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More Trim. These ones should be easy, right?

Next stage in the replacement of the window casings. Done all the painted ones, and a couple of stained ones. Moving to the main floor. Should be routine because I’ve done all the steps before. No problems. 

Well, there were a few breezy steps. A few new snags. It’s an old house, and there are always surprises.

1. Go to lumber yard. Buy stain grade pine. Am better prepared because I know how I want to cut the wood. Get all 6′ lengths, makes it easy to pull from stock, easy to put in car. Price of lumber down at bit too.

2. Remove old trim. Not as trivial as brads shot into MDF with a nail gun. The trim is wood, maybe even hard wood (it’s heavy), attached with 2 1/2″ spiral finishing nails, into 100 year old wood framing. And bless them, there were 5 nails in a 2′ piece of wood. Had to remember how to pry nails out without crushing the drywall1. Years of paint played havoic, sticking the casing to the drywall. Despite cutting with a utility knife and trying to separate the surfaces with a scraper, damage to the drywall happened. Fixed by sealing surface of drywall and patching with mud. 

3. Measure and cut replacement trim. I install the unfinished boards to be sure they fit and then can finish the screw holes with the casings. Delighted to find this part of the house, built in 1927, is still square, plumb and adjointing surfaces are flush. Makes it so much easier to fit the casing right where it should be.

4. Strip paint from window sill (or more accurately the window stool). This is the only original part of the woodwork, so I keep it. Was so cool to see Brent Hull confirm that the hallmark of the Arts and Craft house was the substantial window sill – exactly what I’m preserving. Used SaferStripper, previously proven to work fine, took off the offending white paint (relatively new) and varnish from the wood, to reveal a strong, wide grain. Maybe pine, but more likely fir from the era. My modern day pine will match nicely. The grain of this wood is quite different from the grain of the window sills on the second floor, making sense because they were installed about 50 years apart (my best deduction).

5. There’s ancient weather stripping in the window frame, which should be removed prior to painting. The glue left behind by the weather striiping absorbs a great deal of time, as it won’t: scrape, scrub, be remove by two household cleaners, or vinegar, or a paint scraper or sanding. Gave up and covered it with oil-based primer. Surface still a bit rough but not sticky anymore after priming and painting.

6. Paint window frame. Return needs to blend with stained wood, so paint a satin brown hue. 

7. Match stain for new pine casing to old window sill. Learned the hard way that old wood can change colour dramatically when varathaned, while new, stained wood doesn’t. It just gets shiny. So, varathaned newly stripped sill, tested against a bunch of stain variations.2  Annoyingly, this got put on hold for a sunny day. Literally. It was so dark and cloudy for two weeks that I had to wait for more natural light to tell if there was a colour match. 

When the sun finally shone, it did metaphorically too. The stain trials on the new trim were all too red to match the old sill. But I liked them. I had a closer look at a window sill not stripped yet. It was redder than the newly stripped and varathaned one. Ah-ha! the new trim wasn’t too red, the old sill wasn’t red enough. A quick bit of stain fixed that. Why did the paint stripper take some of the wood colour away? It must have been in the varathane. 

This match was a stubborn one. After the sills were the desired colour, the new casing boards were too pale. One more trial, to see if a second coat of the mixed stain or a top coat of a pure brown stain (special oak) matched best.3 Fortunately I had one surface, the side of the apron that would be against the underside of the sill, that I could do trials. The brown top coat was it. The trim turned out a deep, reddish tone. Ready for poly!

And the biggest annoyance of all. I applied poly. It dried cloudy. After I calmed down (and it took a few hours, a donut and coffee, and some retail therapy), I found a number of sources online that suggest it could be due to improper stirring of the poly, stain incompatibility or high water content in the boards. The good news was the cloudy poly came off with sanding and mineral spirits so the project was saved. Still needed to re-stain but it made the boards looks more worn, which is fine in a 100 year old house. 

Then major nervousness about re-applying poly. I had to know what caused the clouding in the first place to avoid it. This had happened on another project and I figured the can of poly was contaminated. But I didn’t want to waste another $40 can of top coat. So I fiddled around, testing this and that. Turns out, it was the combination of the trim boards and the oil-modified poly. This poly was fine on other boards with other stains. The same mix of stain and oil-modified poly was fine on the old wood. A new brand of strictly water-based poly worked fine on the boards. My speculation is that the trim boards had too high a water content, or the stain dried too slowly on them. 

Finally got the new casing in place. Happy with the look. The window sash looks a little tired but the antique white is natural, painted decades ago (From the aged white colour, and the thick, sturdy finish. Can’t know what kind of paint it is. Won’t disturb and it will be fine.) 

Now, will the next casings be simpler?

1 Put a board, I had a 2 ft. piece of 1×3 handy, against a solid surface i.e. anything that isn’t just drywall, and use the board to brace the hammer against as you use the claw to pull the nail. In my case (ha-ha), I lay the board across the window frame. Trying to brace the hammer on drywall crushes the drywall while the nail stays buried in the wood.

2 Experimenting with combinations of brown, yellow and red. Brown is red mahogany, yellow is golden oak and red is gunstock, all Miniwax oil stains. The brown used to darken the wood was special walnut, all from Minwax.

3 ‘They’ say you can’t do extra coats of stain, because wood will only absorb so much and then stop. That sounds logical to me. However, in my experience, multiple coats of stain deepen the wood colour. I have to assume because the first coat didn’t saturate and the wood has more to absorb. It works for me, so I do it this way. Always use a rag and do plenty of wiping to apply stain. Gives me an even finish.

Thanks for reading.

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