Finally starting on our woodwork -- still a little stumped

arlosmomFebruary 9, 2009

I posted a while back and got some great responses about how to tackle restoring the downstairs woodwork in our 1905 home. I'm finally going to tackle this project! I'm still nervous and have a lot of questions that I thought I could run by all of you helpful and experienced GWers. I've included the link to my earlier post.

First off, I'm not even 100% sure what kind of wood I have. Our floors and the upstairs woodwork are heart pine. In the dining room, living room, and stairwell, I believe we have chestnut, but I haven't been able to confirm that. The grain looks a lot like oak, but the wood doesn't feel like oak -- it feels much lighter, less dense and a little pourus. From what I've read, the blight that killed off the American Chestnut trees was in 1905 or 1907, so the timing makes sense. Here are a couple of shots that show the grain:

The other day I tried to do a very light cleaning with a soft cloth and mineral spirits on a section of the dining room baseboard and I was encouraged. Not a whole lot of anything came off, and the mineral spirits didn't seem to mess with the existing color. I'm planning to continue cleaning with mineral spirits as soon as it's warm enough to open the windows for some ventilation. I just bought some low odor mineral spirits and synthetic steel wool at the hardware store. For areas where the previous owner sloshed paint on the trim, should I use paint thinner? Will that harm the color of the wood underneath?

I still have a lot of questions about how to proceed past that point once it's clean, and what kind of finish to put back on. To me, it's always looked like our wood has been stained dark with no additional shellac or varnish. There is no shine (although flash pictures sometimes make it look a little shiny), no alligatoring, and no sign of built-up finish in corners or places where two boards meet. I figured I could see some sign of previous finish in the winter when humidity is low and boards contract, but nothing.

Over the weekend, my husband and I carefully pulled off a couple of pieces of trim moulding by the pocket door so we could make some adjustments to the roller mechanisms. Underneath, you can see wood without stain so I'm pretty sure that stain or dye was applied at some point.

To throw another variable into the equation, we also need to be able to match some new wood to our existing woodwork. We are adding a wall and pocket door in the living room to create an entry foyer...I think I've even found a source for chestnut to use for the trim although I haven't seen a sample yet. If I want to try to replicate the stain color of our existing wood on new wood, should I use an aniline dye rather than stain?

Once I have the stain issue solved I still need to decide on a finish. A couple folks recommended shellac, which is still a possibility. I'm worried about the shine factor though. We do not want shine. What about satin spar varnish? I know we do not want poly, and based on Casey's earlier advice, I'm leaning against tung or boiled linseed oil. What if we just waxed it without any other underlying finish? I don't want to have to re-do all of this every year though. We have a LOT of wood in these rooms and that stairwell is gonna be a bugger.

Lots of questions, I know. Sorry.

Here is a link that might be useful: my previous post

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If that's not chestnut, then I'm doggoned. wow, a true "find".
Shellac's always going to have sheen, but then the woodwork would have had sheen "back in the day".
The wood may have originally been stained with a home-made concoction of walnut husks. It looks like either a)- natural aging via oxidation) or b) a warm brown stain. Aniline is tricky for the inexperienced, and nerve wracking even for those who use it regularly to try to match old work. Not so bad if you're using it on a new standalone project.
There are only two products that will finish with no sheen; flat varnish (hard to find) and 100% pure tung oil.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2009 at 8:50PM
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Pictures are showng an error.

Shellac comes in a number of different shades, and Garnet shellac is a relatively dark brown color.

1905 woodwork could easily have just darker shellac on no stain or dye.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2009 at 10:17PM
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Hmmm...I was going to say oak or quarter-sawn oak, but I really don't know too much about it. Very well could be Chestnut. Our doors downstairs look just like that last photo you put up--same grain and color. And we have heartpine floors as well. Our house is 1870's and it's got very thick, ornate moulding with (I think) just shellac--no stain on it. It does have a sheen to it that I really like--and although our trim could DEFINITELY use a spruce-up, I hate to do anything to it because I don't think it would be that easy to replicate that thick sheen. Good luck with your project!!

    Bookmark   February 10, 2009 at 10:06AM
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There is a deglosser available to add to Shellac today. It does make it dry even faster so you it is more difficult to apply but it works.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2009 at 6:16PM
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The wood could be Douglas fir. It was commonly used to trim houses during that era.

Stick to the oderless mineral spirits. Paint thiner is the same thing with adulterants and more smell. By the way the thinner for shellac is denatured alchohol.

I'd be careful about cleaning that woodwork. Open grain wood like that is hard to stain evenly. The old timers often mixed pigments into the first coat of shellac instead of staining and then finishing.

When you get it clean the spar varnish sounds like a good choice. I've always found spar varnish easier to brush than polyurethane. For a satin finish you must stir the varnish very thouroughly and keep on stirring while you apply the varnish. All varnish starts as clear gloss. To reduce the gloss ground silica is added to the finish. If you don't keep stirring the silica settles to the bottom.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2009 at 4:14AM
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Thanks for the responses. I've made a little progress on next steps. Yesterday, a sales guy from Mountain Lumber (a company in Charlottesville, VA that reclaims/re-mills old wood) stopped by and took a look -- he's pretty certain that it is chestnut. They have chestnut available that we can use for baseboards and to frame the new door opening on the new wall we're building. He said chestnut is frequently wormy (ours is not) but that they made be able to "grade" that out of what we purchase. We'll probably also buy extra so that we can work around any that we find. I guess I could experiment with filling the worm holes too.

I haven't narrowed down stain options at all. I think the current color is a combination of stain and oxidation. In the third photo where we've removed the trim piece, it looks to me like there is a brown stain that is a different color than the wood that's been exposed all these years. I'll be trying to match the patina-ed, exposed color.

Casey, I was really hoping you'd see my post and respond, so thanks. You're right, flat varnish was hard to find. Pratt & Lambert makes an oil varnish in a dull finish, so I've ordered some and will experiment with that. I think folks are right that shellac was common and traditional for a house of our vintage, but I just don't see signs anywhere that it was used in ours. I could definitely be wrong. Anytime a contractor or old house person comes in the house, I ask them to look at our wood and try to pick their brains, but I haven't found anyone that seems really confident or knowledgeable in what they're telling me. I'll keep trying though.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2009 at 8:29AM
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I found that Farrow & Ball makes both flat and eggshell oil-based varnishes.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2009 at 10:29AM
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