Refinish and Stain Wood Siding




About: I enjoy building things more than actually using them.

Update November 2012:  I have finished staining the house and have added the final pictures!

Last year I bought a house, my first house.  I had been looking at houses for over a year and finally found this small house in a nice neighborhood that is very close to my work.  Actually its so close I walk to work everyday, which is awesome.  Being a DIY kind of guy I was in the market for a fixer-upper, some thing I could leave my mark on.  Well I found exactly that in this house, a 94 year old foreclosure that I picked up for cheap from the bank that just wanted it gone.  The house was in sad shape but after two months of work it was ready to move in.  Flash forward to this summer, the house is in desperate need of a siding overhaul and I say "why pay some else to do what I could do myself"  You can decide if it was worth it or not after reading.  

The house, being nearing a century old, is surprisingly untouched as far as remodeling and upgrades go and still has the original ceder shake wood siding.  The shakes are roughly 2ft long and are lapped and nailed just like shingles would be.  The paint looks to be in pretty bad shape as you can see from the pictures.  So you can understand why the overhaul was needed.  I considered having it painted by someone else, or just taking it all down and having something else put up, vinyl siding possibly.  But that just didn't fit the character of the house.  I wanted to keep it original and found out my uncle had also owned a house in the same neighborhood that also had ceder siding.  He had a similar problem when he bought that house and actually had workers come in and sand blast the siding, which he then stained.  Driving past that house it looked great and I decided I would go the same route.  So I started figuring out how to get this done in a way that I could do it myself.

I'm going to explain how I refinished and stained my house but my methods are not the only option you have, if you find yourself in a similar situation.  I did it this way to get the results I was after.  I did have to spend a considerable amount of money but I think it is still cheaper than paying some one else to do the same work.  By posting this I hope that others will be able to see what it takes to do this type of job so they can either do it themselves or make the most informed decision they can about their house.  

Step 1: Refinishing Ceder Siding

In order to stain wood you need have a fresh and clean wood surface.  The loose paint chips on the siding of my house had to be removed completely but I felt I needed to go further in order to get the best results from the stain.  Sand blasting was an option but I questioned how much it would remove, maybe to much. There's also the issue of clean up and all the dust created by sand blasting.  I didn't think the neighbors would enjoy having the dust settle all over their houses.  My uncle said when he had this done at his house the workers set up scaffolding with plastic draped over the whole house, that's not what I wanted to do.  I started searching for paint removal tools.

Let me say first that in order to do this job on the scale of a whole house you will need a power tool.  Hand scrapers are needed to get the job done but they don't really work when scraping off layers of paint.  The first tool I found that showed some real promise was the Porter-Cable Paint Remover    This sounded like exactly what I needed but after reading a few reviews and considering the cost of replacement blades I decided to keep looking.  I then found the Metabo Paint Remover   Reading the reviews for this tool led me to the Paint Shaver Pro After reading the reviews for this tool and finding this Purdue Report  I decided to bite the bullet and get it.  I have not regretted this decision, even though is has a price of $800, it has preformed exactly as it is described and is purpose built to do the job of removing paint from lapped wood siding.  I would absolutely recommend this tool for anyone doing this type of work.  To prep the siding before using the paint shaver you must also set all the nails below the surface of the wood.  This requires a nail punch and hammer.  A scraper is also good to knock off large very loose paint chips before shaving.

While the Paint Shaver pro does a great job of removing all paint from wood, it is also very easy to gouge the wood and leave tooling marks.  These look like a series of half moons in the wood and need to be removed by sanding.  I knew I was going to be doing a lot of sanding so I looked for a powerful sander that would cover a large area.  I chose to get a Porter-Cable 6in Random Orbit sander  I also  got a large pack of 40 grit sanding discs for the sander.

Another extremely important thing to have when using both of these tools is some sort of dust collection system.  Both the paint shaver and the sander came with 10ft hoses to connect to a vacuum.  The paint shaver will produce a lot of wood /paint shavings and the sander will throw a lot of dust.  To handle this I got a Dust Deputy  I attached the DIY cyclone to a 5-gallon bucket, then attached that to a bucket vac.  This proved to be a great combination and you can see some of the pictures where I collected an entire bucket full of shavings and saw dust.  The Dust Deputy kept this out of the bucket vac and almost nothing but the finest dust makes it to the vacuum filter.  I was able to do about a 15ft by 5ft section of siding, both shaving and sanding, before the cyclone bucket would fill up.  At that point I would dump the bucket of shavings and also shake out the cloth filter on the vacuum.  

The other thing I had to consider was how to reach all the way to the top of my house, about 25ft up.  I also had to be able to cover large areas when high up on the wall because going up and down a ladder to only cover a couple feet at a time was not very efficient.  I got a great deal on two 20ft extension ladders and with those I decided to get a set of ladder jacks and an 8ft scaffolding plank.  I still needed get higher in order to get the peak of the wall so I also had to get a 28ft extension ladder.  I also borrowed a 8ft a-frame ladder then later bought a 6ft  A-frame ladder.  I used ladder stabilizers for both the 20 ladders as well.

I also had to power the tools and vacuum so I used a 50ft extension cord with three receptacles.  Personal safety is very important so I always wear a pair of safety glasses and ear muffs when running the tools.  The combination of the tools and vacuum was pretty loud and the paint shaver will throw chips right in your face if your not careful. 

So to recap here is everything I have used while refinishing the siding:

Paint Shaver Pro
6in Random Orbit Sander
Dust Deputy with a bucket vac
50ft extension cord
Two 20ft extension ladders and a 28ft extension ladder
Set of ladder stabilizers
Set of ladder jacks
8ft Scaffolding Plank
8ft and 6ft A-Frame Ladders
Nail Punch
Safety Glasses
Ear Muffs

With the exception of the ladders, which will depend on your house, you will need all of these items to do a job like this.

