Home>Discussions>PAINTING & FINISHING>Painting Casings and stair rails that have several coats of stain and poly
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Painting Casings and stair rails that have several coats of stain and poly

I recently moved to an older house that has interior casings, stair rails and other wood trim that has several (not sure how many) coats of stain and poly. Over the years the wood has also received small chips and scrapes. Instead of sanding and refinishing the wood I am considering filling in the small chips and painting over the stain/poly since it has been done in other areas of the house and is more pleasing to look at than the wood that is not painted. I also thought about ripping out the wood and replacing it, although that could get expensive. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? What is the best way to prepare the wood so the paint will stick, and not chip, peel, etc.

Any other thoughts would be welcomed.

Thank you.

Re: Painting Casings and stair rails that have several coats of stain and poly


Woodwork that has been varnished is always somewhat chip prone. You will never get the same adhesion as when going over virgin or stripped wood. The varnish is too hard and slick and prevents the paint from penetrating deep into the wood fibers. That being said, it is possible to get decent results. A good washing with TSP will get the surface clean of oils and dirt and also dull the surface. Follow the cleaning with a good scuff sanding. You do not have to bare the wood, but merely dull the varnish. Next do you patching of minor dings and dents.

I would prime with an oil enamel undercoater. This will give good adhesion. After it dries, give it a light sanding. It will dust up and leave you with a nice smooth surface that the enamel will adhere to. Finally, I would give one or two finish coats of an oil enamel. For years, my enamel of choice was Benjamin Moore's Satin Impervo.

Oil enamel is still superior to any latex/acrylic enamel I have run across. Oil levels itself better,leaving a minimum of brush marks. Oil dries harder, not having that gummy feel that latex/acrylic paints have. Oil is actually easier to use in that the working time is much greater than latex paints. The fast drying of latex paint works to your disadvantage when trying to paint fine woodwork. Latex paint almost immediately starts to skim over. The more you brush it, the worse it looks! Latex can look pretty good when sprayed, but is very hard to brush and look good.

To keep the government happy, manufacturers of oil paint have alterred their formulas by taking out the VOC's that aid the paint in brushing well. You might need a little Penetrol to get it to flow nicely. Also, get a good brush! I personally always used oxhair bristle brushes, but they are expensive and not all paint stores stock them. I would special order them. A good china bristle brush should give you good results.

Re: Painting Casings and stair rails that have several coats of stain and poly

Thank you for your response. If I decide not to paint but to varnish again I assume the preparation would be the same as for painting. Am I correct?

Re: Painting Casings and stair rails that have several coats of stain and poly

Yes. If you are simply freshening the varnish, you will wash the woodwork, give it a scuff sand, being carefull not to sand through the finish and expose raw wood. Minor holes, dings or cracks can be filled with color matched putty before varnishing.Minor scratches can be touched up with a matching stain.

Read the label of the varnish you choose. Not all "urethanes" are compatible with finishes that might be now on the wood, i.e. lacquers, shellac. If in doubt, a quick coat of de-waxed shellac is compatible with all but the most exotic finished. It can then be varnished over with any varnish or urethane finish.

You might also make a test patch of varnish or urethane to see how it reacts. If after 24 hours you can't scratch it of with your finger nail, you are probably safe in continuing.

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