Can you paint over wood stained a dark color?

By Gene Austin
Friday, February 4, 2011; 10:29 AM

Q. Is it possible to paint over wood stained a dark walnut color? There is so much of it in our house - cabinets, trim and so forth. I don't want to have to sand them. -L. Rich

A. There is no need to sand unless there are rough areas that you should smooth. You should also fill nail holes and dents, using a vinyl spackling compound, and sand the patches. Use 150-grit sandpaper for all sanding. You can buy all the supplies you need at a home center or hardware store.

It will be easier to paint the cabinets if you first remove the doors and hardware (hinges and latches). Number each door by sticking a small piece of masking tape to the back side, and lay the doors on a flat surface to be primed and painted.

Applying a coat of the correct primer is very important; it will keep the dark stain from bleeding through the finish paint and also make it possible to give the wood a light tone with a minimum number of coats of paint. You want to use a stain-killer primer such as Bulls-Eye 1-2-3 or Kilz. If you have the primer tinted to something close to the finish color, you can probably get by with one coat of finish paint.

For the finish, choose an enamel, not a paint meant for walls or siding. A high-quality paintbrush also will help improve the results. Before applying primer or paint, remove dust from the surface with a vacuum or dusting cloth. Prime all the surfaces first, and let the primer dry thoroughly, then brush on the finish. If one coat of finish doesn't give good results, let it dry well and apply a second coat, which is almost certain to give you the smooth light tone you want.

Q. I have a number of wood thermal windows that have vinyl cladding on the outside. The cladding has come loose at the bottom of some of the windows, just under the glass. I worry about moisture getting under the vinyl and damaging the wood. The windows are rather old, and the warranty won't help. Can I fix this? -Dave

A. The important thing, as you have concluded, is to keep moisture from getting into the wood and causing rot. The cladding is more a liability than a help if it lets moisture seep in, because it will retard evaporation and make rot even more likely. If just the edge of the cladding is loose, you should be able to seal it with caulking compound. Do the job after a dry, sunny spell, when the wood should be dry. If the wood under the loose cladding appears wet, the best bet is to have an experienced window installer remove the old cladding, let the wood dry out and apply new cladding.

If you decide to go ahead with caulk, use a high-quality acrylic-latex caulk and keep some clean water and clean rags handy to wipe any wayward caulk off the glass. I prefer silicone caulk for situations where waterproofing is important, but a solvent would be needed to remove any that gets on the glass. Use your finger to smooth the caulk, and make sure you close all the cracks.


A recent item in this column advised a reader who complained about heater noise to remove and replace a louvered door leading from a small room containing her home's central heater and provide an outside air source for combustion air. Outside air can be provided by a duct or tube running from the outside to the vicinity of the burner - the method recommended in the recent column.

Louvered doors are sometimes installed to supply combustion air from inside the building, and they should not be removed and replaced with solid doors unless an alternate source of combustion air is supplied, as specified in the column.

Some building codes require that outside air must be used for combustion air to supply flame-type devices in confined spaces. In addition, a qualified heating technician should be consulted to make sure a changeover to outside air meets local building codes. Finally, owners of flame-type devices should make sure they are properly vented to the outside, and any building with flame-type devices should be equipped with working carbon-monoxide detectors.

Questions and comments should be e-mailed to Gene Austin at Send regular mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company