Q: We currently have painted woodwork in our home. I would like to strip off the paint and stain the woodwork. What is the best way to do that?
A: Stripping woodwork is time-consuming and labor-intensive, so be sure the wood is worth the trouble. Verify first whether you have paint-grade moldings (intended to be covered with paint) or stain-grade by removing paint from an inconspicuous area. Contact a professional if there is any question about whether the paint is lead-based. If the woodwork is paint-grade, you'll discover imperfections that only look worse if you stain them.
If you decide to go ahead with the project, there are two ways to strip the paint: using chemical strippers or heat. Chemical strippers are generally easier. (Heat guns can scorch the surface of the wood.) Avoid products containing methyl chloride, as they contain toxic fumes.
Once you have stripped the wood, lightly sand the surface with the grain using 150-grit sandpaper. Next, wipe the wood down with a cloth, and apply a high-quality stain. Most woods are best presealed prior to staining to keep the color uniform. Finish with a product of your choice or use two to three coats of polyurethane, sanded lightly between each application.