How to fix a faux bois table

Correction: A question posed in an earlier version of this column incorrectly stated that Colvin & Hastings had gone out of business. Colvin & Hastings is still in business. It also stated that Colvin & Hastings was the manufacturer of the dining set at issue, which was featured in an accompanying photograph. The Washington Post was not able to substantiate the origin of the table, and Joe Colvin, the owner of Colvin & Hastings, says that the table featured in the photograph was not manufactured by his company. This version has been corrected and the photograph removed.

October 31, 2012

Q. Almost two years ago, I purchased a large faux bois dining set at an auction. Within a few months, I noticed that the cement finish was cracking and breaking off in pieces, revealing the (now rusting) iron frame. How can I repair the cement finish, which is worsening by the day?

Chevy Chase

A. You probably won’t be able to get an exact match, but you can fill in the unsightly gaps and probably even get a surface that’s quite good-looking. At a home center or other building-materials store, buy a bag of concrete resurfacing material, such as Quickrete’s Concrete Resurfacer, plus a container of pigment for tinting the resurfacer to match the color of your furniture. (If the furniture is gray, skip the pigment.)

Read the instructions on the label and then modify them to suit the fact that you are just patching the edges of a table, not resurfacing a driveway. For example, instead of power-washing the surface and cleaning with an acid wash, you can just scrub the deteriorated areas well and rinse them thoroughly. There’s no need to allow time for the surface to dry because the patching material needs to be applied to a damp surface.


A reader's concrete table. (reader photo/READER PHOTO)

Wearing rubber gloves (concrete is caustic to skin), pour some of the dry resurfacer into a container and add just enough water to make a mix that’s as thick as peanut butter. (For a whole sack, you’d need 10 cups of water, but don’t mix it all at once because whatever hasn’t been applied within 20 minutes will become too stiff to use.) Stir for three minutes to make sure all the dry bits are dampened. Then, with a gloved hand, press about an eighth-inch-thick layer into places where the finish has cracked off. Wait 20 or 30 minutes for that layer to stiffen. Then prepare another batch of the resurfacer and apply another eighth-inch-thick layer. Repeat until the patches are as thick as you want. If you want a smooth finish on flat areas, apply the final layer with a trowel. Faux bois pieces often have a texture that resembles bark. To re-create that, carve the surface as it is stiffening with a butter knife or other tool that you’re ready to retire from kitchen duty.

We have a summer house built six years ago with a screened porch that faces the woods. A few inches of the screening has come loose, allowing bugs in. I called the company that installed the screens, and because our five-year warranty just ran out, the person I talked to told me they would charge $75 to just come out. I asked whether someone could tell me how to fix it and they said to take the screen to a hardware store and have new spline installed. But the screen panel is huge and I can’t remove it by myself. I’d need to be on a ladder. Is there a cheaper, easier fix, even if it would not be as perfect?

Chevy Chase

There is no way to make the screen look like new without having access to the side where the spline (a plastic cord) is wedged into a groove to hold the screening in place. Because that’s on the outside, you’d need to be on a ladder even to attempt the simplest possible repair: using a flat-headed screwdriver to poke the spline back into place. There’s a good chance that repair won’t work, anyway, because the spline has probably stretched a bit. So you will probably need to take down the screen and have a hardware store or a window shop install new screening and new spline. (Reusing the old screening doesn’t usually work because it’s likely to have stretched, too.) Handy homeowners can replace screening and splines themselves, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. So, especially because your letter implies you’re not comfortable working on a ladder, your best bet might be to get a few bids from people who do home repair and from a shop that specializes in screen repairs.

Is there a quick-and-dirty solution if you’re willing to have the screen look patched? Duct tape would probably work, except that there’s no way to press it firmly against the screen if you’re doing the repair with the screen still in place. So try this: Stick one edge of a length of duct tape to a scrap of window screen and the other edge to the frame, so that the scrap overlaps the loose area. Then, using a curved needle and thread, stitch the overlapped screen sections together. Duct tape isn’t always gray, so you can probably match the frame color.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in November, such as inspecting wood stoves and fireplace inserts.

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