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The window molding in my house feels very "rough," for lack of a better word. The house is 25 years old.

I assume this is from the sun beating down on the finish and wearing it down over the years, since the trim that is not in direct sunlight (like the top of the window molding) has held up much better.

The damage ranges, depending on which room you're in. Some moldings appear as if the stain has evaporated away. Some moldings have black discoloration in the corners (What is this?). Only one molding is in good shape.

The unfinished wood attracts a lot of dust. The moldings all have a perpetual layer of dust. When you dust it, more dust comes out and I can never really seem to get all of it out. As someone with allergies, this is terrible, and this is actually the main reason I am trying to repair it.

Here are photos (it's kind of hard to see what I'm talking about just by looking, which is why I took a bunch of photos):

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(Notice how the vertical wood (on the right hand side) is much smoother and shinier than the horizontal wood in the following photo):

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Kitchen window (it has a lighter stain, like butterscotch):

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Here's the black stuff I mentioned earlier:

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Here is the only window molding in the house that feels totally smooth and looks great. I don't know why this one hasn't deteriorated like the others just a few feet away from it. Maybe it's the figurines...

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My first question: Can a newbie handle this project?

If it is easy enough for a beginner, how should I go about doing this? Please be as specific as possible...for example, instead of saying "sandpaper" please tell me what grit sandpaper to use. Assume I know nothing. Thanks in advance.

  • Those pics take forever to load and paint, and I'm on a fast connection. Could someone who has the time help Kyle reduce them to a reasonable size? – keshlam Nov 20 '15 at 1:59
  • @keshlam -- I can reduce them but currently they are all only around 1MB a piece. What size should I reduce them to? – Kyle Nov 20 '15 at 2:04
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The dark discoloration in the corners looks like water came through at some point, check the outside of the window for damaged or missing glazing putty or weatherstrip material and repair as necessary (seal with exterior caulking, maybe?).

For the wood, I would start with 220 grit sandpaper and give the entire frame and trim a quick sanding. Then get a small can of wood stain and stain the whole thing, this will blend and improve the appearance of the discolored areas. Then use a high quality water-based gloss varnish and coat using a good paintbrush. It will look much better when you are done and the gloss finish will make it easy to clean and dust in the future.

  • Now that you mention it, I think the discoloration might be from condensation that forms on the inside of the window on cold days in the winter, and then pools to the edges. Since the wood is unfinished, that is a breeding ground for mold, right? – Kyle Nov 20 '15 at 21:52
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    It doesn't look like mold, It just looks discolored. If you have concern just put a few drops of liquid bleach in some water and wipe the area with a rag, that will kill it. Let it dry and finish as explained above. The gloss varnish will protect the wood from future condensation drips and help it resist any mold growth too. – Jimmy Fix-it Nov 20 '15 at 22:42
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    before sanding, just a bit to make it damp then let dry before sanding – Jimmy Fix-it Nov 21 '15 at 5:48
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    Finish alone is all that is needed, however if you want the color to match you need to carefully choose the new stain or sand and stain the existing. – Jimmy Fix-it Nov 21 '15 at 16:50
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    Dry sand. Graduating grits from coarse to fine (220) is right if you intend to take it down to "natural" per your link, which is a lot of work and time but will result in perfection if done right. My answer (quick sand then stain to blend color then varnish) is a method to get reasonably nice results with less requirement for expertise/time. – Jimmy Fix-it Nov 21 '15 at 19:15
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Refinishing it by stripping / sanding off the existing finish, restaining and resealing, would look great but a lot of work.

If it was older, rubbing it with fine steel wool and some finishing oil can make a beat finish look pretty good, though way short of refinishing. At 25 years old, it was probably sealed with polyurethane, which doesn't rub up as well. Still, it's worth a try. I doubt it will make it worse, but still try it on a limited area first to be safe.

For the oil, there are many to choose from, one that no purist would approve of but works pretty good is Scott's Liquid Gold.

Since this method doesn't add any sealer or color, it won't make refinishing any harder if you have to bite the bullet.

  • I'd like to try the "proper" way at first, but good to know about the Scott's Liquid Gold. – Kyle Nov 20 '15 at 16:27
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You have three choices: Refinish them in place, remove them from the wall and refinish on the workbench, or do part one way and part tHe other.

You can do a much better job with less effort if you dismount the trim and refinish the pieces elsewhere. That does require learning how toto carefully take the trim off the wAll. Not hard if you're careful and patient, but easier after you've done it the first few times. For me, the trick was learning to use wedges to pull the pieces free relatively gently.

Doing it in place means sanding into corners and working at awkward angles, but is also quite doable. Try not to let the finish bridge gaps and adhere pieces to each other, or they'll be a bit harder to remove if/when that becomes necessary... but unlike finishing a frame-and-panel door, nothing's likely to split if finish gets where it shouldn't be.

Remember to have fun.

  • I don't understand this sentence: "Try not to let the finish bridge gaps and adhere pieces to each other, or they'll be a bit harder to remove if/when that becomes necessary." Could you please explain? – Kyle Nov 20 '15 at 16:29

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