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Refinish Walnut Walls

We are in the process of refinishing the woodwork in our foyer/stairs and dining room. The foyer/stairs look great - chestnut that has been stained with a coat of polyurethane. We are now working on the dining room. The walls are made of beautiful old walnut with a lot of detail. We have tried a few test sample stains with an application of polyurethane. The finish is coming out much darker than we'd hope - hiding some of the detail we've worked hard to bring out. Any ideas for a finish? Also, someone suggested using wax instead of polyurethane. Any recommendations welcome. Thanks.

Re: Refinish Walnut Walls

What kind of finish was on the wood originally and how id you go about removing it?
American walnut is kind of dark grayish chocolate color in it's natural state. European walnut is usually a lot more light golden-toned.
If the wood is just generally too dark, it could be bleached, and then you could add a color of stain that you wanted to warm it up.
If the color as it stands is all right, but the varnish is causing unwanted darkening, probably the best finish is danish oil. It won't darken the wood, and it is very low-key; looks like no finish at all.
There are non-darkening varnishes (I think one is called crystal-clear), and there's always Ultra-Blond shellac. But they will be more or less shiny. Shellac can be worked, rubbed-out and waxed following application to a fine furniture-like finish. Perhaps this walnut paneled dining room is worthy of such attention.

Another possibility is a light-tinted glaze. Glazes really bring out details of moldings, and the tint (it has pigment in it) would be able to lighten the color a little to a whole lot. It would be brushed on and worked (wiped off, left in crevices, etc.). The amount of tint will determine the opacity.

Re: Refinish Walnut Walls

We have done some futher investigation and have determined conclusively (with the help of a local expert) that the wood is not walnut but is in fact mahogany.

The finish on the wood gave it a greyish chocolate color (hence, why we thought it was walnut). We tried using a non-toxic stripper but this was only taking off one layer of the finish. We then decided to sand the wood. The wood is coming out great - it has a redish/orange brown color. (My dining looks a bit like Mars at the moment - redish dust everywhere.)

Once sanded, the wood is not too dark; no need to bleach it. The stain and the polyurethane we were using was causing the wood to come out too dark. We are now experimenting with several finishes based on your recommendations. Looking forward to seeing how it will come out. Still need to complete sanding all the wood...

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