. 

Bathroom Vanity Painted

After sanding, we put on a few coats of the blue paint. I was hoping for a color that had a bit more gray to it, but I don’t hate how it turned out. In fact, I love the blue next to the brushed nickel of the pulls and the newly revealed chrome of the hinges. With very little effort to clean the hinges after they had soaked in the paint stripper overnight, we had hinges that looked to be fresh off the shop shelves. After the paint stripper, I rinsed them off individually and then cleaned them up with some 0000 steel wool and mineral spirits.

Bathroom Vanity Sanding GIF

While I had the drawers in the basement shop, I decided to give my drawer a bit of an upgrade. Usually, my drawer is a mess and I cannot find anything in it without some digging. The best way to solve this problem? Dividers. I had an old piece of aspen I had bought before I had a proper woodworking space and it was dying to be used. It turned out to be just what I needed. I cut up four pieces, two the length of the drawer and two the width of the drawer. Then I laid out how I wanted the spaces to be spaced. I knew I needed enough room for a cotton swab box to fit in a specific spot, so the spacing was based off this. I cut half-lap joints to fit the pieces together. After a bit of sanding, everything fit snugly in the drawer. I think the whole project took me 30 minutes to make.

Bathroom Vanity Drawer Divider

Once everything was cleaned up and painted, we reinstalled the doors and drawers onto the vanity. We weren’t finished with the project, but we needed to keep the pets out of the vanity.

The next task at hand was to cut down the replacement counter top to fit the vanity. Ellie had found a laminate one for $40 at the local home goods store. What to do about the countertop was a point of contention for a while. I’m picky. I wanted to use the best quality materials. However, we had it priced and even the decent quality materials were several hundreds of dollars and we couldn’t find the budget for that. So we thought, why not make our own out of concrete. That’s the trend now and that was our plan for a while. But it took too much of me hemming and hawing before Ellie started looking into the logistics of it and realized we were better off with something else. So we ended up on the laminate.

The piece Ellie bought was slightly over-sized and needed to be cut to fit into the space. I think we had to cut off 2-3″. Here’s the thing, we don’t have good tools for cutting laminate. I have good tools but because it had the lip on the back as a splash guard or whatever, my tools could only do so much. We used the radial arm saw to cut the bulk of it before trying the jigsaw and then ending up with the reciprocating saw. I held the countertop while Ellie used the reciprocating saw. She had really wanted a reciprocating saw a while back but we hadn’t found a use for it yet. She seemed quite happy to give it a go for this project. After the material was cut off, we tried to clean up the edge a bit on the radial arm saw again and then pulled out the orbital sander to smooth it all out.

I’m not going to lie, I had been avoiding this stage of the process for a while because if I made a mistake, it would be another $40 to get another counter top to try again. It was nice to have that done.

We moved the countertop over to a flat surface and lined up the sink and the faucet to make sure we could place it in the right spot. Basically, we centered the sink drain on the countertop and waited until the countertop was installed to place the faucet. I used a hole saw to cut out a hole for the drain. I nearly burned out my drill in the process. Using such a large hole saw for my underpowered drill puts a lot of strain on the motor but we made it through, cleanly.

Bathroom Vanity Painted with Doors

Back upstairs, we needed to remove the old sink and the countertop. We are pretty sure the sink and countertop were original to the house. They were both built solidly. The sink needed to be pulled out first. I disconnected the plumbing and ran into some issues. The original shutoff valves for the taps no longer functioned as well as they once did and I couldn’t get the hot water to turn off fully nor could I get the cold water valve to turn at all. We had to shut off water to the whole house and then run to the store for some new shut off valves. For future reference because it might come up elsewhere in the house, we used 3/8″ in and 3/8″ out valves.

Once the water was off and we had the new valves, I could pull out the old sink and replace the crusty old valves. We pulled out the old countertop as well. We cut the caulking around the edges and found the best way to get it out was to brute force it. It was put together with plywood, nailed to the wall, and then covered with laminate. They don’t make them like that anymore, as far as I know. Once we had it loose, we had to actually get it out of the bathroom. Since they built it in place, the space to pull it out was really tight and then we ran into the trim. So I held it in place while Ellie ran to get her reciprocating saw. She chopped it down the middle and we took it to the trash.

As we dropped the countertop in place, we found a couple issues with how we did things. First, even though I made a point to square my radial arm saw before cutting, the countertop did not fit snug to the wall. My hunch, because of measuring, is that the walls are not square to each other. There’s a slight gap on one side that will need to be filled in with shims and caulk. Second, we had stored the countertop outside in a slightly haphazard way for a few weeks and I think in doing so, we warped the countertop slightly. There was a very noticeable bow in it. This is an issue we still need to address.

Bathroom Vanity with Counter top Installed

But the countertop fit, so we plopped the sink into the hole and found the placement for the faucet, marked it, and pulled out the hole saw to drill a hole for it. We caulked the sink in place and hooked up the plumbing. The faucet turned on with a nice steady stream. 

Under the sink, I had to fit together the drain pieces for a nice, leak-free fit. I’m still not quite there and a bucket is our backup solution. There’s a connection issue with the drain that came with the faucet I need to resolve. I cannot get a good seal on it and it always seems to need to be re-tightened. Ellie put a nice bead of caulk along the edges of the countertop and we hit a stopping point.

Bathroom Vanity Plumbing in Progress

I should mention, during the whole process we also were filling in some holes in the wall and cleaning up the paint. I’m not entirely happy with the wall paint in the bathroom though because of the years of painting that came before us. They used a texture in the paint and there is evidence of wall paper in some places. And we removed a huge mirror and it was obvious it had only been painted behind the mirror once, leaving very distinct paint lines at the top and bottom of the mirror. Since there was texture in the paint, the places I patched are very noticeable because they’re relatively smooth. Part of me wants to redo all the drywall in the room so it will match, but that’s not a project I want now.

Bathroom Vanity Finished

With everything we have done so far, I cannot describe fully how much of a difference we’ve made in the bathroom. It took me a day or two to get a feel for it and really appreciate everything. The colors are tasteful, and match. The fixtures are elegant and functional. Everything is clean and fresh. It’s a joy to use the bathroom now. The photos I have do not do it justice. They make the space look small and a bit distorted. But trust me, the makeover is grand and anything but small. It’s cohesive. There are bits here and there I wish would be better or know I need to improve upon, but overall, I am very happy with how it all came out.

Is this a project you would attempt? What would you do differently?

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