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Restore Old Windows and Doors: Revive the Finish

Updated: Jun. 03, 2019

Restore old windows with new stain and varnish

FH07MAR_FINWIN_01-2Family Handyman
It's easy to fix the finish on windows when it begins to flake and fade. Scraping, sanding and restaining will only take about one hour. And your natural finish will look like new.

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A full day
Less than $20

How to refinish wood windows

Photo 1: Match the old stain

Carefully remove the wood cover of the casement operator (or other piece of trim) and use it to match the stain.

Photo 2: Scrape off loose finish

Use a sharp scraper to remove old finish. Pull the scraper smoothly and carefully to avoid gouging the wood.

Photo 3: Sand worn finish

Sand side pieces heavily in worn-out areas and lightly elsewhere. Stop at edges or corners next to undamaged wood.

Photo 4: Apply stain and finish

Rub stain into the sanded sections of the window. Wipe off quickly, then apply more as needed to darken the color.

Wood windows with a natural finish on the inside look great when they're new, but moisture, temperature swings and harsh sunlight eventually make the varnish fade and flake away, especially along the bottom of the window sash and on the sill. It looks like an intimidating job, but usually the only part of the window that needs work is along the bottom—the rest of the sash and trim can just be lightly sanded and recoated.

The first step is to match the stain and finish. The easiest way to do this is to take a piece of the trim to a paint store to have it matched (Photo 1).

Scrape any worn varnish off (Photo 2), then sand with 120- or 150-grit sandpaper. In partially damaged areas, feather the sanding into the undamaged areas, then lightly sand the rest of the piece to prepare it for a new finish (Photo 3). You don't need to sand and recoat the entire window if only a few pieces need it—just stop at an edge or corner.

Stain the wood (Photo 4) and apply two coats of outdoor-grade finish. If the gloss doesn't match the older varnish, buff it lightly with extra-fine steel wool or pad to dull it.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Paint scraper
  • Pry bar

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • Sandpaper
  • Stain
  • Varnish