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Wood Restoration Wins

Making bad wood look good...

9 February, 2022

Wood Finishing

Rotten, bleached, discolored, gouged, abused — wood naturally wants to decompose, and it also has to put up with the slings and arrows of daily living. You could just toss it into the fireplace and start over, but certain wood pieces have a special place in owners' homes and hearts. The good news? Wood restoration is not magic — it just takes some planning, knowing the products and procedures that can help, and then following the directions. For more advice in this realm, be sure to read “In My Experience."

When you hit the wall

Bruce Davis, of Legacy Furniture Restoration in Washington, Georgia, traveled from his home in the Atlanta area up to New England to revitalize some old walls for a home renovation. His many years of experience gave him the tools to rise to the challenge, and we don’t just mean a Falcons fan going into Patriots territory. The house was pretty much stripped down — no water, no electric, no appliances — but the owners wanted to keep the original look of the walls. Thing is, those walls hadn’t had their “original” look in quite some time.

Davis encountered a lot of different issues that in the end had to be resolved so that all the wood would look the same. “It was all tongue-and-groove knotty pine, and several areas under some of the windows had bleached out really bad from where those windows were leaking, and there was some rot in some places,” he said.

Another kitchen wall had the ghosts of the past. “There were all these shapes you could see on the wall where they had hung some things for years. The sun-bleached the wall but not underneath the shape. So that was kind of wild to deal with,” said Davis. “I had to assess all the different rooms and all the parts of the walls. Mostly, I was just going to clean them very well, sand them, and then put some stain on and allow it to kind of marinate.” After he sanded them with a 180 grit, he said, the stain would be able to grab into the wall.

But it all wasn't that easy. "A couple of the rooms required taking them down to bare wood, and in that case, I had to mix a different color that was made up of three existing stain colors,” said Davis. “Those took a lot of sanding, graduating from 80 grit up to 120 and on to 150, going through a schedule of using those grits to get the swirls out of the substrate. For repairs on this job, I used Timber Mate that was the same color as the wood itself, and I also used two-part Mohawk Epoxy Sticks to fill in screw holes.” Next, on to the rot and fade, which Davis bleached with oxalic acid crystals.

He tried a couple of new techniques — new for an old-guard fella like Bruce, who grew up on oil and solvent products. It was also his first experience using an HVLP to apply a water-based stain. “It was going to be the largest thing I’ve ever shot with water-based so far,” he said. “I was trying some new Renner products. I had used them on some furniture before, but never on a big project like this. I sprayed all the Renner products with an Apollo sprayer,” he said. “I used to spray a lot of precat lacquer, but I’ve been trying to switch over to the new water base. I’m an old-school guy doing this for so long with lacquer, and it was really hard to fathom why I would want to do this, but it’s proven to be just as successful.”

Wood Finishing Sanding

Before you begin

It seems that a lot of issues in wood repair come from too much enthusiasm; people getting started without taking the time to see what needs to be done. Davis suggests you assess before you prep. “Before you start, see what you think is the best,” he says. “It’s human nature to want to dive in, but in our business, the prep is the difference.” If there’s wood rot, for example, see just how rotten it is, and then decide on a course of action.

“You can use something like Abatron, Durham’s Rock Hard Water Putty, two-party epoxy or even Bondo,” said Davis “There’s not always only one choice. You can maybe do a fiberglass repair in some areas and then Bondo for the bigger areas. It just depends on your assessment.”

Window Wood Work

It's not an illusion, it's for real

Illusions Painting of Sand City, California, has been in business since 2007, and company president Juan Vasquez has been in the wood-refinishing business for over 20 years. Illusions specialize in custom wood finishes, interior and exterior painting, faux finishes, special finishes, and restoration. In this case, Vasquez points out an experience where the customer wanted to keep his windows, but they were in a very bad state of repair. What to do? We’ll let him tell the story.

This window was severely damaged. In this case, we had a set of custom-built windows, so it would have been extremely difficult to replace and make a new window designed for this house. We needed to come up with an idea where we could save the piece so the owner would not have to buy a whole new window, so after some thought, we decided to try using an epoxy product to repair the damage.

We began by removing the affected areas such as softened wood. Once it was thoroughly cleaned and free of dust and other loose debris, we applied a two-part epoxy wood sealer that would penetrate and harden the wood and promote adhesion for any products such as primer, paint, etc., needed to finish the wood.

In this instance, we used a clear-tinted epoxy filler to match the existing natural wood tones. When the surface was properly patched and sanded, we proceeded to finish the wood per the client's or GC request. By using this method, we were able to use it on both paint-grade and stain-grade surfaces due to the nature of the epoxy product’s ability to promote adhesion to any finishing product. As you can see in the picture, we were able to color match the paint to the original color and have no visible cracks or seams showing through the paint.

Wood refinishingWood Prep for Paint

Simple solutions: Prime first

Troy Cullin owns TNC Painting in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and like a lot of contractors, he has found a swift business in cabinets. He’s also found that a lot of his repair jobs come from the same thing — someone so excited about getting finished they forget about getting started. “I would say what we run into the most is that somebody painted with the wrong products or didn’t use the proper prep,” he said. “It’s a bummer when you’re trying to give somebody an affordable price and now you’ve got to strip all the paint.”

Much of this is a result of people who get an “internet degree” in painting and finishing. “A lot of people watch online, and they’ll go right to fixing the damage. One thing that’s really worked well for us is that we don’t fix anything like that until after we prime,” said Cullen.

Perhaps there’s a door with a gouge, a hole or some damage where someone’s hung a can opener for the past quarter-century. Cullin will sand it, clean out the dust, and put on a coat of primer before he’ll apply any patching. “Whatever you’re going to be using, it really holds up a lot better when you prime it. Then whatever product you’re using to patch that hole really bonds and grabs better, whereas if you just throw a bunch of Bondo on some bare wood, it just doesn’t bond as well. It’s the fundamental stuff like that that can make all the difference.”

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