Refinishing banister and best to do?

grahamlewisNovember 23, 2010

I have a gorgeous 110 year old home, and I am refinishing the staircase. The Banisters, Spindles, and Posts are lovely oak with years of dirt, grime, and grease on them. I would like to refinish them, and will do so with Tung Oil - this much I know. I have begun this process of cleaning the railings by washing (in test sections) with warm water and soap and an abrasive pad, with pretty good results, removing the black grease, and some of the finish. The spindles and posts are obviously a greater and more intricate challenge, given they are beautifully contoured but also have tough to get nooks and edges. What is the best way to strip these? Citristrip? sandpaper? ? ? It would be a shame to do a 80% job on this and I am willing to put in the effort to refinish them. I am just looking for the most effective way to do so (time, effort, and results). Does anyone have good suggestions? Thanks for the input....

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No real experience, but my mother took furniture refinishing classes, and they learned to NEVER use sandpaper to strip old wood. I guess it removes the "aged" surface or something. As I said, just going on what's she's told me during projects. She always uses a chemical stripper, washes it with steel wool (very fine) and denatured alcohol. She uses a variety of tools to get into the detail work (alls, small screwdrivers,nutpicks,etc-being careful not to scratch the wood). Please don't take this as professional advice, because I'm just passing on info given to me second hand. Oh, and don't use strings to get into the curve details. Someone in her class did that, going back and forth very quickly, and started the piece on fire!

    Bookmark   November 24, 2010 at 8:09PM
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Wow, I admire your ambition and you will no doubt be able to enjoy the rewards for many years to come! I have almost 0 wood stripping experience but I know there are countless others here who will be able to advise you. It sounds like you are off to a good start. As "kindred" mentioned you can use any tool that you can imagine ~ tooth picks and small dowels that have been sharpened (you can use a pencil sharpener) work well and safely in small grooves. You said it is oak so the wood shouldn't be terribly soft. A firm brush (I used a small brass brush on a door I worked on) can work, too, but could scratch so use with caution. It will also gum up often, so use a pick to keep it from clogging up.

Also as kindred mentioned, denatured alcohol works great with fine steel wool on detail work and small grooves. I put some into a small spray bottle (clearly marked as I have several small children)and just sprayed it on each spot as I went along. It evaporates quickly so this is a great time saver! Spray one spot, rub with the steel wool and move to the next spot, spray, rub repeat... One other tool that worked great in very small grooves was a gasket remover. It looks like a dental pick, only it cost about $2.00! They have them in auto part stores and near the plumbing supplies in our hardware store.

As for the major stripping medium I am not able to give any experienced advice at all. My project was removing paint, not just dirty 110 year old finish. I would guess a gel stripper would work best on virticle surfaces.

Whatever you decide we would love to see pictures!! Before and after as you will no doubt want to document your progress. Good luck to you. And if you have not already stumbled across this site, search for old home web forums..... there are several "cross posters" there in addition to many other experienced individuals. Just in case you don't get all of your questions answered here (this is a very informative and experienced group, just not quite as frequently attended) Hope this helps!

    Bookmark   November 25, 2010 at 7:25AM
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Mrsrichards, GREAT idea about the spray bottle! I am in the middle of finishing an art deco chifferobe ( it's been 2 years now! lol)and that would be so helpful! Thanks for a super tip!

    Bookmark   November 25, 2010 at 9:31AM
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I would never use water to clean woodwork like that.

It will find ANY defects in the finish already present and then get into the wood.

Paint thinner is much preferred, but you do have to be careful to ventilate (and remove sources of ignition) since the thinner vapors ARE flammable.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2010 at 9:34AM
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