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Ugh, refinishing a stair rail.

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Forum topic by Greg posted 05-07-2017 01:52 AM 618 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Greg

21 posts in 224 days


05-07-2017 01:52 AM

Topic tags/keywords: refinish a stair rail blotchy walnut

Hi folks.

Hey, I’m new to this forum with limited woodwork├«ng experience so please go kind of easy on me. (But not too).

I made the mistake of trying to refinish my 100 year stair rail. I’ve run into some road blocks and could use some help. For starters, this railing had about 6 coats of paint, varnish and stain on it. I think it started as a natural oiled finish, then varnished, then about 5 coats of paint on top of that, the last being a primer on top of which a dark brown shellac type of paint was applied.

Anyway, I’ve tried a few ways to get the coatings off including Smartstrip, Citrastrip and methelyne chloride based Zip Strip. Funny, the Smartstrip with their super special laminatehd paper seemed to do the best job picking up most of the layers, down to the wood AND the stain but left behind some of the paint. The Zip Strip did the best overall job I think, but doesn’t seem to go aft the stain that has “sunk” into the wood. Even after 2 applications and scrubbing with lacquer thinner and steel wool.

My questions are these:
Is it normal to have residual stain that is “absorbed” into the wood?
Am I correct in understanding that the wood should be one uniform color before stating?
What the best way to get the dark areas out at this point? Sanding? Bleach?
Should I be sanding this until I’m down to the wood, no stain showing?

The attached shows a detail. As you can see, there are light and dark areas. I did read somewhere that if I use a dark stain, the areas that are dark (have stain), won’t pick up stain and the end result will be uniform. Does that make sense?

Also don’t know what kind of wood this is. Walnut perhaps?

Ok, that’s it. Feel free to answer the questions individually or suggest a general overview/ strategy.

Finally,in advance, thanks. I look forward to any advice, tips and suggestion you might have.

Greg


17 replies so far

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pontic

505 posts in 447 days


#1 posted 05-07-2017 01:59 AM

Looks like Mahogany to me. You got a nice patina going on there! I would not sand it any more. Maybe use a nylon scrub pad and BLO to build up the richness of it. If the rest looks like that then just leave it alone.

-- Illigitimii non carburundum sum

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Carol

57 posts in 352 days


#2 posted 05-07-2017 02:36 AM

please dont use bleach on that beautiful wood!
not sure what kind of wood it is but it’s gorgeous. if you’ve scraped off all the paint, and can live with the patina that’s left, you can just apply an oil finish that won’t change the color, just enhance the beauty that’s already there.
after all, it IS 100 years old :-)

-- Carol

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Greg

21 posts in 224 days


#3 posted 05-07-2017 02:45 AM

Thanks Pontic. That photo might make it look better than it actually is. Overall, it’s looking a little more “shabby chic” than I want, but does have some gorgeous grain that I’d like to bring out.

Here’s a couple more images to show what I’m dealing with. Note: image in my orig post is after a second application of Methelyne Chloride based Zip-strip, these photos were aft using Smart Strip on the first try. My goal is to get them less shabby-chic and more uniform with less dark splotchyness.

Ha, thought this would be a one day project.


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Greg

21 posts in 224 days


#4 posted 05-07-2017 03:25 AM

Thanks Carol,
I read bleaching as one option but that’s not in my plan (unless there’s a consensus that THIS is how you you do it; which so far, there isn’t.) Ultimately, I am trying for more uniformity and welcoming all suggestions! So far, the consensus seems to be, stripper/ brass brush/ lacquer thinner and constant wiping off. (And lots of ventilation)
Greg


please dont use bleach on that beautiful wood!
not sure what kind of wood it is but it s gorgeous. if you ve scraped off all the paint, and can live with the patina that s left, you can just apply an oil finish that won t change the color, just enhance the beauty that s already there.
after all, it IS 100 years old :-)

- Carol


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OSU55

1426 posts in 1828 days


#5 posted 05-07-2017 01:47 PM

Ultimately, I am trying for more uniformity and welcoming all suggestions! So far, the consensus seems to be, stripper/ brass brush/ lacquer thinner and constant wiping off. (And lots of ventilation)
Greg

Yep, that’s pretty much the process after using whichever stripper works the best. I’ve done quite a few old furniture pieces that were similar. DO NOT use sandpaper. It will screw up the patina. Even if you decide to dye or stain. steel wool, scotchbrite, etc are ok.

