Q: I have redwood paneling in my living room. It has never been finished, stained or coated, at least not in the last 40 years! It has some water stains, discoloration and minor scratches. This paneling is original to the house (1947) and is beautiful. Can I wash it? And then sand it? Or just sand? Should there be a finish on it? Thanks for your help.
A: Wow. We don’t know how the paneling is milled, but we can only imagine that if it was installed in 1947 and wasn’t removed as part of a “remuddle” at some point, it must be clear, all heart redwood. We respectfully refer to wood like this as “red gold” because it would take a king’s ransom to replace it nowadays. So, whatever you do to restore it, go slowly and be careful. This is how we’d approach the job.
First, don’t wash it. If, by an odd chance, there is grease of shoe marks near the baseboard try to remove it with a quick-evaporating solvent such as denatured alcohol or lacquer thinner. Don’t use paint thinner or mineral spirits. Make sure the room is ventilated.
Hand-sand the scratches, water stains and discolored areas as lightly as possible with 220-grit sandpaper in order to avoid removing almost 60 years of patina. For a better chance at a uniform look, try to blend the sanded areas into the unsanded areas.
If it were us, unless the scratches were offensive, we’d consider leaving them alone, thinking of them as character marks.
Use a tack rag to remove any dust. Finally, vacuum the paneling to remove any residue.
For a finish, we suggest either Tung oil or Danish finishing oil applied with a lint-free rag and rubbed into the wood. Both of these will provide a deep, rich color and enhance the grain of the redwood. Due to the age and dryness of the wood, it probably will take several coats to get a uniform finish.
A note of caution: While these oils will help protect the wood from future staining, they will also darken it. To get an idea of how dark, dab on a little water in an inconspicuous spot (near the floor in a corner) and see how you like it. This little water will not raise the grain but will approximate the color of the oil.