Monday, July 4, 2011

Hallway project: day 3 or 382, depending, part 1

Things I learned this weekend:
•my stairs are oak, unlike my floors.
•the ancient stair runner left a faint stain (adhesive?)
•said stain is very noticeable.
•don't blog on your smartphone whilst cooking and drinking red wine while also waiting for stain to dry.

I'm on vacation, so of course I'm working on My Old House. The cast-iron tub has been in the hall for just over a year now. It's time to try to finish the bathroom project, no matter how much the cats enjoy playing in the tub.

My mom and stepdad are coming up this weekend to help with stuff, so I wanted to try to get the stairs sanded and coated with polyurethane before they got here. I had also hoped to at least get the upstairs bath wainscoting partially up before their arrival. Neither of these wishes has come to pass as of yet.

I should probably tell you I am, in general, against staining wood, especially oak. Purchasing stain to make one wood look like another seems backwards somehow, at least for flooring. I AM in favor of staining to try to cover up cosmetic flaws caused by some crazy 60's adhesive

I started sanding the stairs "early" Saturday, early meaning "after I slept in late, ate breakfast, watched some Venture Bros. Season 4, then went to the post office, then ate lunch. The first thing I did was install the Catszmat Unit (TM). Last year sawdust invaded every room upstairs, even though I had closed all the doors and had a (crappy) fan blowing stuff out the window AND had a shop-vac on the whole time. The Catzszmat Unit is cleverly designed to keep cats OUT and sawdust IN. Stupid cats.

I had impulse bought a new DeWalt disc sander on Friday hoping it would do a better job than the Black and Decker hand sander I used last year. Meh. It certainly is easier on the hands, but it is about equal in usefulness. It WAS helpful to be able to load both sanders and not have to stop as often. The borrowed industrial fan in the window was also a GIANT help.

I soon noticed that the darker, unvarnished runner section of the stairs was not sanding off as I had hoped. I then scrubbed the stairs late Saturday with a 50/50 baking soda/peroxide (in about 1.5/2 gallons of water?). This brought up a TON of filth, but the center wood was still noticeably darker than the sides.

It was then I remembered a friend telling me she sometimes mopped her wood floors with tea. She also has a multi-cat house and rather than sand and varnish pet damage every year, she stained the floor scratches with tannins.
Sunday I did some Google research and found several articles on staining fabric and wood with tea and/or coffee.

I sanded again, then varnished a few spots to test the color before I went to Lowe's and a pic-a-nic, hoping the Catszmat Unit would again hold fast in my absence. It did.
Monday I saw what lie ahead. The discoloration was definitely still showing through the poly. I brewed around 12 cups of some fancy coffee from Slight Indulgence that Heather Thurbon left in my freezer over a year ago. Heather, we all thank you for your contribution$ to $cience!
I am not a coffee drinker, but I'm guessing that if you completely fill the filter it's strong coffee. I grabbed an old brush and quickly coated the sides of the stairs with coffee stain. Then I waited for an hour. I highly recommended the game "Robo Defense" as a way to pass the time. Upon inspection, the stairs HAD darkened in color, just not enough. The second trial included mixing actual coffee grounds into the stain, boiling it, then applying. The third trial had two Lipton tea bags thrown into the mix. This version was a much better match. Several of the stairs looked pretty good after I "buff" sanded some of the spots where the stain had pooled.
Needless to say, waiting at least an hour between each trial lead to more Robo Defense and ice cream than actual progress today. I plan to poly the best-looking stair tonight before bed. Tomorrow I shall try what my carpenter friend Willie suggested: poly, then a thin coat of stain, then more poly. He said it may help obscure some of the gradient changes.


  1. Love the idea of tea staining the wood.

  2. I don't think Lipton is strong enough for oak. If I had time to do more research, I would love to, if only to get to taste a bunch of teas!