It’s time to oust the orange knotty pine! It’s something I have always hated, and it's all over the house – on the stairs, doors, door frames, architrave, and skirting. Worse again, it's a poor-quality "paint grade" wood that, as the name suggests, should have been painted. Instead, it was sealed with a coat of clear shellac, which means that you can still see the plastic-filled knotholes that were never sanded or finished off properly. It's so ugly!
In most of the house, I plan to paint the woodwork in Old White by Annie Sloan, and I have already got a head start on that in some of the rooms upstairs. But white isn't a good colour for this part of the house as it's next to the back door where our mud-loving dog comes in from the garden. So the plan for here is to stain the pine to a rich dark colour.
To make the job easier, and since we'd already gutted the room, we removed whatever woodwork we could. So the doors, architrave (trim), and skirting boards came out, leaving just the window sill and door frame in situ. To ensure an even colour, we (Ahem! By that I mean Hubby!) sanded it all back to bare wood. It turns out that, with the product we ended up using, it probably wasn't necessary to sand it that much, but the stain certainly absorbs more easily into raw wood than into wood that has been sealed.
I was actually very cautious about attempting this job because my previous attempts at staining wood had not gone particularly well. When I tried staining a floor in our first house, I used a liquid stain varnish that I applied with a brush, but I wasn’t happy with how it looked because it was difficult to apply evenly and so the end result was patchy. However, I had recently heard about this oil-based gel stain by General Finishes and decided to give it a go. I chose the darkest colour in the range: Java.
The verdict? I really like this product! It's so easy to use: you simply apply it with a cloth, wait a minute or two, and then use another cloth to remove the excess. The smell is not strong at all, making it pleasant to use - even indoors. And the thicker consistency of the gel made it very easy to apply the stain evenly.
On raw wood, just one coat is enough to achieve a gorgeous, rich, dark colour. However when used on sealed wood, I found it necessary to build up the colour gradually by applying 2-3 coats.
I did find that the oils in the stain tended to break down the rubber gloves that I wore, resulting in leaks and some stained fingertips! It was easily removed with white spirits and soapy water, but I recommend changing your gloves frequently to avoid the mess.
After staining, the wood needs to be sealed. I used the High Performance Polyurethane Water Based Top Coat, also by General Finishes, and applied it with a foam brush. I must admit to having a love-hate relationship with this product. Its being water-based means that it is virtually odour-free and it makes cleaning up easy too. However, the tins are impossible to open! The lip around the lid is too narrow, so it is difficult to pop off and it tends to bend and buckle instead, which means that the tin is not air-tight and the contents won't keep. Several times I brought home a brand new tin from the store and, when I eventually managed to prise the lid off, found that the contents inside had already solidified. I did report my experiences to General Finishes, but they were extremely unhelpful. So caveat emptor! Also, the mouth of the 1 pint tins (the most popular size) is just 2.5 inches wide - far too small to fit but the smallest of brushes, which is rather annoying.
I chose these products because I am extremely sensitive to strong smelling paints and chemicals, and I like that these are practically odourless. However, the down-side is the amount of time the entire process takes. Because the stain is oil-based and the top-coat is water-based, it is recommended to allow a minimum of three days to allow the stain to fully cure before sealing it. Then the manufacturers advise applying a minimum of three coats of the polyurethane, so it is a bit labour-intensive, although the drying time between the top coats is just two hours so it can be done relatively quickly. The top coat is fully cured after 14 days, but you can use the finished items sooner than that.
This is the view from the utility room (which is also scheduled for a complete overhaul, hopefully next year) of the newly-stained door next to one I haven't treated yet. It gives a good idea of how the woodwork looks before and after (or from left to right, after and before!).