Is my staircase heart pine?

jiggreenSeptember 11, 2010

Hi! I spent 3+ hours today working at getting layers and layers of paint off of one of my stair treads. Here is a picture of what I it heart pine? And is it worth investing all the time into doing the whole staircase? I'm having to sand pretty deep in order to get all of that yellow paint off....I don't want to ruin the darker old patina, but in places I've had to just to get rid of that yellow.

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Looks like older growth white pine to me. Though It could also be heart or yellow pine depending on where you are. In the northeast, and in older buildings, it's more likely to be white pine.

Don't underestimate the value and sturdiness of old growth white pine. It can wear very well in floors, even in stair treads that get a lot of concentrated footfalls in one place.

Maybe you could spend less effort and do less damage if you use a paint stripper. Sanding may also release a lot lead paint dust. If you have access to a steamer, it might be worth giving that a try - it will either break the paint bond, or not. I wouldn't use a torch (because of the risk of ignting dust in hidden places), but very cautious use of a heat plate might be another method to try. The infrared paint stripper (Silent Paint Remover) might also work, though it would be a bit awkward to use on steps, I think.

Of course you know that stairs were often painted from the get go. No reason why both treads and risers must be the same color, though. Perhaps white, cream or pale grey on the risers, and a different color (deep oxblood, brown or charcoal black) on the treads?


    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 4:06AM
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Thanks liriodendron :)

I am in Pennsylvania, and the stairs date from the original tavern building, 1814. Underneath the carpeting/linoleum/subflooring in the tavern portion of our house is the original tongue and groove flooring, which I was thinking of exposing and refinishing. From what I've been able to tell, they are in excellent condition. If those boards are white pine, would it be worth it? Does white pine refinish nicely? Or should I just remove the carpet and put down new hardwood.

I started out using a chemical stripper on the stair tread, but in addition to nearly asphyxiating myself, I found it way too messy. It also didn't remove the yellow paint, although it did a good job on the dark red paint. My heat gun does a decent job, but keeps setting off my smoke detector! I think, in order to minimize the time involved, I will just do the treads, and paint the risers white...that's a good idea!

    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 8:35AM
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White pine is lovely with a clear or orange-y pumpkin finish.

I understand wanting the treads to be the same color as the adjacent flooring, top and bottom. That's my my goal too. I have grey paint on my stairs, along with the yellowish undercoating that's a bear.

Here's some suggestions re paint remover: try various products. Some are exceedingly vile especially when working in close proximity. But the trick of all removers is to allow enough time for their vileness to work in your favor. Apply some, then cover it with plastic and let it work. The plastic is to keep it moist. Check often until you find how long it takes to more or less remove the paint in one goopy scrape. It may take many hours to overnight. Stripping is messiest if you haven't allowed it enough time to work; when it works well you should be able to lift whole sections almost in one pass. If you just fuss at it before it's worked enough, you'll have an unholy mess.

You can do half of the treads (either one side at a time or every other one, if you are young and up to going up and down two steps at a time). If you have children or pets, great vigilance must be taken to prevent any accidental contact while the stripper is working, even though it's covered.

I find the most tolerable stripper is the soybean solvent product (soygel). Not the most aggressive, but does a good job over time (meaning most of a day, at least). If you can ventilate the room during the project, it's better for your lungs. I rarely use the solvent based strippers any more as satisfactory protection for my lungs requires such cumbersome gear I can't really spend too much time at it.

A heat plate may be better than a gun and will certainly spreads fewer lead motes around. The smoke detector should go off if it's sensing the burning of dust and paint dur ing removal. I, personally, would turn mine off while working, but there is risk to that, too.

Pine takes very nicely to some of the non-poly floor finishes. These are generally more flexible than poly so you may have fewer issues with peeling of the finish. Old growth pine is surprisingly hard, but still less so than oak or maple. Pine is technically a "soft" wood, though many carelessly refer to pine floors as being "hardwood" floors; I have come to understand folks are not describing the nature of pine, just the state of being not engineered, manufactured printed, laminated or plastic "wood". Notwithstanding some concerns about pine and poly, I have seen pine floors done in poly - both water and oil-based poly that look fine. When done, I plan to use shellac and butchers wax, bcause I like reversible and repairable finishes that don't demand floor sanding and screening every time you want to perk 'em up.



    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 10:18PM
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I'm not that familiar with white pine but southern heart pine is worth the work. Bare wood will turn red when wetted with turpentine or other liquid & other pines will remain the same yellow color (again, I've never worked with white pine) so it's my favorite easy-but-reliable test.

My 150 year old floors had been treated very badly & had been painted so we hired a professional to sand just enough to remove the paint & smooth out the really bad spots. After that I rubbed (by hand) in a boiled linseed oil/turpentine mixture; when dry it forms a type of varnish. After that I applied paste wax. Still haven't done the staircase. It's been a tremendous amount of work but I would do it again - the floors never fail to make me realize the house is worthy of every bit of work we've put into it.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 2:48PM
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Wow antiquesilver, your floor is lovely!!!!!!! If mine turn out half as nice, I'll be more than happy! :)

I've managed to get the rest of that first tread stripped and half of another one. The weird thing I'm noticing is that the bottom layer of yellow paint is only on the outsides of the treads, near the walls...perhaps they had a runner on the stairs and only painted where the bare wood would actually show? Lazy or frugal? lol! Either way, I'm glad there isn't more of that turns into a gluey mess when I try to strip it off and then it still needs to be sanded.

Well, got to get back to work....those stairs won't strip themselves, and none of my family or friends are lining up to help me :)

    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 2:58PM
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Believe me, my floors looked as bad as yours - light sanding is the key! I tried hand stripping around the baseboards & the result was not as good plus it took more time than imaginable. I don't think it's possible to get off all the paint from old pine using a stripper - the wood is too porous. Even with sanding, specks show through occasionally.

My floors don't always look as good as the photo - I took it right after I waxed!

    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 5:00PM
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