Refinish or Paint? The Pros and Cons of Woodwork Finishes

Do you have natural or stained woodwork?  Is it looking dull, scuffed and in need of something to make it look good?

If it is, you’re probably asking yourself  “Should I refresh the stain, strip the woodwork or put on a coat of paint?

The answer is it depends.

Maybe you’re looking at your trim and thinking that it’s dated.   Fashions in interior design choices change.  Your first consideration should be the look you want.   If you want to completely change the color of your woodwork – say from walnut stain to white  – then painted woodwork may be the simplest, easiest way to accomplish that.

But if you really love natural wood trim – it’s just that your trim is a bit worn and drab – then you may want to consider reviving that natural wood look.  Many of the people I talk with who call for estimates on painting or refinishing trim just want a color change.

Usually there are a couple of options they’re considering:

  • Painted white trim
  • Darker stained trim
  • Stripping the trim to go lighter in color
  • Painting the trim to match the wall color


Is there one best choice?  Not really.   And while I love paint and what it can do to make your home’s interior a very special, personal space where you can relax and recharge, I also know that any paint will lose durability over time.  Paint also chips no matter how careful you are. (Trust me on this… my brothers and I chipped a lot of paint in my parent’s home while we were growing up.)

It’s labor intensive to paint woodwork and it can be expensive because you have the cost of primer, paint and, if you’re hiring it done, labor. In a room that takes eight hours to paint, we usually find that it can take up to twice that amount of time – usually 12 to 16 hours to prime and paint the trim.


But what about reviving your trim yet keeping the natural wood look. You’re probably thinking “Isn’t that labor intensive?”  And you may be wondering “How do I do that – it’s all been covered with polyurethane?”

Reviving trim is much simpler than you would think.  There are some great new products on the market that you can just wipe over your trim to revive it.   It does take proper advance preparation – taping off walls and window panes and putting down proper floor protection, but it’s not at all labor intensive like the old shellacs and varnishes. The product I particularly like is Restor-A-Finish.

Here are some options to consider when you’re making the decision whether to keep your trim stained or paint it.
1.      Refreshing the trim color you have now.  Over time stain, like everything else, fades.   You might fall in love with your trim again if you revived the color to the one you originally chose.

2.      Staining your trim a darker color.   Yes, this takes work but it’s not as labor intensive as painting trim.

3.      Stripping your trim and starting with a new, lighter color – maybe a pickling stain or one with a slight tint.  This is a more labor intensive project, but if you really want a change yet want to keep the warmth of wood in your home this may be the best option.

In the end your decision should be based on what will make you happy and your home lovely.  Do you prefer the look of wood – stained or natural – or are you a big fan of painted trim?