Q. I bought a handsome bookcase made of white pine. It is well made but the wood is pale and unfinished. I’d like to make it resemble cherry wood to match some of my other furniture. Is that possible?
A. You can stain the pine to look like cherry, but you need to do some preliminary work to get good results. White pine is one of the least expensive and easily worked woods, but can be beautiful if finished properly.
Do all the finishing outdoors if possible; you’ll create some dust and the materials have strong odors. Wear rubber or plastic gloves and eye protection when using solvents. Read the directions for all materials, of course. First, you want the wood to be very smooth.
If it is not well-sanded, go over the entire surface with sandpaper until it feels like satin to the fingertips. You can start with 100-grit sandpaper, on a hand-sanding block or a powered finished sander, then go to 150 grit. Pay special attention to any visible end grain (ends of boards). End grain should be perfectly smooth.
When you are satisfied with the smoothness, coat the entire surface with a pre-stain conditioner such as Minwax makes. The conditioner is simply a thin sealer that helps the stain to penetrate evenly.
Next, use either an oil-based, liquid wiping stain or a gel stain to give the wood a cherry color. In either case, you need a supply of soft, clean rags.
I like liquid stains, which go on quickly and easily and penetrate well to bring out the wood grain, but some wood finishers prefer gels. If you use a liquid, stir it and pour some in a pan for easy access. Complete one small section of the piece before moving to another. Moisten a clean rag with stain and wipe it on the wood, let it penetrate, and wipe off excess before it dries. If you get splotches or uneven areas, wipe them smooth with another rag moistened with wood conditioner or mineral spirits.
Staining will color the wood, but probably won’t give you as much gloss as you want. You should also apply a topcoat to protect the piece.
A very easy choice to add gloss is a wiping varnish, which is simply wiped on after the stain dries thoroughly. Wiping varnish usually takes at least three coats to give good protection.
There are other choices, such as brushed-on polyurethane. Another favorite of mine is Deft, a brushing lacquer that is easy to apply and dries quickly. Sand lightly between coats of the final finish, using extra-fine sandpaper (220 grit or finer). Before applying a new coat, wipe off sanding dust with a sticky tack rag, sold at paint stores, or use a vacuum cleaner.
Q. It’s time to clean my rain gutters again, a job I hate. I have tried screens and other ways to keep out leaves, but they didn’t work well on my steep roof. How can I avoid climbing a ladder to clean the gutters? Do any of the clean-from-the-ground tools work well?
A. You can get a look at some of the gutter-cleaning tools by searching the Internet with the words Devices to Clean Rain Gutters.
There are mechanical claws that work from the end of a pole, hooked water-hose nozzles, hooked vacuum-cleaner nozzles, and others. I once read a review (not very positive) about a device that is placed in the gutter and kicks out leaves as it crawls through. I’ve tried a couple of these devices, since I share your aversion to hand-cleaning from a ladder, but was disappointed. Some of the devices don’t seem to be very practical.
Based on my experience, I can’t imagine standing on the ground and trying to manipulate a 20-foot-long wand with a hooked vacuum-cleaner nozzle on the end, or grab leaves in a couple of claws at the end of a pole. Keep in mind that the leaves in the gutter are invisible from the ground, so you can’t be sure how effectively you are cleaning.
Hand cleaning from a ladder is certainly dangerous for inexperienced homeowners, especially with two-story house. If you are in doubt about your ladder skills, my advice is to hire a contractor to clean the gutters or investigate some of the gutter covers that might keep out leaves and debris.
I agree that steep roofs can cause special problems with screens and covers. I also have a steep roof, and have tried several types of screens on the gutters. In heavy rains, the water came down the slope so fast it simply ran over the screens instead of going into the gutters. Solid gutter covers are sometimes expensive, and you could pay for contractor leaf removal for years with the money you’d have to invest for covers.