Answering Furniture Staining and Finishing Questions #1

Someone staining wood.

Q. We tried staining a six panel door made of pine, and either applied too much stain or did not wipe off the excess soon enough, and now the door has a shiny finish. What can we do to clean it up? Also, some drips from the front dried on the edge on the back of the door and are very dark. What can we use to remove these globs of stain?

A. If the label on the stain recommends paint thinner (mineral spirits) as a cleaner for the stain, you may try some coarse cloth dipped in it and some scrubbing to remove the runs. If the runs are out of view, sand them off. Scrubbing with the coarse cloth and mineral spirits may take the sheen off the door. If not, you may try a scotchbrite pad with some paint thinner and scuff the door with the grain to see if this will knock down the sheen.

Q. I am trying to stain new cabinets in my utility room, which are made of maple. I am using a Red Mahogany oil based stain. I put a thick coat on first with a latex paint brush, then used a cloth to wipe off the excess and smooth. I guess I am a little confused as to how much to put on per coat and what the purpose is of wiping off the excess. What happens if you do not wipe off the excess? Can there be too much stain? I am having trouble getting the stain to be consistent across the cabinets. Will more coats solve this problem? And can I put too much stain in some spots, to the point where it will not look natural? Overall, I want a dark finish.

A. An oil stain is the easiest to apply. You can put it in very thick and wipe it off evenly over the whole surface and the color match should be even. You should have plenty of time to wipe it off because it stays wet for a long period. If you are using gel-stain, it is much harder to control the evenness because it dries too fast. Use gel on small projects that are easy to control.

The amount you put on is not that important. The wipe off allows you to get the even finish. If you wait too long to wipe it off and it dries, you will not get an even finish. Once you wipe it off evenly, you can let it dry and re-coat the stain to make it darker. The application instructions on the can tell you how long to wait between coats.

You can also remove a lot of the stain with the thinner that is recommended on the can. Try this in an inconspicuous spot or sample before trying the whole cabinet. You have to let this dry completely before reapplying another coat of stain.

Make sure you stir the can of stain good with the stuff that is on the bottom of the can, and when you leave the stain on too long, it will soak up more in softer spots of the wood. The alternative is to apply toner sprays and colored lacquer. Maple is a very hard wood and does not take stain that easily. A penetrating dye stain will work if you first seal then lightly sand.

Q. I did my whole barn in red cedar shingles, and they have been on now for about three or four months. I was planning on applying a wood protector and wondering if there is there an application that will make it look nice and protect the cedar shakes. Also should I pressure wash it first, with bleach, then use a stain, etc.?

A. The best way to maintain color will be to use a stain the appropriate color and renew it as needed. Don't wait so long that they become soiled before staining.

Q. I have a large oak front door with two leaded glass sidelights. There is no storm door or screen. Pulling out of my drive I noticed that the door appeared slightly faded in the lower portion. I tried wiping with cleaner thinking it was simply rain/dust splash but it seems more embedded. Do I have to re-sand the entire door, re-stain, and then re-finish, or is there a process with fewer steps?

A. Scrape this aberrant part of the door with a fingernail. If any finish comes off, it will need to be stripped and refinished. Otherwise, clean the door with spic and span, lightly sand the surface, and apply some top quality exterior polyurethane to refresh the finish. This will need to be done to exterior stained doors from time to time.

Q. How safe is it to strip and sand tables inside the home? Will fumes/dust linger for days? Will young children affected? I don't have the ability to move the items outside for the refinishing job.

A. Ventilation will remove the fumes. You should provide ventilation when using chemical strippers. Most of them constitute a fire hazard. Strippers aren't so bad, just follow the directions. Get some top quality chemical resistant gloves. A top-notch drop cloth will be invaluable. Dust from sanding can be controlled by using a shop vacuum with a HEPA filter to pick up the dust as you go. Keep the doors to the room closed when sanding, wear a respirator, and vacuum the area well before opening it to the rest of the house.

Q. I have purchased a kitchen table and chairs that are unfinished older wood. This set will get a lot of use. I am looking to finish the table in a way that I will be able to set glasses on it and not get ring marks, etc. I am wondering if it is better to paint or to stain a table like this for the best durability?

