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Frequently Asked Questions
Start your project confidently and get the answers
to some of the most frequently asked questions
regarding wood staining.
Preparation - Removing Oil Before Staining Cherry Paneled Library
Q: I have a cherry paneled library and the cabinetmaker is simply sanding it down and rubbing oil into it. I havenít seen the finished product yet but I think I want a more formal finish with a bit more sheen and some stain. I had another guy come in to look at it and he said he would put on some walnut stain and several layers of polyurethane to give it a pleasant matte finish. He provided me a sample which I kind of like. Do you think itís necessary to strip the wood with alcohol before he stains and polyurethanes it?
Alcohol does not strip oil; it only dissolves shellac, so I am not certain how you got the idea that alcohol would be of any use here. If the wood is already oiled, the finisher with the sample will probably have a good bit of trouble staining it, since stain is meant to go onto raw wood and be absorbed by it. Once a drying oil goes on and cures, you no longer have raw wood. While there are ways to add color to oiled wood, they typically look different than stained wood. The point is that if he made a sample on raw wood expecting to work on that, and then is faced with oiled wood in your library, he may have a rude awakening due.
If you want someone other than the cabinetmaker to finish the room, you might be wise to do two things; stop the cabinetmaker before he applies oil or anything else to the wood, and have him talk with the finisher you want to hire. Assuming your finisher can sort out the color issues, there is little to worry about when putting oil based polyurethane atop oiled wood. The one will go over the other with no problems.
Preparation - Stripping Oak Kitchen Table with Bar Type Finish
Q: I have an oak kitchen table with a bar type finish. What do I use to strip it down?
A: Use a strong paint remover, such as Parks Power Stripper. Generally they will be the ones that have the most safety warnings, but then, they are also the most effective. The key to using remover on a tough surface is having the patience to let the chemical do the work. Daub it on heavily, then cover it with plastic sheeting to keep the active chemical on the wood and working. Remove the sludge only when it comes off all the way down to the wood. Read and follow the safety warnings on the can.
Preparation - Staining Whitewashed Furniture Without Sanding
Q: We have whitewashed oak entertainment center pieces bought in the late 80’s and china cabinet and dining room table and chairs bought in 1991. We want to update with a darker stain. I was told at one store that I didn’t need to strip these pieces, just apply the stain, but am concerned there might be a protective finish that would prevent the stain from working. How do I test the finish? What should I use to strip the whitewashing? Also, the older pieces have acquired a pink cast through the white washing, how will this affect stain?
A: No, you canít put normal stain atop a finished surface, but you can put either glaze or toner on it, after you have cleaned the surface with mineral spirits or TSP on nylon abrasive pads. For glaze, you can use gel stain by applying it and wiping off as much or as little as you like. Understand that only adds color to what is there. In other words, if you start with off white and put a red mahogany gel stain glaze over it, you will end up with something sickly pink. The same is more or less true with the other option, toner, which is tinted finish. The easiest way to apply that is by using One-Step Stain and Poly in an aerosol can, but once again, unless you apply enough coats to make it look almost like paint, you will still have some visual combination of tint color and white. If you really want the white to go away, and I suspect you do, you will have to totally strip the pieces with paint remover and get back to raw wood. At that point you can stain the wood whatever color you like. Admittedly, that is a very big and rather messy task.
Preparation - Restaining Dirty Handrail
Q: My wooden stained handrail is ugly looking with gummy dirt on the surface, and I am tired of cleaning it out with a damp cloth once a week. I am thinking of re-staining it, but I do not know how to start and what stripper chemicals and finish to use.
A: Start by cleaning it with mineral spirits on nylon abrasive pads. At least that will let you see what you have. To refinish, strip the old coating with paint remover, followed by a scrub with lacquer thinner on nylon abrasive pads. When the wood is clean, sand it with 180 grit garnet paper. If you want to change the color, stain it with oil based stain or gel stain, then top that with at least three coats of oil based polyurethane. That should give you a good finish that wonít require such a heavy cleaning schedule and will be easy to clean when it is needed.
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