Advice and Tips



Popular Questions - Interior


+Q. What is the difference between painting or staining your house? If you house has already been stained before do you always restain?

A. The difference between paint and stain can be looked at in two ways: the appearance wanted from the job, and product the formulation. With a stained appearance, one is usually looking to obtain a certain color of the substrate, while still seeing the texture of the material. Thus, if you stain wood or concrete, for example, you still expect to see the texture of the wood or concrete, while imparting a different color.

Exterior stains have two general classifications: 1) semi-transparent and 2) solid color (or "opaque"). With a semi-transparent stain applied to wood, we expect to see the wood grain and its texture, whereas with a solid color stain, the grain will be hidden while the texture will still normally be noticeable. With a painted appearance, we have created a new surface that completely hides the old surface, and has its own appearance, which is usually smooth, though textured paints are certainly used a lot.

The paint job often includes a primer coat and a finish coat, whereas the stain job will not normally have a primer, unless there is concern about excessive discoloration from tannin bleed-through. The product formulations differ in a broad sense in that stains (especially the semi-transparent types) are less highly pigmented than are paints. Most semi-transparent stains are oil-based, though some latex products are available.

Opaque stains are much more like paints in their pigmentation; and like paints, are available in latex and oil-based formulations. Oil-based stains are formulated for maximum penetra-tion of the substrate; compared with paints, exterior stains tend to be lower in viscosity (thickness) than paints, and are formulated for good lapping properties. For exterior applications (siding, concrete, decks, windows, trim, etc.), semi-transparent and solid color stains are generally applied without a clear finish coat.

For interior applications (floors, doors and trim, furniture), most stains are oil-based semi-transparent wiping stains that are applied to bare wood, then immediately wiped off with a rag to reveal the grain; once thoroughly dry, a protective clear coating is generally applied.

Note: rags used to apply oil-based stains, paints, etc., may catch fire by spontaneous combustion if not disposed of properly. They should not be wadded up and put aside, but rather either spread out to dry in a safe place away from children, pets and any source of spark or fire; or put into a fire-proof container.


+Q. Can you paint over linoleum tile?

A. In general, no. "Resilient" flooring materials like linoleum and vinyl tiles, are too flexible: if you paint them, the pressure of shoes, particularly spike heels, will push in and crack the paint. Try using a water-based floor polish, they can do a lot to revitalize linoleum.


+Q. As a contractor, I do a lot of interior bare wood staining and painting. This goes from doors and trim to even fine furniture. Whenever I use a water based product like a primer or stain, I see fibers stick up from the wood. These sometimes ruin the finished appearance, making it very rough. It is particularly bad with some cabinet woods like walnut or mahogany (whether in an old chair or in new high-priced trim). What causes this and what can be done about it?

A. This is called "grain raising." The water in the coating swells the fibers and lifts them. The best thing to do is to "preempt" this by wetting the surface with a wet rag before applying the first primer or stain or clear coating. The water will raise the grain. Then come back in 1/2 hour and sand off the raised "whiskers" using fine (#200 or #220) garnet sandpaper. Be sure to sand only in the direction of the grain of the wood, never diagonally or across it at right angles. Then dust off the surface and proceed with the primer or stain, etc. Now, because of the procedure, very little grain will be raised by the application of the coating.

Wood filler

+Q. We just bought a new home and we got in too late to choose the maple kitchen cabinets we wanted from the builder. We have oak currently. Is there any paint products out there that we can apply that will make our cabinets look like maple. If not can we paint them white and expect them to look good, or will they look like we painted over the oak?

A. Maple does not have much grain pattern, so faux finishing probably would not work so well. You would want to use a cream colored paint, probably in a satin finish. Oak is an open-grain wood, that is, the surface has grooves in it that follow the grain. If these are noticeable, then they will show through the paint, as grooves in the surface.

To eliminate the open graining, you would get a "wood filler" from a paint store. This is a product designed to fill open grain in refinishing wood. The product is oil-based, comes in pints and quarts; do not get the kind of wood filler used for patching. Get a "natural" (i.e., no color has been added to make it brown, reddish, etc.) color filler. If a store does not have it, keep asking other stores. Some wood craft stores carry this type wood filler, and can provide by mail order.

First, sand the cabinets to dull any gloss, and smooth them. (Not necessary to remove the finish.) Clean off with a damp rag. Apply the filler to surface, doing an area about the size of one third to one half of a door; apply with a clean rag, and allow it to dry for a minute or two, then wipe off with a rag, going against the grain. The idea is to "fill" the open grain, and make it smooth. End up lightly rubbing the area with the grain. Go on to the next area.

Use ample ventilation; wear a respirator; when done, immediately dispose of the rags in a fireproof jar or container (if left bunched up, the used rags can catch fire by themselves). This is important!! Let the cabinets dry over night; then apply an interior oil based or latex stain blocking primer. Let dry over night. Then apply a top of the line oil based or latex interior satin or semigloss paint in the color you want. For best results apply a second coat.

Square feet per gallon

+Q. Why do you keep referring to applying the paint or stain at the spread rate [square feet per gallon] recommended by the manufacturer? Is it really that important? Isn't it reasonable to try to get extra "mileage" out of a gallon of paint?

A. It is important because how thick or thin the coating is applied impacts many properties. This applies to paints, primers, stains, clear coatings and elastomeric coatings. Some properties directly impacted by spread rate (and thus film thickness) are:

  • Hiding and Uniformity of Appearance
  • Crack Resistance
  • Mildew Resistance
  • Stain Blocking (primers)
  • Corrosion Resiatance (primers)
  • Flow-Out and Smoothness (which affects appearance and durability)
  • Scrub Resistance
  • General Longevity of Protection While hiding may, for example be acceptable when a coating is spread thin, other properties can be seriously compromised.

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