How to Repair Wainscot

Expert tips for wainscot repair.


Has your wainscot seen better days? In the Victorian era, wainscot in utilitarian spaces was often plain bead board, painted for simplicity and ease of cleaning. Hence, if you have painted wainscot, freshening it up is incredibly simple: lightly sand it, then apply a coat of paint.

On the other hand, repairing stained wainscot is slightly more involved. If your woodwork has been water-or fire-damaged, this process will not work, and you might need to refinish the wood. But in most cases, you can easily revitalize your woodwork so that is looks as sharp as the day it was first installed. Just follow these steps:


Wainscot Repair

The woodwork in this home looks shiny and new.


1. Clean: Gather a bucket of hot water, Murphy Oil Soap, or mineral spirits (a little bit will do) and some rags. Clean the wood thoroughly without leaving the wood wet; remove any grime or dirt.

2. Sand: After the wood has completely dried, lightly sand the wood in the direction of the wood grain with 220-240 very-fine sandpaper. This will take a thin layer off the top coat without disturbing the stain color. After you have sanded the wood clean of mineral spirits, remove all dust and allow it to dry.

3. Refinish: Use shellac, not polyurethane. For decades, woodworkers have used shellac, which can be mixed with stain colors (I prefer to use the amber-colored finish which gives the wood a wonderful golden glow). To apply the finish, use a fine, good-quality china bristle brush. Use long stroke and apply generously, but be mindful of drops or clumps, as shellac dries quickly. After the first coat is applied and dried, lightly sand with a 400-grit sandpaper. Clean the wood again, using mineral spirits to remove dust. Then apply another coat of shellac with a new brush; I like to apply three or four coats of shellac, sanding and cleaning in-between to ensure a strong finish. This will give your wood a beautiful glow and protect it for years to come.


By Matt Mazanec

Photography by Jaimee Itagaki

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