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Proper Method to Stain and Finish Wood Trim PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pat Logan   
Wednesday, 22 January 2014 20:23

Dear Pat: I just moved into a beautiful house on the National Historical Register. I have to repair and refinish the natural woodwork on the mantel and some bookcase/paneling. What are the basic steps to do this? -- Cathy F. Dear Cathy: Consider your project a labor of love because you will expend a lot of elbow grease and time bringing the woodwork back to its original beauty.

When you first start, it may seem as though you will never get it to look new again, but don't give up. Since you are not just refinishing, but also making some repairs, you will likely have to buy some new wood pieces.

Find a piece of the old woodwork that you can easily get loose without damaging it, and take it to an experienced woodworker or mill in your area. They can tell you what type of wood it is so you can at least start by matching the species.

Chemical strippers are the quickest method to remove the old finish, often several layers, but sanding is the best method to get a sound beginning surface. If you use strippers, you will likely have to sand it anyway. Even the new wood pieces should be sanded before attempting to stain them to match old woodwork.

Sanding is important for several reasons. It removes the old surface finish and eliminates small scratches and other imperfections. It also creates a uniform surface to apply the stain. Even though the wood may look smooth all over, if it were not properly sanded and all the grain opened an equal amount, the stain will look blotched or streaked.

This is particularly true of the new wood pieces you are installing. The mill machines the contours with planes or shapers. The wood surface may look shiny and ready to stain, but it is not until sanded.

The machining crushes some of the surface fibers, blocking the pores and making it harder for the wood to accept stain. Generally, start with 120-grit sandpaper and hit the entire surface. Be careful not to round off the sharp corners too much.

On larger flat surfaces, a random orbital sander can be effective. Good-quality sanding sponges are effective for hand sanding and getting into tight spots and grooves. Your final sanding should be with 150-grit sandpaper. Always sand with the grain in the wood, and be careful to apply even pressure.

Just uneven pressure from fingertips will show up as streaks when the wood is stained. If there are any extremely sharp corners, round them off ever so slightly so they do not split. Slightly rounded corners also hold the finish better.

Now, once the wood surface is prepared, it is time to stain the wood. Make sure to select the proper type of stain for the type of woodwork. Your paint store can advise you. Brush on the stain and then wipe it off after several minutes.

Try to keep the soaking time consistent for all the areas. Brush on your first thin coat of polyurethane. Fill any small nail holes with matching wood filler. Don't fill them before the first coat or you may see larger smudged spots. Sand the surface lightly. Apply two to three more topcoats for a durable finish.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 23 January 2014 17:43