Staining Oak Trim


Old 08-21-06, 05:16 PM
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Staining Oak Trim

I have embarked on installing new trim (baseboards, chair rail, and crown molding) in my home. I am confused about the process for preparing and staining the open-grained oak trim. What are the steps for filling, sanding, staining, sealing, and polyurethaning the pieces? How much time for each step and between steps?
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Old 08-21-06, 06:22 PM
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I have never seen the need to use wood filler on oak trim- that's usually something done on furniture, not trim. In most cases, fillers give the trim a flat look, and I've read that the current trends are to not use fillers on most types of trim, unless that look is part of the design.

If, for some reason, you are dead-set on using a filler, you might try a Google search for: "using paste wood fillers" (in quotes) and follow some of the suggestions there.

Trim must be sanded before it is ready to stain. Depending on how smooth it is to begin with, that will determine what grit sandpaper you need to start with. I commonly start with 120 grit, which will take out some of the planer knife marks left by the milling process. Then you will proceed to 150, 180, 220. I use an orbital sander for all the flat surfaces of the trim, then sand the rest by hand, either with sandpaper or with the use of sanding sponges in the case of contoured trim. If I'm in a hurry, I'll sand with 120, and 150 (and skip the 180, 220) before I stain. Sanding takes a long time. Figure at least 3 minutes sanding per piece of trim X the number of pieces of trim you have.

Depending on what type of stain you will be using (water or oil based) you have to figure the time it takes to apply and wipe the trim. Then you have the dry time. Typically, I allow 24 hours for staining & dry time. Be sure you stir the can of stain with a paint stick to mix up the pigments at the bottom of the can. With open-grained oak, I prefer not to FLOOD the trim with stain, or you can have trouble with it bleeding out of the pores as it dries. So I prefer to brush all my trim with a varnish brush, and spread the stain as thin as possible. (you can gang up several pieces of trim to do the edges first, then lay them flat to do the faces) I use Minwax oil based wood finish and wipe the stain off with rags as soon as I get a few pieces stained. Be sure you wipe the stain out of any grooves. You don't usually need to let the stain soak, and you don't usually have to give it two coats- one will do. It's a good idea to let stains dry 24 hours before applying sealer or finish. Some stains (like Watco) even require 72 hours to dry. For applying and wiping the trim down, you could probably figure 2 minutes per piece X the number of pieces.

If you plan to use polyurethane, read the label for their recommendation for what type of sealer to use. Some types of poly do not require a sealer, others require you to use a special polyurethane sanding sealer. So read the instructions.

I typically spray all my trim, which is the fastest way to do it. I can spray a whole batch of trim in about 1 hour that would take me 8 hours to brush. You can certainly brush if you like, but you should probably budget a whole day for it, depending on how much you have. You will want to brush the finish on as THIN as possible. The tendency is to brush too much on at once, because it flows easier on the brush when the brush is wet. Avoid that tendency- clean your brush out with thinner if it's getting too sticky. The day after you brush on the sealer, you should be able to lightly sand the trim with 220 grit sandpaper. Just take off the rough spots- you don't need to sand vigorously or you will sand through the finish to the bare wood and then you'll cuss.

After you've sanded, you will wipe down all the trim with a tack cloth. Then you are ready to apply the polyurethane. Be sure you stir the finish with a paint stick. You will probably be applying a minimum of 3 coats, following the directions on the can regarding drying times and time to recoat. You can lightly sand with 220 grit between each coat in order to remove any imperfections in the finish. After your last coat of poly, you might like to rub the trim with xtra fine steel wool (#0000) to achieve a uniform finish. (don't use steel wool with water based polyurethanes!)

I allow 1 day for each coat of finish to ensure that each coat is dry before applying the next. Dry times are longer in hot or humid conditions.

2 ladders spaced about 7 ft apart make a great drying rack for trim. If you have a LOT of trim, consider building a pair of vertical racks. Screw the top end to the garage rafters to keep them separated and standing straight up. You'll be able to fit a lot of trim on it. Laying trim flat is a lot better than standing it up against a wall. It's easier to carry and transport while wet, and you get less runs when it's laying flat. You also don't get as much dirt and dust on the trim if the wind blows the dust on your floor. Ideally, you'd have the floor blown clean before starting! After you varnish, it's not a good time to sweep up! LOL

Hope this gets you going.
Old 08-21-06, 10:19 PM
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Searching for "paste filler" will work as well.
I agree that using a filler on trim really would not be worth the work (except maybe the chair rail). Paste fillers have a limited working time and are very hard to remove the excess if it has been allowed to harden!
Here are the finishing steps used to finish an old fashioned gaming table that I recently saw on TV:
1. Apply a red mahogany oil-based stain
2. Apply coat of shellac
3. Fill the pores with a paste filler
4. Glaze with a gel stain
5. Protect with several coats of wipe-on polyurethane

I personally would not fill the grain, but you are the one that has to live with the final product.

When I finish a piece of oak, I wipe on the stain with a piece of clean cloth let it dry for a couple of hours then wipe off the remainder. If you want the wood to be a little darker wait until the first coat has dried before reapplying (usually one day, depending on temperature and humidity).

Definitely cut the polyurethane with turpentine, it really helps to smooth the finish. I like to add 20% to the polyurethane.
I personally have not tried spraying on the finish, but would like to experiment one day.

Before your last coat use #000 synthetic steel wool instead of the 220 grit sandpaper. It is better to use synthetic steel wool in place of the real stuff because it does not break up and leave little bits of steel in the pores of the wood, and it does not have any oil on it like typical steel wool.

I like the ideal of using ladders as drying racks.
Good Luck
Old 08-22-06, 06:20 AM
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I would add, NEVER sand across the grain- always sand with the direction of the grain. Cross sanding can leave scratches in the wood which will be magnified with the stain.

Shellac is seldom used today - mostly used for replicating old finishes, I wouldn't recomend using shellac for new trim. Personally I don't like the gel stains, they are too hard for me to use [can't teach an old dog new tricks ] Since the amount of time the stain is left on the wood affects how it penetrates and the resulting color, all excess stain should be wiped off all pieces after the same approximate time. Obviously you never want to stop in the middle of any piece of wood.
Old 08-22-06, 11:27 AM
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And whatever stain you get, you'll be following the directions on the can... not our suggestions. Some stains need to sit a certain amount of time to penetrate... but on the other hand, other stains will get tacky and hard to wipe if you wait too long to wipe off the excess. For instance, if I left the type of stain I use sit on the trim for an hour, I'd need paint thinner and a lot of elbow grease to wipe off the excess!
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