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tjeieio 03-08-2010 05:34 PM

Painting over dark stained wood
Hi - I am not sure if this is more of a cosmetic question versus a technique question. We own a classic older home, built in 1939. It is extremely well built and has an abundunce of beautiful and wide moulding around doors and crown moulding throughout the first floor.

The only complaint I have is that all the moulding, as well as stair railings are all stained very dark. I believe it is mohogany and each piece has beautiful grain. Also, most is flawless wood, without knots and with very few joints. The downside is that it makes the house quite dark inside.

We would love to paint much of it a glossy white and would need to know what kind of prep would be necessary. At the same time, I generally hate to paint over such beautiful wood. Perhaps someone out there has a suggestion or maybe a compromise solution. Thanks in advance.

Rcon 03-08-2010 06:10 PM

I would be hesitant to paint over wood that is in good condition, especially in such an old home.

Try lightening up your walls and ceilings...monochromatic colour schemes are coming back in a big way, so painting the rest of your house in an off white might balance out the dark in the woodwork.

tpolk 03-08-2010 06:16 PM

if you dont mind the work i would have a local/ reputable restoration/painter come look and point you in the direction of stripping the wood if it is a dark stain. their time would not be free but they could point you in the right direction since you are thinking of painting anyways

PaintinNC 03-08-2010 06:46 PM

could possibly reduce the value of you historic home doing something like that, I would check with a local historical society or a realtor to see if it is a good idea or not, if you are staying in the house forever, then who cares, do what you want. if you ever want to resell, the it might be a problem.

Windows 03-09-2010 12:39 AM

I definitely would not paint vintage wood trim. In addition to the many other reasons it's a terrible idea, it is often hard to make old trim look good in paint because of the many, many dings it has certainly sustained over the years. They are invisible now in the dark stain, but as soon as you add paint, especially white, especially gloss, the damage will stand out like a sore thumb. If it is too dark, get an electrician out to add some recessed lighting to the rooms and hallways. The house will keep its historical quality but you will get some modern touches and a lot of light too.

user1007 03-09-2010 03:57 AM

I spend much of my time working on old houses and buildings and getting paint off of wood trim so don't paint it unless you have to do so and especially if it is mahogany (if it is pine or fir nobody will scream if you paint it as stripping it seldom gives the result one hopes). I would definitely strip a small piece of the woodwork to see what is really hiding underneath. Perhaps with the aged and darkened varnish out of the way you might be happier with it?

If you decide to strip it all, there are stripping companies that do not charge that much and they have equipment that recycles and filters all the gunk. There are some nice DIY gel strippers that will work well with varnish too but the cost may exceed what it costs to have someone turnkey the project for you. I have found infrared strippers to be great tools and the process goes fast. You can rent a good one for not too much money. With clear finishes you should not have lead issues but be sure and wear protective clothing and work with adequate ventilation.

I would think about adding lighting as well.

If you do decide to paint, you will want to fix any surface flaws and degloss the surface by sanding it since you probably have oil based varnish on there. Apply a quality alkyd primer and one designed for underlaying trim paint. Then I would use two coats of a semi-gloss acrylic latex over the top.

Paint store, not box store products, always!

slickshift 03-12-2010 07:33 PM


Originally Posted by tjeieio
We would love to paint much of it a glossy white and would need to know what kind of prep would be necessary. At the same time, I generally hate to paint over such beautiful wood. Perhaps someone out there has a suggestion or maybe a compromise solution. Thanks in advance.

The prep would consist of a good cleaning (a TSP mix would be a good choice and dull the finish a bit), a quick scuff sanding, and a coat of white pigmented shellac (Like Zinsser's BIN)
Might take two coats, that depends if there's any bleed through after the first

If it's not quite smooth enough for me (and it sounds like it's in good shape) I might consider a coat of "underbody" type primer which has a slightly higher build than regular primers (or sealers like BIN) and sands better, before putting on my top coats

If it's that old and in as good shape as it sounds, and I did want painted trim, I would strongly consider removing the trim and replacing it
It would be most valuable to a quality "restoration" contractor or a "restored wood" mill
Most likely you could at least send them some pics and get an opinion, if not get someone from those types of businesses out to look at it

Never mind that it's pricey wood to begin with, it's vintage gives it qualities you couldn't buy from a lumber yard today at any price

tjeieio 03-13-2010 11:40 PM

Thanks slickshift
Thanks for the great response. We are now considering other options. We'll not touch the crown moulding or other great mouldings. Instead, we will simply paint the stiles on the main stairway and possibly the mullions in the windows - as they would be white anyway should we ever replace with double paned vinyl windows.

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