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Hello;

I just bought a 95 year old house with beautiful Douglas Fir baseboards and trim around all doors and windows. The problem is that it is looking dull after almost 100 years and has some places with paint-over from a bad wall paint job. How would I go about refinishing these? Would I have to take the trim off? A contractor told me just a light sanding to scuff off the surface of the varnish, then re-varnish. Another contractor said he didn't think that would work because what was used as a varnish back then is different than what we use today. Has anyone tackled this sort of thing before and have any good suggestions?

Thanks!

Matt
 

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95 year old finish could be shellac. try rubbing with a denatured alcohol soaked rag and see if the finish softens up a bit and comes off on the rag. the paint will come off with a scraper.
 

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I wouldn't attempt to remove the trim. It is usually applied with so many nails you end up tearing up the trim getting it off. If the amount of paint is minor I would clean it off. Scrape what you can and if it is latex what is left will dissolve with naphtha. I would opt with scruff sanding and apply a coat of varnish. If the old finish is shellac varnish will adhere to it. Just don't use polyurethane if it is shellac as polyurethane won't adhere to shellac. Shellac doesn't work well by hand because the alcohol in it will disolve the old finish. It would be better to spray the shellac if that is what you choose. What ever you topcoat the finish with be sure to thoroughly clean the woodwork prior to sanding. Over the years it has had oils from cooking, hand oils and perhaps furniture polish get on the finish and all this stuff needs to be cleaned off because sanding will just spread it around. I use a product called Krud Kutter sold by Sherwin Williams.
 

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My summer beach house was built in 1912, clear Dougfir except for 2 rafters with one knot each. I don't understand the wood chemistry but that stuff tightens up like aluminum. It's brash, it's HARD, it's brittle. Had a 200A service installed and totally rewired the place (walls unfinished). For every cable staple that I needed to use, I had to drill 2 x 1/8" holes for the staple legs.
Taking it off, even just getting it off, might do so much damage that replacement would be the only solution. I'll bet that the house framing is Df as well. It will not let go of those 95 yr old nails. Instead, I'd imagine that they will be pulled right through the Df.
It will be hard enough to consider card scrapers which normally don't work so well on softwoods. . . . except that this stuff won't be soft any more!

Bare wood finishing: I do understand the wood anatomy of Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). The secondary cell wall in the wood cells, the tracheids, is composed of 3 distinct layers. Unlike anything else, there is a spiral thickening in the middle layer, the S2. When this gets wet with any finish, the spirals cause the free ends of cut wood cells to warp and twist. Lots of them sticking up. After one coat, the surface feels like sandpaper.
BUT, you don't sand that back, just exposes more. Instead, you use the coarsest steel wool that you can buy. That stuff is flat, not round. Going over the Df surface, the steel wool acts like a million chisels and actually cuts off the erect fiber.
You won't have any trouble feeling the smoothing result. Then more finish and it should be smooth as glass. Fine steel wool can't do this, just makes a mess.
 

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A scraper will take off any paint. The finish may not be the original finish. I would just use mineral spirits to wipe down the woodwork. If any parts need a touch up I would use a dye stain and a small artists brush. Using an oil base varnish will work, but will take a long time to dry/cure.

It may be easier for you to brush on some wax free shellac. It dries very fast. If some time in the future, you could topcoat it with any film finish.






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