Hey, all. I'm a long time lurker and general sponge of info from this
I just bought my first house ( 1 1/2 story, built in 1918), and am
working on what feels like a dozen projects at once. One of the many
things I've done so far is removed the (hideous) carpeting from the
stairs leading to the 2nd floor.
My goal is to strip the treads down to bare wood and stain them nice
and dark, and hit them with some polyurathane to really get them to
The only problem so far is, the previous finish is paste wax. So far,
I've been using a palm sander w/ 60 grit, and while that does work, it
takes forever and the sandpaper gets clogged almost instantly.
I'm wondering if hitting the old finish with a solvent (mineral
spirits?) would disolve the wax, or if that would just make a big old
Any advice is appreciated in advance.
First try ammonia, dry and check with your sander. Next, try mineral
spirits with white paper towels. Keep checking until the towels come up
clean. Dispose of them in a metal container with water. Then return to
sanding with 100 grit and see if it makes the job easier. Otherwise, use
liquid stripper, or lacquer thinner or both in that order. These failing,
try a flat iron with paper towels to absorb the wax. If there was no
finish other than wax, it is certain to be deep, and will need to be
removed for a finish such as poly to stick. If there was a finish, it will
need to be stripped unless you are patient enough to sand for weeks.
"Let peace be your goal, love be your mentor, and joy be your guide" (Sant'Agata)
You need to use mechanical cuttting force The abasive is the wrong choice
here. You could try a paint scraper (might be too rough) or you could also
try a cabinet scraper. It's basically a thin piece of metal about 4X6 inches
costs about $3. Use a flat file to sharpen the long edge to 90 degrees and
then use a screwdriver shaft to burnish it (curl the sharpened edges). It
will never clog, it may dull, you won't get any dust -- just shavings. Your
lungs will thank you.You'll need plenty of elbow grease. Lee Valley (among
others) also makes and sells various holders for dragging the blades. Hint:
a thicker blade will cut heavier and a thinner blade will do delicate work.
Believe it or not a lot of woodworkers never (or judiciously) use sandpaper
and can obtain mirror finishes by scraping and planing.
Once wood is sealed, think wax or finish, it resists staining.
Woodworking world suggests naptha for wax removal, in paint thinner
section. Once cleaned you MAY be able to apply a colored varnish but
brug or wiping with rag invites stripes from lapping the finish. A
clearcoat for protection AFTER wax removal will probably be the
On Sun, 08 Feb 2004 08:39:54 -0600, woj product
You'd be better off in the long run to use paint remover. I dislike
water wash paint remover. Strypeeze, semi paste or like - solvent wash.
With only varnish on the stairs, two applications would likely be
sufficient. Nice weather job so's you can open the windows. First app
will get the varnish and some stain. Second will get most of the stain.
Scrape off (gently, so's you don't gouge the wood), swipe with med
steel wool. On second app, do the same, then use fine steel wool with
mineral spirits to clean it thoroughly - scrub it with some pressure and
then wipe dry with rags or paper towel. Dispose of waste and ms rags
right away. Shouldn't need to sand unless the wood is already damaged,
as the steel wool leaves it pretty smoothe.
ms is good solvent for was, but if varnishing I'd use stripper to be
sure you get everything off. If wax and NO varnish, wax has probably
permeated the wood somewhat. Stripper should dissolve it, as the
stripper has wax in it to give it body.
Any hydrocarbon solvent such as paint thinner, mineral spirits, or
naphtha will dissolve the wax. You will need to use many clean heavy duty
paper towels or cleaning cloths so you actually remove the wax and not just
spread it around. Obviously, you would be working with a flammable solvent
so any and all sources of ignition should be removed and you should have
plenty of good ventilation. You might even consider using a respirator if
you are doing many of the treads at once.
In theory, sanding or scraping properly will eventually get rid of the
wax. Of course, sanding will also remove at least 1/16" of wood. Scraping
is not as destructive but you are still removing wood. Sanding or scraping
is a very poor way to remove wax when you know how easy it can be with the
proper solvent. Household ammonia will work but with much more effort and
the fumes from that much ammonia can be a hazard. Alcohols such as methanol
do not dissolve wax. They cause it to precipitate which, in this case, will
cause it to remain on the wood. Paint and finish strippers do very little
to remove wax. It is a classic error to try to strip a piece of its finish
without cleaning it first. The wax on the piece prevents the stripper from
getting to the finish.
As for refinishing with polyurethane, there are two issues. The first
is that no matter how thorough you are, there will be some wax left on the
treads. You should seal the treads with dewaxed shellac before putting on
the topcoat. Second, polyurethane can be pretty slippery. I do not think I
would use it as is on stairs. There are some additives that you can use to
give you the slip resistance that you should have on stairs.
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