Archive for the ‘wood finishing’ category

Wood Finishing and Repair

April 22nd, 2013

(For more information, see the article Wood Finishing and Repair)


We built our house six years ago. In some areas the woodwork looks dried out, especially in the bathrooms. The woodwork has never looked very shiny. It’s almost like it wasn’t properly varnished to begin with. Is there any type of product that I could wipe on to repair this dried out look? I did see a product offered over the internet called ‘Restorz-It’. Do you know anything about this product? I was hoping for an easier solution than sanding and re-varnishing the woodwork. I appreciate any help you can provide.



In most newer homes today, the clear finish is a spray-on lacquer. This is done because lacquer is very clear, durable, attractive and dries quickly. If your finish has always been dull, perhaps they only applied one coat or it was a satin finish. Unfortunately, lacquer is difficult to repair. We “do-it-yourselfers” don’t use spray lacquers – 25 years ago oil based varnish was brushed on as a finish coat in homes.

There is no easy way to correct the dried out look. I don’t know anything about the product you mention, but I suspect it may be one of those too-good-to-be-true products.

Your best bet is to clean and dull the finish with a liquid sandpaper solvent or wood cleaner. Most of these products are a strong, oil-based solvent. You scrub the surface with steel wool, or synthetic steel wool. Once the surface is clean and dull, you can try a wipe-on oil clear coat finish.

GF-Arm-R-Seal-250pxFor a clear coat, I suggest General Finishes Brand, Arm-R-Seal. This is a wipe-on oil finish that will stick to most existing finishes. It comes as a semi-gloss or gloss, and is applied with a rag. It is low odor, dries quickly, and is very durable. General Finishes makes a finish cleaner to prep the surface.

A second excellent finish to try is ZAR Brand Ultra Max – waterborne oil-modified polyurethane. This finish is also applied with a rag and is a satin or gloss finish. It is quick drying and durable, plus water based so limited odor. ZAR also makes a cleaning, surface prep product.

With either finish, you need to test a small area first. There is always a potential the new finish may not stick to the existing clear finish and you should experiment with the look of the finish. For preparation, if you don’t like to scrub with a solvent, you could lightly sand the surface with fine sandpaper. The surface must be roughened for the new surface coat to stick.

Good luck – nothing really easy here. The “oils” that restore wood don’t work.

Water-based Polyurethane Over Oil-based?

June 21st, 2011


Is it OK to use a water-based polyurethane such as Minwax Polycrylic over an interior door surface that had previously been finished with oil-based? Minwax says it’s OK, but the lady at the home improvement store said no. Could you please break the tie?



In most cases, it is OK to use a water-based polyurethane over an oil-based finish in good condition. You should remove grease, dirt and wax by scrubbing the surface with a wood prep/cleaner/de-glosser, or mineral spirits and synthetic steel wool. Then “roughen” the surface finish lightly with medium or fine-grit sandpaper in the direction of the grain. You want to remove the gloss from the finish. Remove all the dust with a vacuum or tack rag.

Apply the new water-based finish per label directions. The application is typically done with a lint-free cloth and several coats are recommended. The advantage of the water-based finish is ease of use, quick drying, no odor, and easy cleanup.

Zar-ULTRA-MAX-Wood-StainOne word of caution – read the label carefully and follow the specific instructions. Some of these water-based finishes are not for use over lacquer or shellac. Spray lacquer is commonly used on new furniture and in new construction. A great finish to try is ZAR brand ULTRA Max – a waterborne oil modified polyurethane.

Top Coat Finish Touch-Ups

April 6th, 2011


I own a house that was built about 8 years ago. Recently, I was using alcohol to clean off some greasy spots on the oak cabinet veneer sides and solid-wood door near the stove, and apparently the alcohol was strong enough to remove some of the clear-coat top finish. I don’t understand why, because I thought alcohol would not remove lacquer or polyurethane finishes. I was guessing that the top coat finish could be either lacquer or polyurethane. What kind of top coat finish can I use to touch-up the top coat that blends in with the surrounding finish?


