Stain color

JordanOJuly 25, 2012

We have recently purchased an 1895 home. We love the charm. However, we generally aren't huge fans of natural wood work (prefer traditional white), however we aren't going to be the first to paint. We currently have our floors, baseboards, windows and doors all the same color. We also don't care at all for the color. I believe it wasn't ever stained, and now has turned very yellowish/orange.

So I have two questions.

First, has anyone had any success staining over a varnish? I've heard of products that basically penetrate the varnish, and therefore basically causes the stain to look a much darker, browner color, but haven't been able to find it. Our goal will be to darken/brown the wood to a color we like more.

Secondly, we love moldings, chair rails, etc, but don't want to make the rooms seem too dark. Has anyone mixed dark floors, baseboards, doors and windows with white coffered ceilings, wall trim, etc?

A big obstacle to overcome, I know. Just looking for some help.

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If I am the next owner of your house, I think I would far prefer to find a well-done coat of paint on your woodwork than a splotchy darker stain, which is what I imagine would come of staining over varnish. I could be wrong about the splotchy, but not about the dark. Then, if I want lighter wood, I would HAVE to paint.

In other words, you might not be the first to paint, but you will be forcing the next owners to be. So, you might as well paint.

I don't see you needing to feel guilty about this. There are spaces that are too dark for the woodwork they have, and just because people didn't paint in those days doesn't mean one may never do so. Just do a good job (no drips, something my POs couldn't master) and choose a tone of white or cream that really works in the space given what the lighting is - and use good quality paint in the right finish (probably glossy). That will mean that over the next hundred years or so, a minimum number of coats of paint will need to be applied.

There may be ways you can glaze or re-varnish in a different tone as well.

Karin L

    Bookmark   July 28, 2012 at 9:44PM
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Circus Peanut

If the trim was never stained, it might not be that hard to remove the varnish and stain it a color of your choosing. Unless someone has gone over it with a modern polyurethane in recent years, old varnish can be pretty easily removed just by wiping it away with either lacquer remover (if it's lacquer varnish) or denatured alcohol (if it's shellac).

If you're lucky, it's just shellac and the denatured alcohol will take it right off with a little rubbing with superfine steel wool. Can you test this in an inconspicuous area, like inside a closet?

    Bookmark   July 29, 2012 at 8:44AM
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I would also try cleaning the wood with mineral spirits. It may just be dirty.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2012 at 4:39PM
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WJust wanna suggest.... please get all your information before doing ANYTHING - understand exactly what you have now (what kind of wood, what kind of finish) and what you want the finished wood to look like. I would suggest going to the woodworking forum for wood finishing info (although people here know their shellac and old fashioned finishes.) Once you do anything like paint, or apply a modern poly or other type of finish there is no turning back and to be blunt - you may ruin what may otherwise be an asset to your house ie beautiful woodwork.

It sounds like you have shellac which turns that dark orange over time, AND is very easily removed to reveal bare wood with a nice 100 yr. old patina. In terms of historic preservation, reapplying shellac would work (it comes in all shades from light amber to reddish brown to the very dark brown-black. Im not a purist but if I used a moddern finish I would want to go with something that fits the era - the dark espresso tones that are popular now could be appropriate for your historic era.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2012 at 5:26PM
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If you paint, consider doing what I'd do if I ever painted my woodwork:

for your first step, give it a good cleaning: vacuum, dust with microfiber dust cloth, and rub down with mineral spirits.

Then, for your first primer coat, instead of using a standard primer, give it a coat of shellac. If you've never used shellac, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. Other than being very drippy, it goes on VERY FAST. The smell from the alcohol solvent can be strong, but it is non toxic. Just turn on a fan sucking the air out of the room you're working in.

I would use shellac instead of a regular primer for three reasons:

1) it blocks stains and bleedthrough of wood resins into your top coat. Shellac is the ingredient in zinsser BIN primer that makes it do this so well.
2) it fills the wood pores with a clear coat instead of the white that a primer would, making the process somewhat reversible should you ever want to go back to a wood finish.
3) if you finish this step and decide you like the way it looks, you can leave it that way, or even go whole hog and apply a couple more coats. I've even used transtint dyes from Rockler to tint shellac to get the shade I'm going after. Those little bottles are not cheap but they go so far, one is practically a lifetime supply. But you can also just choose a type of shellac that naturally has a shade you like.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 8:31AM
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Oh PLEASE don't paint your woodwork! Natural woodwork is also traditional for the era of your home. Chances are it will not look right painted and it will destroy some of the home's value.

Instead, try cleaning it (first step, no matter what) and reviving the finish, as others have described above.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2012 at 5:04PM
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