PROCESS: WOODWORK

Almost every wood surface through the house was stripped and then refinished. The trim, windows, and doors are original to the house, made from a very hard yellow pine species that exhibits its rich character through golden growth rings and a robust resistance to wear.

There are several strategies for exposing the bare wood, and each situation merits a different approach. Mark experiments to find which works best. For example, the windows in the kitchen had a layer of shellac and then paint on top. There had been some pretty heavy water damage in that area, which made scraping the windows fairly easy and fast. Had that not been the case, it may have been more efficient to use a heat gun and/or chemical stripper. The upside of the latter approaches is that you avoid having to do much (if any) touch-up sanding before applying a new coat of shellac. The downside is that they can be messier, and in the end, more time consuming. To strip, sand, and shellac took around a day for each painted window unit, meaning the sashes and casework.

As with most jobs, having the right tools really makes a difference. Mark has a nice collection of scraping implements, each with a unique sharp edge to them. His primary scrapers are tools he makes himself that offer swiveling heads to get into hard-to-reach corners. He also has two types of improvised jigs that allow him to scrape and plane the window sashes easily and quickly. Stripping the woodwork was intense but well worth it.

At this point in the project, Mark brushes on a sprayable methylene chloride stripper (which lays on more evenly than paste strippers), and cleans up the residue with denatured alcohol, which is shellac’s natural solvent. Months later, when it comes time to finish the doors, Mark washes off the dirt and coats their surfaces with a fresh de-waxed shellac. Since shellac is what is called an evaporative finish it ‘melts’ into the existing shellac, meaning the original shellac actually expedited the stripping and refinishing process. Before putting on the varnish, Mark sands between coats with 280 grit sandpaper and touches-up and spots of putty with an artist’s brush and artists paints.

The final step is to apply a very thin coat of varnish over the shellac with a cotton rag ‘pad’ that Mark makes himself. He folds a lint free cotton cloth around a rag core, use a ‘zip-tie’ to tightly form the desired shape so it fits nicely in the hand. He applies the varnish to both the wood and the pad. There is minimal build-up giving the wood a smooth, oil-like finish, and yet the varnish is more protective. The technique also appeases Mark’s Dutch sensibilities (read: frugal). Mark finished all seven rooms with one gallon! That’s 13 doors, 18 window frames, 32 window sashes, all the baseboard and casings. To boot, the Window sills and the sashes were brushed on to give a little extra protection.

 Mark's improvised varnishing implement: Lint-free cotton zip-tied around a ball of rags

Mark's improvised varnishing implement: Lint-free cotton zip-tied around a ball of rags