quick fix for wood trim

dean42July 7, 2006

I just bought a house with lots of wood trim. And there are lots of scratches and dings in the trim I'd like to fix. Overall, the wood looks pretty good so I don't want to get into stripping and refinishing. I just want to clean up the scratches to freshen the look.

I'm familiar with most of the layman wood repair products like wax pencils, brown felt tip pens, and so on. But I'd prefer a more permanent fix. Also I don't relish the idea of having to do each separate stratch one at a time. It's a big house. And there are a variety of scratch types...some deep in high traffic areas that have exposed bare wood, some minor that have removed the shiny surface, areas damaged by carpet installers all along the carpet line, etc.

What I'd really like is a staining or refinish product that will match the color I have now that allows me to wipe it over the current finish. Then something simple to wipe on to shine up the surface. Or something to do both at once.

I thought I might try an ordinary stain, but I'm not sure how the thinners in the stain will affect the finish. I don't want to soften or cloud the finish that's on there now. Again, I just want to hide the wear and tear. And I don't want temporary fixes like oils that will need to be reapplied.

The house is about 15 years old. The wood is probably pine or more likely poplar. The finish color is medium toned. I don't know if the finish is a one-step or a proper stain with a finish over it. The doors may be a multi-step factory finish and the trim could be a one-step. One thing I do know is that there are places exposed to the sun where the finish on the trim has yellowed and alligatored, so that may give someone a clue.


1) What is the most likely finish that's on the trim now?

2) Is there some simple way to cover the nicks and scratches, like a stain I could wipe on without damaging the current finish?

3) What is a good way to polish up all the wood after I've colored the scratches so that everything blends together?


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I know of no magic bullet that will do what you want. If the trim has a fairly plain profile, you can make a sanding block to fit the profile. That is the best way to fix all the problems you have. Sand, restain, and refinish.

Actually, the fastest way would be to replace all the trim.

There are no stains that will work over a finish---a gel stain might stick for a while, but I doubt even those would cover evenly. Even if a stain did adhere---the scratches would still show up.

The finish is most likely varnish, if the trim was installed when the house was built.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2006 at 12:18PM
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Replace ALL the trim? Dude...it's a 4,000 sq. ft. house. There's wood trim, wood built-ins, wood doors, wood library paneling, wood banisters and stairs, wood everywhere. Are you volunteering the $50,000+ I'd need to do that? I accept cash, checks, and money orders. :)

Okay, I know you're right. I'm asking for the impossible, so let's back up and let me get more specific and practical.

Why do you think the finish is varnish? Given the long drying time of varnish, would a builder use that on a house with tons of trim? Wouldn't shellac be more likely? I was thinking the finish was an orange shellac that was brushed on in one step.

I'm told if I use denatured alcohol I can test the finish...and if it's shellac, the finish should disolve immediately. And if that's the case, couldn't I use new shellac touch up the scratches...basically use a tiny brush and go over the scratches to hide and refinish? Then maybe polish with wax?

Has anyone done this? Is there a good resource for information on this...something more detailed than the Minwax website? This must be pretty common.

I know I could go the wax stick or stain pen route, but those don't last. I don't need perfect, just good and long lasting. Most of the imperfections are pretty minor and haven't damaged the wood. You know...ordinary wear and tear. I'm okay with a little "patina," I just don't like the scuffy look of the wood right now.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2006 at 12:05AM
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Varnish of some kind, natural if an older house or polyurethane if newer, is the most common finish for wood trim. It goes on well with a brush and is very durable. The fact that the house has "tons of trim" doesn't make a difference. But hey, if you think it may be shellac, head to the hardware store, get a little can of alchol solvent and try it out. Once you get that pinned down, and post some photos of what you're dealing with, you'll get more useful information.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2006 at 6:14AM
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Builders use varnish because it is much easier to apply---shellac takes some experience to use and have the result look good. Varnish also sprays more easily than shellac. And varnish is usually less expensive than shellac, has a longer shelf life, and is more resistant to moisture damage.

Plus, most of the finish used in the houses in which I have repaired trim locally has been varnish.

There ain't no easy fix.

But, if you are determined to try---use shellac---it will stick to most finishes, even shiny ones. Buy shellac flakes unless you get ready mixed that is less than a year old---shellacs shelf life when mixed is short. Minwax makes a shellac that has a 3 year shelf life---the cans are dated, but in my experience if that brand is 2 years old or more---it is iffy.

You can fill the bad scratches with a paint stick or putty---but you said you did not wish to do individual scratches.

In the final result---if you were to do it right---sanding, overstaining, and refinishing-----you would be done long term. Instead of having to look at a halfway job and wishing you had done it better.

Or not.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2006 at 11:10AM
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Larhe dents and gouges can be reqpired with shellac sticks, then a new top coat applied.
Visit Mohawk Finishing for everything you need. They used to even have little books on various techniques.
Dent repair is a one at a time thing.
They wil likely be less visible if covered with another layer of finish to blend in. The color contrast of damage catches the eye.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2006 at 9:38AM
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I feel your pain. I am currently running into the same problem with my 1920 craftsman home. Scratches (small and big), dings, worn finish in some areas, etc. The finish is basically good throughout, but I have these imperfections you are talking about and it's annoying.

The one thing I did do easily was remove a "blush" on the trim (we removed wallpaper and the heat from the steamer got too close to the trim) and for that I used mayonnaise. Just rubbed it on left it for 15 minutes and rubbed off, then used a little bit of suds from dishsoap to clean it off.

With all of the research I have done, my next step will be to use the shellac sticks to fill in the scratches.

I have read to remove the dings, use the tip of an iron placed over the tip of a damp rag to raise the grain of the ding. Haven't tried it yet, but I will.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2009 at 8:00AM
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"variety of scratches" generally means "variety of fixes." Part of it is going to depend upon your level of expectation. Will you be happy with not being able to tell damage from across the room, or will you have your nose on the baseboard looking for damage? I am also reminded of the old maxim -- "Good, cheap, fast," pick two.

While it could be varnish, it could be about anything. I've been in high end houses where the finish was whatever the "painter" (and I use that term in quotes for a reason) happened to pick off the shelf at Home Depot, including some spectacularly poor choices.

Also, if it crosses your radar screen, I'd consider Restore-a-finish a temporary fix. On the other hand, markers (not Minwax) and wax fill are considered permanent fixes.

Check out the link below for some ideas. You might just settle on cleaning and wiping with a varnish or shellac.

Here is a link that might be useful: Repairing color damage

    Bookmark   July 6, 2009 at 8:57AM
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