Most of the clear finishes used in modern construction and shop-made cabinets are a spray lacquer that should not be affected by alcohol. Lacquer is used because it is a durable finish and dries quickly. Either your finish is shellac, or somehow compromised.

I suggest you try a clear, wipe-on oil finish to renew the surface. Minwax Antique Oil Finish and General Finishes Royal Finish are two good options. You may need to go online or to a woodworkers store to find these finishes. They can both be carefully applied over an existing finish.

You can’t use a urethane or polyurethane because it will not bond to the existing finish. If you can confirm that the finish is lacquer, you could use a lacquer, but application is an issue and almost impossible for homeowners. We just can’t spray the lacquer.

With the wipe-on oil, make sure the surface is very clean, then wipe on a thin coat with a rag dampened in the finish. It will be a thin coat that will dry quickly. Add additional coats to increase the gloss.

As with any finish, test a small area first. With a little luck and an artist’s flair, you can just touch up the affected areas or the panel without working on the complete cabinet.

Black Discoloration on Wood Windows

July 13th, 2010


We have a black discoloration occurring on the wood part of the windows in our house. Do you know what it is and how to get rid of it? The windows are double-hung and the house was built in 1995. I assumed it was mold and moisture-related because I noticed it first in the bathroom, but now I have found it in small patches on other windows. I have tried many cleaning solutions including TSP and a bleach-water mix, but none seem to work. It occurs both in winter and summer, with windows open or closed.


If the stains are a dark discoloration that cannot be removed from the surface, you have water damage in the wood. If the TSP removes the stain it may be dirt or mold. Once the surface finish is damaged by water, the water will discolor the wood. If the finish is gone and you have a dark stain, you have water-damaged wood.

The fix is to refinish the wood by sanding, bleaching, and more sanding. Then stain and varnish back to the original finish. It’s not an easy job. Don’t get too worried about the “mold” word. Issues related to mold have been greatly exaggerated by many folks in recent years. Go to the State of Wisconsin or university websites for accurate information about mold in a home – not testers or contractors who make money on mold.

Improve the Look of Woodwork

May 27th, 2010

I am looking for a product to make our woodwork look better. This includes trim boards, cabinetry (bathroom and kitchen), and the log walls. All I really know about is Scott’s Gold; it looks good short-term, but not long-term. Is there anything better, or maybe different products for different places? Just thinking that I should begin to perk the place up for a spring graduation and a summer wedding.


Scott’s Gold is basically a solvent with a nice smell. It is a wood cleaner. It does not really improve the clear wood finish.

If you really want improve a wood finish, I would consider adding a very light coating of a wipe-on oil finish. I like General Finishes, Royal Finish the best because it sticks to all other finishes, comes in gloss and satin, and goes on with a rag. It is also low odor, dries quickly, and easy to control. Extra coats give you extra depth and shine.

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 5.44.45 PMOther options would be a wipe-on Tung Oil or Minwax Antique Oil Finish. The key here is to select a finish that is compatible with the existing finish, and one that will stick with minimal preparation.

For preparation, you need to make sure the existing finish is clean and free of any sticky or worn finish. You can often clean by scrubbing with a sanding eliminator solvent. Unfortunately these solvents are flammable and have a strong odor. You will need ventilation, and you have to follow all label safety precautions. This type of cleaner will also dull the existing finish – good to make the new top-coat stick.

Light sanding may also be required if the finish is chipped or flaking. Sanding with fine sandpaper will dull the surface and remove damaged finish.

When working with cabinetry, you will need to remove the hardware and carefully clean around all handles. The areas around the handles tend to become sticky and dark as the oil in our skin breaks down the finish overtime. For really sticky, dark areas you may need to use a refinisher chemical like Homer Formby – furniture refinisher. This introduces a new level of preparation work as you scrub with steel wool and basically strip the surface of the damaged finish.

Sorry – no easy fix here. On my website, you will find a complete article about refinishing kitchen cabinets in the Free Articles section. This addresses refinishing without stripping.