Yes the dye part of the stain used penetrates the wood and the only way to remove the color is to sand the wood off – big mistake. To better blend the light and dark areas, I would use a dye, either oil based – I use W.D. Lockwood powder mixed with naptha – or alcohol I use Transtint mixed in DNA. Especially in this situation where you will be wiping/brushing a finish coat, the dye will need a binder so it isn’t pulled back into solution. For OB just use ~5% poly, for alcohol a little shellac. You don’t need oil, poly will work. This might help. The dye with just a bit of binder will allow several coats to build/deepen color. It will require testing in hidden spots to get the right look. I would use good ole poly as the finish top coat, brush or wipe, whatever sheen you like, probably semi gloss.

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Greg

21 posts in 224 days


#6 posted 05-07-2017 03:31 PM

Thanks all for your help so Thanks OSU55 for finishing tips. Will report back with results once I get this stripped to a result I like (with no sanding!)

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pontic

505 posts in 447 days


#7 posted 05-07-2017 07:13 PM

Yes now it looks like oak. The consensis is in: Don’t sand and to even out the blotches use a dye. Follow the advice and you will have a beautiful piece.

-- Illigitimii non carburundum sum

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EricTwice

230 posts in 372 days


#8 posted 05-07-2017 07:49 PM

It looks like it had a dye stain on it originally. I have known people who would call that the finish from hell. These are the ones trying to use Minwax or the equivalent. You can try bleaching it, but that is a crap shoot. your best bet is to go as dark as the original and use a dye or professional grade stain. If it is still blotchy glaze it.

It will look great when it’s completed

-- nice recovery, They should pay extra for that mistake, Eric E.

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Greg

21 posts in 224 days


#9 posted 05-09-2017 01:51 AM

Well, I stripped one more time and the change was minimal. I couldn’t get the stain much lighter although it’s a little less blotchy. (See photos). So my options are to sand down to a consistent finish but it sounds like sanding and/or bleaching are not recommended. Happy to keep it imperfect and rustic with the hope that the grain feature isn’t buried. I’ll try to go with this patina like look.

Next steps: I’ll reconcile all the feedback I’ve received and come up with a plan. I’ll stain or dye a section and check the results. If looks good, I’ll apply the same to the rest of the railing and newalls.

Finally I asked some folks what kind of wood this is and the general consensus is that it’s oak although I’ve also heard mahogany and I keep thinking its walnut. For now, I’ll go with oak since that’s what the floors, baseboards and the top piece (on which this post sits) is oak.

So two follow up questions:

Can I add a couple layers of stain not applying as heavily over the darker areas to get a more consistent value overall.
Do you suggest any type of pre treating with a wood conditioner before I stain or dye?
Oh, one more! I’ve used gel stains in the past. Should I consider that as an option?

Thanks all agin. Your advice has been terrific.

Greg

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OSU55

1426 posts in 1828 days


#10 posted 05-09-2017 05:58 PM

The wood has been more than sealed by all the previous finishes, and stripper or thinner can’t get into the wood (why you still have dark areas). No worry about blotching, which oak and walnut aren’t an issue anyway. As mentioned previously a dye is the best way to go. Trying to work around the dark areas by hand will not be easy. If you could airbrush a dye then you could make it work. With hand application the idea is to find a color = or lighter than the dark areas, and cover the whole area. Try wiping the lighter areas fiirst, possibly multiple times depending on dye intensity, then wipe the whole area. Let the slovent flash in between. Difficult to not get blend lines. I would use oil based dye reduced with naptha with a little poly to bind the dye. An alternative is MW stain and strain the pigment out. Mix to get desired color. With the MW you only get 1 shot. A 2nd coat wont add much color – the wood will be saturated. You don’t have to get a perfectly even color – you might be surprised how good it will look only getting 1/2 way

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Greg

21 posts in 224 days


#11 posted 05-10-2017 08:58 PM

Thanks OSU55. Can you explain to me what MW Stain is? (Sorry for being a noob) Thanks!

