Sunday 13 September 2009

Varnishing the Stairs

Varnishing the stairs looks like being a herculean task. There's a lot of surface area to two storey's worth of staircase when you take into account all the underside as well. We bought a product ages ago to do them with called Syntilor Vitrifacateur Parquet, in clear satin finish, which is a type of polyurethane.

Then we kept putting off the job because:
  • we couldn't manage a single block of time long enough to finish it.
  • we couldn't work out how to keep the dust off the drying varnish.
  • after we got it home, we realised that Syntilor products use a proprietary dilutant / solvent, not good old white spirit. We'd bought the tin of Syntilor at BricoDepot in Dissay, which is far enough away for us to be reluctant to go back just for one item. Nobody more local sold Syntilor.
  • we wanted to test the varnish on some samples of wood that the menuisiers had left us, in case we really didn't like the effect, but because we didn't have the solvent, were worried about ruining our brushes.
  • in the meantime, the staircase was being used and getting dirty. It would have to be cleaned before varnishing.
In the end, we opened the tin, poured some out and painted a test piece. The Syntilor turned out to be extremely easy to apply and gave us more or less the look we wanted. One of the reasons the lack of the correct solvent was a problem was because we had assumed we would get a better finish if we diluted the product, but this turned out not to be the case. Even though it clearly didn't need diluting, our 15 litre tin was going to go a lot further than we expected, which was a bonus. We soaked the brush in white spirit for 10 or 15 minutes. The brush cleaned OK, but the Syntilor and the white spirit reacted and caused the plastic container to crack. We figured that if we cleaned the brushes out immediately and put the waste liquid in an old metal paint tin it would be OK.

We decided to split the job up, so I cleaned the stairs from the ground floor to the first with the Starwax product I had been so happy with on the wooden floors. Once again, it did an excellent job. After giving it a few hours to dry, I applied the first coat of varnish just to the treads and risers, using a spalter (a very wide thin short bristled brush). The next morning I applied a second coat (no sanding between coats required). It dries quickly enough for falling particles not to be too much of a problem, with is a relief.

That's as far as we've got with it, but when we get round to varnishing the banisters, handrail and underneath, we'll give the steps a third coat. It's brought out the colour in the wood so it is rather red, but it goes fine with the tomettes, and I am glad we didn't stain it dark (which would be the traditional French approach).



Abbeysmum said...

The colour and finish on the stairs looks magnificent.
It is always so enervating to do something you have been procrastinating about for a while,(my whole house almost !)
Probably better to have waited any way the stair varnish will be drying quicker in the warmer weather.

chm said...

The stairs look great. Congrats!

The Beaver said...

That first coat looks great. I am waiting to see the final product with anticipation. It will be a lovely and you will be proud of yourself :-)

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