As a professional handyman, I’m often asked to repair small cosmetic items for real estate agents and their clients. One thing that can be a huge detractor when marketing your home is scratched or marred woodwork and trim. For example, not long ago I did some woodwork retouching in a home that had been on the market for six months without a solid offer. The real estate agent finally convinced the sellers to repair some cat claw damage on the stairway newel post beside the front entry. He also suggested that they have me touch up the baseboard and door trim scratches at the same time. Two days later they received a firm contract, and because the house was unoccupied they closed within thirty days.
Without the touch up, the house looked used and damaged when first entering. There was no furniture to hide the appearance of worn woodwork. The vacuum cleaner scratches and bruises were present on every foot of baseboard. Each time a ring or watch lightly scraped the stairway bannister, it showed. Children’s toys and fingernails left unsightly marks in nearly every doorway at a three foot height. I told the real estate agent it was an easy fix. And it was, other than a couple of deep gouges from the cat that needed a quick dry wood putty. Here’s the secret, and it’s easy for you to do.
An oil based wood stain with a drying agent is the key ingredient for success. Personally, I’ve grown accustomed to the MinWax brand. I’m sure there are others that will do just fine, but this is what works well for me. Other than a small can of stain to match your woodwork color, get a clean, lint free cloth to wipe the stain on and wipe it off. I often use a very small corner torn from my rag to dip in the stain can. If you don’t want to get your fingers stained or you have a sensitivity to finishing products then use protective rubber or latex gloves. In any case, follow the cautionary measures printed on the product of your choice.
First, make certain that any suspended color is stirred up from the bottom of the can. Second, have adequate ventilation where you are working. Then dip a corner of your application rag in the stain (just enough to dampen it) and wipe it over a scratch in an out of the way corner. The scratch should nearly disappear. Wipe off any excess and move to the next area. If a scratch seems a little too dark compared to the original stain, then get a lighter color, or cut your original color in half with a can of natural stain.
The only problem you might have with this procedure is if your home trim was finished with a lacquer or varnish that cannot be penetrated without sanding. In most cases this applies to homes older than sixty years which have extremely hard or unique protective coatings. If thisï¿½method doesn’t work for you, there are other options to explore such as semi-transparent water based stains. They can be layered on a little bit at a time until the desired color is achieved. Then after fully drying, top coat them with an appropriate clear sealant.
For minor scratches this is all you need to do. The area you just wiped might be a bit tacky to the touch for 24 hours, but fine after that. In a high visibility area you could apply a second coat a few hours after the first, and even finish the area with a wipe on polyurethane after drying is complete (again, usually 24 hours). Baseboard, stair trim, door trim and handrails can all benefit from this technique. I’ve even spruced up wood closet doors in teenagers bedrooms by applying a light stain wipe over the entire door if it’s extremely nicked and scratched.
One other area in your home that may benefit from this technique is window sills. They often show water damage, or sun damage, and can be touched up easily. However, there are a couple of things to consider when attacking these surfaces. One, repair any damaged drywall in the window frame ahead of time with quick dry spackle and/or joint compound, then apply a primer coat of paint to the repairs. Much of the water damage to window sills comes from condensation dripping off of window frames (especially aluminum). Some of this can be stopped with exterior storm windows and caulking where needed. A small bead of paintable caulk where the window frame meets the drywall can help guard against moisture transfer. Two, clean the window sill well with a good household cleaner/degreaser, rinse thoroughly, and wipe with a dry cloth. Let it dry completely before continuing.
Look over the sills carefully for unsightly stains from mildew, candles, flower pots, and the occasional school project. Many of them can be reduced in intensity with a twenty percent bleach solution. Allow it to sit for no more than ten minutes, then rinse completely and allow to dry. You can speed the drying time with a hair dryer also. There are some commercial wood bleaches available. Follow directions carefully if you decide to try any of them.
Now try a little stain near an edge or out of the way corner. If it takes to the existing finish, then apply a light coat over then entire window sill and wipe it down immediately. Give it some time to dry and apply a second coat if necessary. After drying fully I recommend at least two coats of wipe on polyurethane to finish the job. Don’t forget the trim piece under the window sill.
Over the years, furniture polish and cleaners can coat the finish of window sill surfaces so that they resist this touch up process. Try washing it with a TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) solution available at any paint or home center. You could also lightly sand the surface with 600 grit sandpaper, but doing so may result in an uneven finish unless you are certain to sand every inch the same amount and change your paper often to avoid plugging and filling of the paper surface.
As a last resort, after etching or sanding the surface, a very light coat of a matching water based stain could even out any blemishes. This creates more of a semi-transparent look, but after fully drying can be coated with a high gloss polyurethane. A word of warning here. Water based stains soak in and dry very quickly, creating lap marks and uneven areas for the inexperienced user. Practice on a few scrap pieces of wood, or the trim on the inside of the basement closet before trying this on your family room window sills. Thirty minutes perfecting your technique will save you plenty of heartache and do-over time if you get it wrong.
Anyone can do this. Every situation is unique and I can’t emphasize enough that you must test an inconspicuous area before applying stain anywhere else. If you have carpeting in your home, then I recommend keeping a drop cloth under your work area at all times, moving it along as you progress. Yes, it’s just a small can of stain, but once dropped or spattered on new carpet it becomes a permanent reminder of the mishap. (Okay, it’s the voice of experience speaking.)
Go slowly and allow surfaces to dry before applying the next step. If you do so, your house will have that extra sparkle when showing it to prospective buyers. Where else can you add “sparkle” for $4 and little of your time? May your selling market be quick and profitable.