Stain over varnish?
October 11, 2009 8:59 PM   Subscribe

How can I easily darken already varnished wood?

My family is taking over an existing restaurant and re-opening it as a different restaurant. We have a limited budget for up-front renovations and the restaurant has wood paneling on the inside. Not the cheesy kind, but real wood boards laid on the diagonal on the wall (tongue and groove, pine maybe).

We can only close the restaurant for 3 days to complete renovations, so tearing the paneling completely off is not an option since we have other projects to tackle during the 3 days.

I want to darken the wood, but as it's tongue and groove, it would take too much time to sand in the grooves to remove the varnish that is already on it. I want to check into options for darkening the color, but I don't know what products and/or methods would work the best.

(In the long run, putting up new walls would/will be ideal, but at this point, early on, we don't have the time or money.)
posted by hulahulagirl to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have used minwax polyshadees to do this exact thing to good effect. It's a poly and stain combined so it should adhere well as long as you give the surface a light sanding.
I've found that if you don't go more than a few shades darker you get better effects, also if you do at least two coats.
It can be found at any home depot or hardware store usually.
posted by newpotato at 9:09 PM on October 11, 2009

I recently heard two radio builders (the weekend woodies... fun for all the family) refer to wood panelling as "the seventies sauna look". I love wood more than any other product but think that you might regret this. It's a very dated look. Even darkened. Have you considered painting the wood instead... if you're going to put up new walls in the long run anyway, you don't seem that attached to the wood look.

Whatever you do, I'd consider getting a colour consultant or going to a few online style forums for some ideas. I eat out pretty regularly, and the decor is actually a pretty important part of my decision where to eat... because if I wanted dated, ugly surroundings, I would eat in my own dining room.

Alternatively... what about milk paint? That kind of addresses both the change of colour, and leaving the "woodines" visible.
posted by taff at 9:24 PM on October 11, 2009

Yes, minwax will work, but I've found that it can turn out blotchy if you're not careful. I agre with taff - paint it, pref something like cream or yellowish beige. Dark wood = cave; yellow/cream = light reflecting. Guess it depends on the look you're going for. Pale yellow (buff, grayed down, beigey yellow, not screaming yellow) is supposed to reflect more light than any other colour.
posted by x46 at 9:33 PM on October 11, 2009

Do you feel like you could put up some thin drywall over it? It would be pretty easy since there will be wood behind every seam, guaranteed. :-) I don't know about doing the taping and mudding in 3 days if you have a lot of other projects, and of course you'd have to leave time to prime and paint.
posted by lakeroon at 9:38 PM on October 11, 2009

I've used a dark Minwax (the darkest color they have, Ebony, but not with the poly mixed in) over a medium brown varnished table legs and it worked fairly well - not the color on the can but it will darken it up enough to make a difference. It seems to drip a lot easier when applying over a finished surface, though, so you should definitely be careful.

I won't knock dark wood in a restaurant since we have no idea what type of scene, food, etc. you're working with.
posted by jilld at 9:45 PM on October 11, 2009

There are some banisters and doorframes in my house that were a medium brown stained wood that really didn't suit my tastes, so I rubbed them with gloss red oil-based paint. Now they are a really nice deep red with the wood grain showing through, which I think looks smashing. It's a pretty extreme look, but is very nice and warm particularly in low light.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:20 AM on October 12, 2009

Whether you go with paint, stain, or whatever, you won't want to put a water-based cover on an oil-based surface (or vice versa) if you want it to last. I'm not sure of an easy way to tell what you've got on the walls already. You might be able to paint a couple of small hidden patches, one with oil-base and one with water-base, and see which one rubs off easiest after they've dried.
posted by echo target at 8:05 AM on October 12, 2009

Response by poster: Ah, well, I did forget to mention that the idea with darkening the wood was to put a large, mural-size painting hung over the top of it to lighten the room. I agree dark is not usually what you want in a restaurant.
Thanks for the tips/advice, everyone.
posted by hulahulagirl at 1:10 PM on October 12, 2009

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