Kitchen Cabinets – Replace, Re-Face, Refinish or Paint

Rules For Stripping Trim and Wood Doors

March 20th, 2010

What is the general rule for stripping wood trim and wood doors? When is it best to use a heat gun or chemical stripper?


Stripping? Just don’t do it. Seriously, it is a lot of work to strip and refinish wood. I think you need to evaluate the existing wood and doors for their value. Inexpensive pine molding should just be replaced, along with Luan veneer doors. Older, intricate moldings and doors should be saved. Oak and other hardwoods will be much easier to strip and refinish.

Whenever you strip paint from a surface you need to be aware of possible lead content in paint, so don’t strip lead paint without the proper precautions.

The process is messy and tough to do. Heat guns and scrapers work well in some cases, along with chemical strippers. Success depends on the type of paint, number of layers, physical access, shape, and contours. I would try both methods. There are also many types of paint strippers. For a large project, you should test several types and brands. Any doors or parts that can be removed should be stripped outside on saw horses. You need lots of ventilation to play it safe. Good luck!

Touch-Up Marker Stains on an Unfinished Door

March 3rd, 2010

My 2-year-old grandson became an artist with a furniture touch-up marker on a hollow, unfinished wood bathroom door. I really do not want this door painted. Is there any way to get this off? Some of the marks are from a permanent marker.


You will need to prime with a stain killer such as BIN, then paint the door. You will not get the stain out of the bare wood.

Hollow core doors are inexpensive and not worth the effort to try and remove the stains. Since the stain is in bare wood, it will not come out. Replace the door or stain it a very dark color.

White Rings in Wood Finish

February 13th, 2010

At Christmas dinner, my son placed a basket with hot rolls on the dark wood china cabinet. That evening, we found a white cloudy area under the basket. I assume the steam from the rolls caused this. What are my options?


A white ring on a wooden coffee table is caused by moisture absorbed into the table’s clear finish. Professional re-finishers call this effect blooming. Most blooming can be removed by rubbing with mild abrasive to remove a thin coat of finish in the white area. Use automobile polishing compound, rottenstone and mineral spirits, 0000 steel wool, or even cigar ashes and mineral spirits.

Carefully rub the area with the abrasive until the white bloom disappears. Be careful, and go slowly; It may take quite a bit of rubbing. Since this removes a fraction of the surface finish, you must re-wax the surface to touch up the gloss. You may even need to touch up the finish if the bloom is deep. Consider using an oil finish for a touch-up.

The good news is that a white bloom is usually only in the clear surface finish. A darker stain indicates wood damage below the surface finish. This could require complete refinishing.

Removing Mildew from a Cedar Deck

January 19th, 2010

How do you remove mildew from new cedar deck boards? Some of them were just installed. I can’t believe mildew would appear that fast! I would like to seal the deck, however I can’t do it until the mildew is removed. Thanks.



You can remove mildew from a wooden deck with any deck cleaner. You can also use a product called JOMAX – it’s a great cleaner that you mix with water and laundry bleach. Spray it on, let it soak for 15 min, then hose it off. Scrub if any residue remains.

The mildew was probably on the lumber when it was installed, and was activated by the exterior moisture. Cleaning will help remove the dirt that the mildew loves to grow on. You do need to seal the deck soon, as it is dry in the spring.

Cabinets Got The Rub

December 15th, 2009


I have original kitchen cupboards in my home. When I open and close the drawers it actually creates sawdust that lands on the items in the cupboard underneath. Is there anything I can put on the cupboard to prevent the friction and still be able to open and close the drawer? Thanks for your help!



D006You have some older cabinets if you have wood-to-wood contact. I do have a simple solution. Buy some “V-Seal” or “V” shaped vinyl weather stripping for doors and windows. This weather stripping is very thin vinyl and has an adhesive on one edge.

Place the “V” seal on the frame of the drawer with the adhesive on the rail that supports the drawer bottom. You will now have a wood drawer that is gliding on a smooth vinyl surface. The “V” seal is inexpensive and can be cut with a scissors. A wax paper covers the adhesive strip.