Cleaning (and keeping clean LOL) wooden banisters

loves2cook4sixJune 9, 2006

We recently moved into a house that was built in the early 1990's. The wooden banister was filthy. Unfortunately I know nothing about wood so am coming to you for help. The wood "looks" like a light oak but I don't know enough to be sure.

The railing consists of a flat piece of wood running down the sidewall of the stairs with a curved piece on little stilts making up the handrail.

The flat piece looks sealed but the handrail does not. The grain of the wood has picked up black dirt. I tried cleaning it with Murphy's Oil and finishing with Pledge. The wood feels very dry to the touch and I am concerned that if I don't seal it or wax it with something, it will just get dirty again. (I have 4 kids)

Any suggestions would be appreciated. If you need photos, I can probably get some up on the net.

Thanks from a Newbie to the boards


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Does it look like the finish has worn off, i.e. is the wood shiny on some parts of the rail but not on others, or does it seem evenly "dry?" Perhaps it was never properly finished? It sounds like it may need to be sanded clean and finished with a few coats of polyurethane. If it's attatched to the 'little stilts' with screws, then it may be easiest to remove the handrail for finishing.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2006 at 6:26AM
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No, it does not look shiny in places. It is uniformly dry.

As to the construction, the rail may have been screwed to the stilts from underneath the flat piece of wood. I can see where the flat piece was nailed or screwed into the wall and the nails or screws were then covered with filler.

If I can't remove the rail and I have it clean, do I just lightly rub it with sandpaper and then apply polyurethane? What is a good brand to get that won't effect the color?


    Bookmark   June 10, 2006 at 9:26AM
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"I tried cleaning it with Murphy's Oil and finishing with Pledge."

Both poor choices if the finish is not intact.
Clean the wood with plain old paint thinner.
After that you can decide on a finish.
Deft clear wood finish is a bruching lacquer that dries very quickly. It will likely take 3-5 coats to produce a good finish, but it will last and does not look as thick and plstic like as poly.
Poly can be ised, but it takes longer to drie and is difficult to repair. It wil take fewer coats because the material is thicker then other finishes.
The biggest problem with poly remains that each layer only sticks to the previous layers mechanically. Light scuffing is required betwen coats to improve the bonding.
Lacquer actually melts into the previous coats.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2006 at 6:38PM
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I agree with the above ( if you need a second opinion) But I would finish with poly and wait for it to dry....It will wear longer and not absorb skin oils like laquer will.
But clean it with mineral spirits....and then decide.
Perhaps shellac would be best.
Linda C

    Bookmark   June 11, 2006 at 10:38PM
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"Perhaps shellac would be best."

Shellac is one of the poorest finishes for wear. It looks spectacular in french polish, but is a very pooor surface for wear.
I have never seen lacquer "absorb skin oils".

    Bookmark   June 11, 2006 at 11:04PM
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