I'm getting ready to refinish a large chunk of the stairs in my house. I
stripped the paint off (most of) it, to learn that it was made of some
fairly nice non-quartersawn oak, with spindles that could be either oak
or chestnut. Part of the repair work involved making spindle "spacers"
with Borg-bought oak, which I _think_ is red oak.
I'd like to refinish it, but oak gives me problems. Y'see, I created a
stain board with all the Minwax samples I had. And the stains rarely did
much to the oak strip: the grain changed, of course, but the color on
the lighter areas looked closer to magic-marker spills than anything
else. It's as if the raw oak had a built-in finish.
I had great results when I used mahogany on a recent project (at
www.briansiano.com), so maybe my expectations on oak are a bit skewed.
But, I would love to get a nice golden-amber or golden-mahogany-like
color to my oak.
From what I can tell, the general strategy for finishing oak involves
1) a stain
2) a seal, probably shellac
3) a glaze, mainly another player of stain
4) the final finish.
Thing is, I don't have the means to try a wide range of experimental
stain combinations. Can people point me to places where I can see the
end results of oak-staining efforts along with a description of the
process? Or, make suggestions as to stain combinations?
Golden amber is actually pretty easy. That's usually what you get on
red oak with an application of BLO, then a shellac or oil-based varnish.
No other coloring agent is usually required.
Grain fill at your option.
You might want to look at the recent, much discussed article by Chris
Minick in FWW, on wiping finishes. There's a lot of good info there,
even if it did light a firestorm here.
Get an oil based product like M.L. Campbell's Golden Oak from an outlet
that services the trade, not a Borg.. Very easy to wipe on and gives a very
even stain. A seal coat of Seal Coat and you are ready to apply any top
coat. Cheers, JG
Brian Siano wrote:
First of all, you did a great job on that radiator cover on your
As for staining oak, I recently had to stain a strip of new red oak,
and because it was a small project and I was in a hurry, I just used
some Minwax stain I had on hand. I too found the initial coats on a
test piece very light...and not nearly as nice as the samples on a
Minwax display I happen to have. So I applied it heavily, wiping the
stain on and letting it sit a few minutes before wiping it off. And I
applied two or three coats. That improved the coverage a bit (although
I was looking for a light color to match an existing door...) And when
I topcoated with spar varnish, the look improved a bit.
In the past, To get a nice golden color on red oak, I've used Behlan's
pore-o-pac grain filler (it comes in various shades, and once I used
artists colors to darken it).......followed by waterlox or other
To get a nice dark stain on quartersawn white oak, I've used the
methods described by Jeff Jewitt (go to www.homesteadfinishing.com, or
look at the Fine Woodworking website). He has two different
recipes...the simpler one involves a reddish-brown dye stain followed
by McCloskey's Tungseal in dark walnut...the other uses dye stains,
shellac, glaze and more shellac...both produce beautiful results,
although I've never used them on red oak.
Two things I see in addition to what others have pointed out...
1. Having stripped a painted finish, it's likely the old material won't
absorb anything nearly as well as freshly milled material.
2. Depending on the age, there's a reasonable likelihood the stair
treads/balustars just <might> be white oak instead of red...if so, it
will also stain differently, particularly since the grain is less
pronounced as are the pores
Depending on the surface and finish desired if it is red oak you may
want to fill the pourous rings prior to any other operation.
You may have trouble w/ red oak and getting the yellow shade you're
after, particularly w/ the new material as the red tends to come
I forgot to mention...I refinished some oak stairs with Minwax
polyshades...big mistake! The stuff isn't nearly tough enough. Whatever
you do, be sure to topcoat your stair treads with a clear
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