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Painting & Wallpapering/painting over varnished stain


QUESTION: I have an old home with lots of stained oak trim and stairs. I want to paint it, but I want it done well.
I believe it has a varnished finish. What is the best method of preparing the surface, and what primer and finished paint do you recommend?

Thank you so much,

John Galietti

ANSWER: Hi John.  There are several methods you could use to prepare the surface, but the easiest one would be to use a liquid sanding de-glosser, which eliminates the need for sanding the varnished wood before priming. These are solvents which are just strong enough to remove the existing varnish in order to give it sufficient adhesion for primer.  Although you'll want to follow the directions on the container specifically, most will advise you to wipe the de-glosser on the wood with a rag or sponge, then wipe off any excess which doesn't penetrate after a short period of time.  Personally, I like to apply this with the thin, really flexible sanding sponges, (use the spongy side).  A rag tends to splatter too much.  I've attached a link of a de-glosser carried by Sherwin Williams.

After the de-glosser has removed the sheen, wipe all the woodwork down with a lint-free cloth, or pick up some tack cloths at a paint or hardware store, (tack cloths are used for removing dust from a surface before applying primer or paint).  As far as the primer, I've attached a link of a high-quality water-based primer sold at Sherwin Williams, (assuming you might go there anyways for the de-glosser).

Make sure and follow the directions on the can and always apply 2 coats to raw wood.  Since you're using a water-based primer, you need to make sure you block in the tannins, (which are those little brown oils in wood that tend to seep out over time, especially when the wood isn't sealed properly).  Since the tannins are sealed in between the 1st & 2nd coat of primer, it's important to prime 2 coats.

Now that you have white primed woodwork, you'll see all the little gouges, imperfections, nail holes and seams.  Caulk the seams and spackle the rest.  After 24-48 hours, (depending upon heat & humidity), you'll be able to sand your woodwork smooth with sanding sponges, then use your lint-free cloth or tack cloth to remove all dust.  Sherwin Williams makes a good interior/exterior paint called Solo, which would work great for you.  I know that Solo claims to be, "self-priming", and you could certainly try to skip the primer and just use several coats of Solo, but you specifically stated you want your job done well, and in my opinion, Solo hasn't been on the market long enough to prove to me that primer isn't necessary.  Here's the link for that product.

Hopefully, you're project will be a great success.  I tried to suggest products which are easy to work with for a DIY'er.  Both the primer & paint are a bit pricey, but don't skimp on the product.  It's a small portion of the cost of each job, so use the best products you can to insure optimum results.  Good luck!

Troy Stevens, Stelzer Painting Inc.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------


Thank you so much for sharing your expertise. I have one more question for you. I also want you to know that I am far from being a novice. I am a craftsman and my grandfather was a neighborhood housepainter from the depression on up to the early seventies. So I have experienced first hand the evolution of house painting and the materials involved. I donated some of his old tools to a painting museum. Everything was oil and had to be mixed. There were tools to create every type of effect and a good painter did it all, including the wood graining. Oh well I am digressing.
You are obviously a Sherwin Williams user. I am one of the large crowd of Benjamin Moore users and there lies most of my experience during the past 25 or so years. I would be interested in trying something new. What would you have to say about comparing the products of the two companies, specifically for my project?

Hi John.  I'm not sure how your follow-up question slipped through the cracks.  I pride myself on responding to all inquiries immediately.  I apologize for the delay.  In regards to your query, yes, I'd be happy to compare products between Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore. I was a big fan of Benjamin Moore's Paints until my Paint Rep went to work for another company and nobody replaced him.  Although I'm not current on every new product Benjamin Moore has, I'm sure I can provide some good insight for you.  In order for me to give you the best answers as far as a comparable Sherwin Williams Product, please do the following:

1.  Name a specific Benjamin Moore Product
2.  Describe what surface you'd be applying this product
3.  Specify how you'll be applying the product, (whether you'll be applying it via brush, roll, spray, etc.)

I'll double-check my answers with other painters if needed in order to insure we're comparing apples-to-apples.  Despite the fact that I rarely use Benjamin Moore now, I'm still an avid reader and learner of their newest and supposedly best products, (Regal, Aura, etc.).  
Also, anytime I have an interior painting job which requires having to brush oil, there's only one option in my mind...Impervo. Best brushable oil ever in my opinion.  Been using it for 25 years and I'll probably be using it for 25 more.  

Troy Stevens, Stelzer Painting Inc.

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troy stevens


Questions I could answer would be anything related to the preparation and painting of a house or building. This would include both interior and exterior painting for residential and commercial structures. I'm well-versed in all painting and staining applications, products and methods. Questions I couldn't answer would be primarily those related to automotive, industrial or marine painting.


I've been painting professionally for over 26 years and I've owned my own business, Stelzer Painting Inc., for more than 16 years now. We specialize in interior & exterior painting for residential & commercial clients, re-paints, remodels & new construction. I'm fully licensed, bonded and insured. I have hundreds of referrals from past customers, an A+ rating through the BBB, and an A rating on Angie's List.

-Better Business Bureau, A+ Rating -Angie's List, A Rating -Construction Contractor's Board Member, (#202027). -PDX Advisory Group Member. -Licensed General Contractor -Licensed RRP Firm

Publications -Blogger -Hubspot -Various social platforms.

-High School Diploma -Studied at Mt. Hood Community College, Lane Community College and University of Oregon. -Recently completed continuing education requirements for licensing through the Construction Contractor's Board. -RRP Certified for lead-based paint removal through the state of Oregon. -Although my Real Estate License has lapsed, I was a licensed Realtor for several years as well.

Awards and Honors
I've managed to maintain a perfect service record since beginning my business in 1998, with over 1,000 satisfied customers and no complaints. Professionally speaking, this is my proudest achievement.

Past/Present Clients
Richard Swails: (503) 636-7377 Mr. & Mrs. Scott: (360) 718-8676 Lonnie Tongate: (971) 645-7285 On my website,, I also have a link to my referral list, which contains several hundreds more.

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