An alternative is MW stain and strain the pigment out. Mix to get desired color. With the MW you only get 1 shot. A 2nd coat wont add much color – the wood will be saturated. You don t have to get a perfectly even color – you might be surprised how good it will look only getting 1/2 way

- OSU55


View builtinbkyn's profile

builtinbkyn

1924 posts in 779 days


#12 posted 05-10-2017 10:09 PM


Thanks OSU55. Can you explain to me what MW Stain is? (Sorry for being a noob) Thanks! An alternative is MW stain and strain the pigment out. Mix to get desired color. With the MW you only get 1 shot. A 2nd coat wont add much color – the wood will be saturated. You don t have to get a perfectly even color – you might be surprised how good it will look only getting 1/2 way

- OSU55

- Greg

MW=MinWax. :)

I’ve done this process many times. You’re doing fine even though it may not feel that way. It’s arduous and messy and won’t look like much until you’re either ready for finish or there’s some new finish on it.

Sanding is fine. You just need to be careful how you go about it. You don’t want to change the profiles of the wood by sanding too much or incorrectly. I would suggest making some sanding blocks of various sizes and shapes to get into nooks and crannies and to cut straight lines where the profile changes from flat to a detail. MDF is great for this. Use some spray adhesive to adhere the sandpaper to the blocks. 220 should be fine. These blocks are nice because the paper is on one side only and rubbing against some detail with the edge will not start to change that profile. Also get a few sponge sanding blocks for those areas that are curved and profiled. Both the sandpaper and the sponge will more than likely clog so you will need a few.

The wood was already sanded smoothed when originally finished. However, you probably raised the grain a bit during the stripping process. You just want lightly sand it to remove any residue from the stripping and provide a smooth surface for your finish. If you’re unsure about staining again, MinWax and others make urethane products that have stain in them and make blending easier. The stain is suspended in the finish and allows the wood grain to show through. So you’re doing two process at once. Tinting the wood with a protective finish. The other option is to re-stain and cover with clear finish.

Good luck and post pics when you’re done :)

-- Bill, Yo!......in Brooklyn & Steel City :)

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Greg

21 posts in 224 days


#13 posted 05-10-2017 10:20 PM

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the value of letting the patina, or imperfections show; to not try and make new what isn’t. If that’s what this railing wants to be, I can live it’s that!

Last question on this for a bit I think. So what about a gel stain? I’ve used gel stain before and it seemed to hide the grain a bit whereas liquid stain seemed to highlight better, but my thought was I could apply a couple coats and it might be easier to apply a little more to match the dark.

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OSU55

1426 posts in 1828 days


#14 posted 05-11-2017 03:03 PM

Never had much luck with 2nd coats to darken using over the counter gel or liquid stains – thats why i recommended dye. If you think you want to use sandpaper, use it in an inconspicuous area and stain and finish it and see what you have. My experience is don’t do it, but I may be overly particular about the finished look. BTW the combination color/finish, MW Polyshades, is abhorred by most who attempt to use it. You can do a search for it here on LJ’s.

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Greg

21 posts in 224 days


#15 posted 05-12-2017 10:03 PM

Here’s a quick interim update. Did another round but this time I used “Dad’s Easy Spray” instead of Smartstrip. This is also, I believe a methelyne chloride based stripper but it comes with a spray bottle.

I got a better result removing the “darker” splotches with Dad’s then the Strip-Eze. I don’t know if the spray action gets into the grain better but about 15 minutes after applying, when you scrape, the dye/stain is liquefied running down the wood which I would mop up with solventy rags and viola, a more consitent (less splotchy) result. Don’t think Dad’s Easy Spray will lifte as many layers as the Smartstrip, (certainly doesn’t smell as strong but I still wear my respirator).

I’ll try and post an interim photo later.

Greg

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