A. Either will do.

Q. Any advice on how to tell when the wood is really dry and it's safe to proceed with the finish? Anything else I can do to help it along?

A. Each coat of stain must be allowed to dry before proceeding. Ordinarily, each coat will dry in eight hours. Refer to the directions on the container for more information. When dry, the stain will not rub off liberally onto a clean soft cloth. For the application of water-based finishes, the oil-based stain must be completely dry. Actually, oil-based products don't dry, they oxidize.

Although high humidity will retard drying, it should not take days to dry. Stain is applied, the excess wiped off, and allowed to dry. Puddles of stain on the wood will prevent its drying. Stain is intended to be a colorant for the wood, not coating. My guess is that the stain was applied too thicklyand has skinned over. The application of the water-based finish over the stain has created a mess that prevents the finish from bonding to the wood and stain.

Q. I have applied the first stain application to a piece of furniture and I can see what look like runs. I have used some fine steel wool and it is working somewhat but there has to be an easier, faster way. I read somewhere that I could use like 240-grit sandpaper, but I want to double check.

A. If this is an oil stain, use mineral spirits. However, if it's a water based stain, use water to dampen a cloth and see if you can wipe off the runs. You should not have runs. Stain is to be applied, allowed to sit for a few minutes as the directions state, and then wiped off. This allows for a relatively uniform application.

If this does not work, you may be able to remove some more of the runs with lacquer thinner. In some regards, this may ruin the stain job. It will depend upon your ability to remove the stain on the surface without causing streaking or smears in the stain with the removal process.

For the traditional stains, the sand paper may help somewhat after the stain has fully cured and sands away without rolling into balls. This will probably remove some of the wood, unless you are quite careful and use a fine paper such as 240 or finer. Using steel wool is fine for this, as it is a fine abrasive on the order of 240 or finer sandpaper. You would not use steel wool with water-based products. It may be that you cannot fix the errant stain job and wind up having to strip it and start over.

Q. I have an oak finished headboard that I need to recolor to off-white, and some off white chair legs to refinish to a darker shade. Neither are big projects, so I was wondering if there was a way to get a decent result without having to go through the entire spectrum of stripping, sanding, etc. If I seal them with "Kilz" or something similar, I wonder if I can just paint over top if that?

A. If you could achieve these ends by applying a clear coat with some stain in it, you might be able to skip the stripping and such. Otherwise, paint may be the only other option that does not require more preparation than cleaning and de-glossing. It should work. Be sure to clean the surface thoroughly with spic and span or mineral spirits to remove all the grease, grit, and grime.

Q. I have a shaker style maple table. I don't know much about wood types, but I think its tiger maple. It doesn't appear to have any finish, maybe just oil? It is pretty marked up. What should I do to restore the wood, eliminate some of the marks and more importantly, prevent further damage?

A. You could strip it and refinish it. This would eliminate anything on the wood and allow you a fresh start.

Q. I just built new Hard Maple kitchen cabinets. When the oil based stain is wiped on, it is not even. The solid wood and veneer take the stain different. How is the best way to finish them? What is the best, fastest dry clear that can be sprayed on them after staining?

A. Since veneer and solid wood have different properties, they need to be stained different if you wish them to look the same. You may be able to accomplish this by varying the amount of time the stain is left on the wood before wiping. Otherwise, you will need to alter the color of the stain. Remember the differences in color and grain is part of the beauty of wood. Lacquer is the fastest drying finish but it is not used much any more. If using varnish, you can add Japan drier, but if you use too much it will take away the shine.

Q. I have a cedar box that is still very sticky after a year (inside). It has a clear finish, I am assuming it was either not mixed properly or applied wrong. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

A. If the finish is still sticky after a year, it never dried. Stripping it and starting over is the best bet.

Q. I have some natural wood colored chairs that I bought four years ago. They have some sort of clear finish on them; I guess a lacquer or sealant. I want to paint them black. Does anyone know the best way to do this?

A. Sand them down, wipe them down with de-glosser, and then paint them with oil base.

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