Step 2: Refinishing Tips and Tricks

So I've explained all the tools I used to refinish the ceder siding and now I'll explain the process I used to actually do it.  The general order of things I had to do went like this:
  1. Scrap off large and loose paint chips with a hand scraper
  2. Use the hammer and nail punch to set all of the nails below the surface of the wood.  Some nails will still get hit with the paint shaver pro but the tool is powerful enough to knock the head right off a nail and not even flinch.
  3. Connect the paint shaver pro to the vac and turn both tools on. PUT ON SAFETY GLASSES AND EAR MUFFS.  Run the shaver over the surface of the wood until all paint is removed.  Also run the top edge of the cutter on the shaver against the bottom edge of lapped boards to remove the paint from the edges. This can generally be done in one pass of the tool with the depth of cut set correctly.
  4. Attach the sander to the vac, turn both on and sand the wood to the desired smoothness.  Sand any gouges and tooling marks off.  I used a 40 grit sanding disc to do this and did not use any higher grit to get a better finish.  Sanding does produce some dust and most gets sucked into the vac but as you can tell from the picture of my arm, there is still a lot of dust.
  5. I had to go back over the spaces between the boards with the hand scraper to knock out the paint in those grooves.
I cannot stress enough the use of safety glasses when using the shaver.  It will send wood and paint chips and the heads of nails flying out at high speed.  Be very careful when using the shaver while below head level because debris is generally thrown out the top or open end of the cutter.  At times I really felt I should be wearing a full face shield.   

I also built a mount for the dust collection buckets so I could use a single ladder and not the ladder jacks and plank.  This worked very well for getting to the higher parts of the house.

Step 3: Staining Ceder Siding

Let me just start by saying I've never stained or painted a house before, so I'm learning as I go and am sharing what I've learned here.  I started by selecting the stain I wanted to use, which is Cabot solid color acrylic siding stain.  I choose to use this well before the start of the Cabot stain competition so I'm not trying to play favorites but this is good stain.  Many of the reviews I saw recommended this and it should last a very long time.  That is the reason I'm using Cabot stain.

In order to stain the largest area in the smallest time I knew a sprayer would be the way to go.  I got a Graco Magnum Project Painter Plus  This sprayer seems like a perfect fit for my project but I have never used a paint sprayer before and don't have anything to compare to.  I was able to spray the entire side of the house shown in the pictures in less than an hour, even with going up and down the multiply ladders and moving the ladders.  

The main mistake I think I made with this first side of the house was the order in which I stained.  I should have first done all the trim in the white color and then taped everything off really well and sprayed the blue.  By not doing this I created more problems and will have to go back and touch up many parts of this side of the house.

I'm still learning and any suggestions from someone with experience would be great.

Step 4: Refinishing and Staining Is a Lot of Work

I worked on this project for 6 months, after work and on weekends. I put in about 160 hours of work, that's a month of full time effort.  I primarily worked by myself on this and had a little help occasionally.  This was a major under taking but its one I'm proud of.  My hope is that if your in a similar situation with your house you will at least have all the information you need to make an informed decision about what you will do.   

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    18 Discussions


    Question 11 months ago on Step 1

    What color blue paint is this? Your post mentions a "Stain" is this paint over a stain? Is the paint considered a Stain?


    4 years ago

    Great job! I'm gonna be doing mine this summer, it's my first house. I wonder if you can rent that paint remover from Home Depot? 800 bucks is quite steep!


    4 years ago

    thanks...I'm about to start on mine. not add much but none the less... rewarding work to come soon


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Wow i just saw the finished house, it turned out awesome. I especially like the blue in combination with the red front door.

    Covert Koala

    6 years ago on Introduction

    Wow, just looking at the before and after photos. I think you just raised the property values of your neighborhood lol.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Great job!

    This is a ton of elbow grease but why cover natural wood with vinyl right? I know the neighbors appreciate the home being restored and love the look of a shingled exterior.

    I have a home with clear redwood and was going to cover it but upon scraping and repair I discovered the wood and it cannot be replaced so my thought it would be a sin to cover over it. I hand scraped, nail set and had much less to do than you as I just had gable ends and a bit of siding in back so all by hand. I am so glad I did.

    My original estimate of a one week job turned into 3 weeks.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Nice work. I paint proffesionaly, and I can tell you that you're doing it in the correct order. Body first, then trim.


    6 years ago on Step 4

    Can I say I love you? I have the same story, similar house, built in 1910, but mine is about a 28 minute drive from work.

    I had been debating what to do, I think I'll do this.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Great job !
    Myself having stripped an entire 33 ft boat hull and deck (all by hand though : didn't have anything resembling the "Paint Shaver" at that time and sanders do not do the job …) I know what it takes to do such huge surface !!!…
    I gladly vote for you, even twice if I could !…

    Interestingly enough, the Metabo machine is sold in France as a floor planer not as a varnish / paint remover… and I think it is much closer to what the tool really is as opposed to the demo I watched from the link you posted to Paint Shaver®.

    Your house is beautiful : I love those unpretentious popular late 19th early 20th century American houses.
    Wish you live well in it ! …

    1 reply
    Doug CostlowBrittLiv

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks, your rubix cube looked really nice too. I can't imagine trying to figure it out though, no colors just trying to line up the pictures would be tough


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Congratulations on such a beautiful home - what determination...


    Goodness golly! This is spectacular! Thank you for sharing your insight, and superb organization in writing this instructable! Can't wait to see the final pictures.

    Wow!! You did an amazing job!! I would love to see a pic of the before and after side by side - the finished result is incredible, you must be so happy with how it turned out! :)