Staining Cypress Mouldings On Site

Advice on stain selection, wood filler choices, and more for finishing Cypress trimwork. December 28, 2006

I am a painter with a job which involves staining and finishing cypress crown moulding, chair rail and door casings. I have some basic experience with the oil stains and brushing on polyurethane. I have never sprayed poly except for small furniture (table, chairs). I am a bit concerned about potential runs from brushing. Specs call for 1 coat Minwax stain (Ipswich Pine) and 2 coats Minwax satin poly. Ceilings are 9' high and I will be working on a step ladder.

1) Should I use oil penetrating stain?
2) Should I use a pre-stain conditioner?
3) What would be best product for filling nail holes and at what stage would I apply it?
4) Should I spray (HVLP) poly or avoid masking hassles and brush it out?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor M:
Honestly I would not use an oil-based stain, for several reasons (all but one of which are the same reasons I don't use oil-based stains on *anything*). Get yourself a good alkyd-resin stain or even a waterbase if you can find waterbase in the color you want. ML Campbell sells a great alkyd-resin stain line (Woodsong II wiping stains) that are tinted specifically to match many Minwax colors. This may be a huge help to you in color choice. Aside from that, a good tint specialist can match the Minwax color for you.

1) Horrifically slow curing time for oil based with, in my opinion, absolutely no benefit over alkyd-resin (AR stain). AR stains dry in 30 minutes vs. the hours for oil based.

2) Compatibility. You can use alkyd-resin stains under pretty much any solvent system. I've used waterbased under lacquer, brush-on poly, and waterbased Polycrylic. Oil-based can cause trouble with lacquers and waterborne clears if you don't let it cure for four score and seven.

3) Hassle. I can't imagine myself using an oil based, on a ladder, dripping a very slow-curing sticky stain all over myself (you know good and well it will happen...).

My recommendation is to use the alkyd-resin stain (see if MLC carries the Ipswitch Pine in their Minwax line). Use a spray gun to apply it to an arm's-reach of moulding, and wipe it off. Stain overspray on surrounding drywall/ceiling shouldn't cause a problem any more than oil-based.

I would also use a faster-curing finish than polyurethane. However, being on-site, this rules out solvent based lacquers. I'll defer to those experienced in waterborne finishes to suggest a fast drying stain/fast drying finish for you.

In any event, I fill my nail holes with Famowood putty (natural or ash color should do you good on the cypress since you are staining it). I put the putty in just before my last sanding step on the wood (usually 120 or 150 grit). You can spray anything over Famowood. Plus it's cheap, thins with lacquer thinner (or acetone or MEK, whatever is available/cheap).

From contrbutor M:
Sorry if my post was a bit vague on the difference in alkyd-resin and waterbased stains. Alkyd-resin is basically based on a faster curing varnish binder (the alkyd-resin) and Naptha, which dries quickly. The waterbase is just water-based with some sort of waterbased binder. Both cure quickly and look good. Waterbased is harder to find in a variety of colors and has the one advantage of usability under waterborne finishes. I don't know if alkyd-resin can be used under waterborne finishes.

From contributor W:
I'm like contributor M on the M.L. Campbell stain to match Minwax's colors. Use that. Brush or spray on and wipe off. I think I would pre-condition so you will get even staining throughout. I would pre-condition with clear base stain in the same type of stain that you would be using. After the stain dries, you can spray a water base topcoat/sealer over that. If you are good with airless and have one, use a fine finishing tip and spray with that. Of course, do samples and practice first on scrap wood. One good water base product is Target. Or if you have a turbine sprayer, that would work. As contributor M said, I wouldn't even try to spray oil base poly u.

From contributor C:
Just finished up a big job with t&g cypress beaded ceilings and crown, coincidently with Ipswich pine stain. Brushed on one even coat with a rag handy to even out and eliminate drips. Rag works best after it is a little damp with stain; removes too much if dry. After stain dries for a few hours or the next day, we brushed on satin polyurethane, one coat. This is all done before install. After install, touch up cuts and wax stick all visible brad holes and do a second coat of satin poly. We Scotchbrite the first coat before install to denib the finish. It looks beautiful and consistent with two coats and only one needed to be done from a ladder. The large beaded ceiling was second coated with a pad on a pole handle and goes on very fast and even.

From the original questioner:
I'd like to thank everyone for their replies. I experimented today with spraying the stain and satin poly. The poly coating seems too light, but I did not want runs. I had decided to spray the job (using the oil stain and satin poly as specified in contract) until I read contributor C's reply. Tomorrow I will brush out a scrap piece and then decide. I also used Famowood (Natural) to fill nail holes on scrap piece. It is close, but the holes are still obvious. I do not know where to get wax sticks - will experiment with oil putty.

Contributor C, did you use a pre-stain conditioner? My scraps are too small to determine if I will get blotches without the pre-conditioner. Also, where do you get your wax sticks, and what brand?

From contributor C:
I don't get much splotching with cypress. I actually like the way it takes mineral spirit based stains. No, I don't use a conditioner. When I do, I use a rag dampened with mineral spirits. I use a soft wax kit nowadays, although the wax filler pencils from Minwax work fine. In cold weather you need to keep them in your pocket for warmth or soften slightly with a lighter, rub into the hole, then skim off the excess with a small wood wedge (sometimes a rag will leave a visible smudge if used to remove the excess).

From contributor M:
We get our grease sticks from the Wurth Group, a product made by Touch-Up Solutions. Just dump the cash and get one of every color - they are very handy to have. Be careful not to get the edging sticks (which are rectangular sticks, not round sticks). They are actually good products but are much harder of a wax and are used to recolor corners you accidentally sanded the stain off of - not good for nail holes.

From contributor B:
I work a lot with cypress, and prefer color putty just before the last coat for filling nail holes. I'll mix two or three slightly different colors so I can make the holes disappear. Cypress can vary a lot in color in just a few inches between holes, and having a choice of filler really helps hide the holes. I hate poly, and have successfully sprayed lacquer on site on many occasions. Sounds like you've gotten good advice about stains.

From contributor W:
You can add some lacquer thinner to the stain to make it dry faster. When I first started, I used to use Minwax thinned 50% with lacquer thinner. Just be careful, because it is a lot more flammable.