Home & Garden

Hidden treasures: Thrift store finds truly measure up

When confronted with a large collection of similar items you should:

a) Shove it all in a trash can when no one is looking;

b) Drop them off at a neighbor’s front door like a zucchini bumper crop;

c) Make something cool.

We here at 1st Rate 2nd Hand Thrift Store vote for “c”!

A slightly shabby vintage step stool is ready for a close-up in a hip decorating magazine ...
A slightly shabby vintage step stool is ready for a close-up in a hip decorating magazine …
... after getting the star treatment via a collection of vintage yardsticks.  (Jenni Steinberg Pagano)
… after getting the star treatment via a collection of vintage yardsticks. (Jenni Steinberg Pagano)

It is my firm belief that if one item is good, a whole bunch of them is better. Certainly, no one needs to keep more than one yardstick around for actual measuring emergencies. But if you have multiples of anything, decorating opportunities open up. Case in point: recently a large bundle of yardsticks came into the store. Their vintage graphics from stores gone by, various colors and patinas are very interesting. I am a sucker for things with typography and old advertising, so let the creativity begin!

Wandering about our aisles for items to embellish, I focused on rectilinear pieces. I found picture frames, bulletin boards, trays, boxes, tables and step stools all crying out for a little something.

My first project was applying yardsticks to a vintage step stool. It was already rusty and “industrial” and I knew the different wood tones and amusing trademarks would just add to the effect.

First I tightened up the bolts holding the existing wood surfaces. Then I laid out the yardsticks until I got a pleasing arrangement of color that captured the best phrases. How can a person resist a slogan like “Good Chicks Good Feeds We build them right”? Then I applied a squirt of wood glue, and put down the sticks for good. Weighted down, and dried, this might have been enough to hold them securely, but I added a few tiny nails for good measure. Finally, I clamped a guide in place and used my jigsaw to slice off the extra length at the sides. I like the raw look of the wood on the yardsticks and I don’t expect this to get a lot of foot traffic. But I could seal the surface with tung oil or wax or polyurethane if I wanted. Now this formerly slightly dingy step stool is ready for a feature in one of the hip decorating magazines. It is perfect for use as a side table or a landing spot for purses, briefcases or backpacks by the front door. It could also be a part of a tablescape, layered with decorative items or picture frames.

Using this same glue-and-cut technique you can add yardstick embellishment to wood boxes, napkin holders, pencil containers, drink coasters or mini wall shelves.

A yellow yardstick gives an orange shelf extra zing. The tag line reads, ‘Where the best is not expensive,’ which could be a thrift store motto.
A yellow yardstick gives an orange shelf extra zing. The tag line reads, ‘Where the best is not expensive,’ which could be a thrift store motto.

The tag line on this shelf is now “Where the best is not expensive,” which is perhaps my new motto! It’s a perfect companion for this scrap angel made by former Tucson artist Luon St Pierre.

Other more ambitious projects require using a miter box. An inexpensive tool at any hardware store, and often found in thrift stores, a miter box is used with a saw as a guide to cut material at an angle. A 45-degree angle is used to turn a corner. Sometimes it can require very precise measurements. I intended to apply yardstick pieces to the sides of the orange shelf as well as the front. (In an effort to rip off the perfect mask of the crafting world, I will reveal the dirty underbelly of project failure.) I was hurrying and thought I marked the cut well, but evidently did not. Sigh. My front piece didn’t extend far enough to meet my end pieces in a nice, neat miter. Oh well. So I just won’t look at the shelf from the side! I can roll with it … I am not Martha. I could redo it if it bothers me. When you are a beginning or even advanced crafter, it is important to keep it fun and not take it all too seriously.

A simpler way to use a mitered corner would be on the face of a project, like a picture frame. As long as your pieces match in size, you can apply them anywhere on the face, even if it is technically a little too small. Shhh. I won’t tell.

Other things I learned along the way? Oak is a very hard wood. I attempted to nail some yardstick pieces to a generic wood napkin holder, but the nails just wouldn’t go in. Lesson learned. I suggest you use glue on those items made of oak. Also be sure to look on both sides of the yardstick. That cute advertising slogan might just be on the back!

A super simple project would be to attach knobs, cuphooks or magnets to a yardstick. Now you have a cute necklace holder, magnetic spice rack or belt rack. If using cuphooks or anything else that attaches from the front, please take the thickness of the yardstick into account when choosing the length of the hardware. You don’t want the screw to be longer than the thickness of the yardstick, as it will either not screw in all the way or stick out the back! You could also attach the yardstick to a second yardstick to add a little thickness.

A chandelier that rules
A chandelier that rules

Finally, I went all out. I had been saving this thrift store chandelier for a while. I knew it had potential for something, but what? Originally, it was a cheap gold tone and had icky plastic prisms hanging from each hook. I spray painted it bronze, then cut 42 7″ pieces of yardstick. I drilled a hole in one end of each, sanded the edges a bit and hung the pieces from each hook. Now it casts cool shadows and will add some oomph to a sewing room or crafty corner. One can also attach pieces of yardstick to a lampshade for a similar vibe. A drum- shaped shade will work best and you may need to space out the pieces a bit if they don’t fit in tight.

Other adventurous ideas? How about a kitchen backsplash? Or replacing all your baseboards with yardsticks (swoon!)? The risers on your stairs? Top off your coffee table? Cover the face of some ugly bi-fold doors? Pretty soon, you are going to be hoping your neighbors drop off their yardsticks at your front door!

Look for more creative ideas for using thrift store treasures when I appear on “The Morning Blend” on KGUN 9, on the first Friday of the month. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest too, and visit www.1strate2ndhand.com.

Just want to get rid of your good stuff? 1st Rate 2nd Hand Thrift store is now giving credit for your donations to the Jewish organization of your choice! Check out our new token system at our west-side door. Your generous donations fill our store and all proceeds go to Tucson’s Jewish nonprofits. You can help your synagogue or favorite charity simply by giving us your gently used items. More credit is given for better quality goods.

We are located at 5851 E Speedway between Wilmot and Craycroft on the north side of the street. Call 327-5252 for free pick-up of good-quality items that won’t fit in your car.

Jenni Steinberg Pagano is manager of the 1st Rate 2nd Hand Thrift Store.