Strip, Sand, Stain

The past few weekends have been spent tackling another home improvement project, this time stripping, sanding and re-staining our living room fireplace mantle.

When we first moved into our house the natural brick fireplace was dark and dingy and the wood mantle was scratched and stained with watermark rings. While we definitely like exposed brick fireplaces in many other homes, it sucked a lot of light out of our very small living room, and just didn’t work for the light and airy aesthetic we desired.

Shortly after moving in, I painted the entire fireplace with a bright white semi-gloss latex paint. However, after living in the house for over a year, Nick and I realized that the all-white mantle, topped off with a white mirror, was just too blah. I originally thought painting the mirror a brighter or bolder color might do the trick, but after several failed attempts we realized the fireplace was the problem and the mirror was repainted white.

After debating our options, I decided that removing the white paint from the mantle and re-staining the wood to match the hardwood floors would help break up the monochromatic look. Nick was fully on board with the project!

We started out by liberally coating small sections of the mantle with Citristrip Stripping Gel, a product highly recommended by DIY bloggers because it works well, has a nice citrus smell that is far less harsh than other strippers, and sticks to vertical surfaces since it’s a thick gel. After lots of scraping, and repeating the stripping process many more times, we finally had a mostly paint-free surface!

Our next step was to sand the mantle using our orbital sander and medium 100-grit sandpaper to remove the old stain and water marks. Unfortunately, we had to hand sand most of the underside of the mantle because of the curved angles.

Once all of the leftover paint and stain was removed we lightly sanded the wood with a higher 150-grit sandpaper to smooth any rough spots and then thoroughly vacuumed the mantle and wiped everything down with paint thinner.

Next we applied a thin coat of Minwax wood stain in Golden Pecan. After the first application, we realized a recoat would make it a bit more reddish than our floors, so we may our way back to the hardware store for another can of stain, this time in Golden Oak. A few hours later we did a second coat with the new stain color, and thankfully the end result was very close to the color of our hardwood floors!

After all that hard work we finally took a break and sat down to watch the paint stain dry…

We waited a full 12-hours for the stain to dry and then finished off the mantle with several clear top coats of water-based polyurethane (with a light sanding in between with very fine grit sandpaper) for a nice, glossy finish.

While stripping and sanding the mantle was more difficult than I’d anticipated, and the whole project took much longer than expected (two weekends of work!), the end result was well worth it!


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