Q. I'd like to paint paneled doors in my house, which are very darkly stained. The real estate agent said that I shouldn't paint, because painting paneled doors will make them shrink. Can I paint without harming them?
Betsy Morgan, Hopkinton, Mass.
A. Of course you can. Where that agent got that old wives' tale is quite beyond me. But it is an old wives' tale. Wood doors indoors will shrink, whether they are painted, stained, varnished, stained and varnished or left bare. The wood shrinks as it loses moisture and, conversely, expands when it gains moisture, and there is little you can do about that moisture. If you prime and paint those doors in winter, when they are at their driest and smallest, and prime and paint the edges - side, top and bottom edges - you may seal out moisture and keep the expanding and contracting to a minimum. No guarantees.
One thing about painting indoor doors, however, and this is what the agent might have had in mind when he/she warned you not to: After painting the doors, and they contract as they lose moisture, the panels will separate from the frame, breaking the paint film and revealing unpainted wood. The answer to that is to paint those unpainted areas when they appear.
So to paint the doors, apply a latex enamel undercoater and finish with two coats of a semigloss or eggshell finish latex paint. If the dark stain bleeds through the undercoater, reprime with an oil-based primer such as Kilz.
Q. I have a small round mirror stuck on top of the piano. I don't know how it was applied, but I'd like to get it off. But how, without ruining the piano finish?
A. Good question, because removing anything without wrecking the undersurface is very, very iffy. But careful work is worth a try. Heat will soften most glues; use a little heat on that mirror and see if it doesn't come off with light prying. And little heat is all you need; use a hair dryer on low; this will not hurt the surface. If this works, the problem remains: how to get the adhesive off, again without ruining the finish. Most solvents for the adhesive are likely to ruin the finish.
Try a little more heat and pushing off the adhesive with a wooden spatula or similar square-sided piece of wood. If the adhesive is latex based, Goof-Off, sold in hardware stores, might do it; Goof-Off is designed to remove latex paint from a surface without harming it.
If the heat gums up the adhesive without allowing its removal, then you will have to experiment to find a solvent that will soften or dissolve the adhesive without messing up the finish. That's a tall order, and because there are so many solvents out there, all you can do is try one at a time. Don't try lacquer thinner or acetone; both are likely to harm the finish.
Q. The common areas of my condo complex are painted concrete that has been waxed. We want to repaint, but were told that there is no product to remove wax from painted concrete. How can we repaint?
Claudia Davey, Stoneham, Mass.
A. Huh? No solvent for wax? The heck you say. Paint thinner will dissolve wax; so will wax stripper, used to remove wax from a linoleum or vinyl floor. So will a strong ammonia-and-water solution. It takes a lot of wetting and waiting for these solvents to work, but they will work. After removing the wax, sand the surface to roughen the old paint; then you can repaint.
Q. My deck installer says that it's OK to use pressure-treated wood for the floorboards. Is that OK? I would rather use cedar, but it is very expensive and does not come in 12-foot lengths. The builder said if shorter boards were used, the structure would be weaker. Would it be OK to use shorter lengths and butt them end to end to reach that 12-foot length?
Deborah Feldman, Jamaica Plain, Mass.
A. The handyman says huh? again! While 12-foot-long floorboards to cover the entire length of the deck would be desirable, there will be no reduction of strength if, say, two 6-foot lengths were used. The framework of the deck is what gives it strength; the floorboards add rigidity, and a bit of strength. Incidentally, the pressure-treated boards are OK to use.
And, instead of two 6-foot lengths for each board, with which you will end up with a seam down the middle of the deck, do this with the shorter cedar boards: Butt an 8-footer to a 4-footer (as long as the ends are nailed into a joist), and alternate these lengths as you go along. You will end up with an interesting pattern, and almost no reduction of strength.
Q. My daughter is redoing her kitchen, and wants to cover some horrible-looking laminated plastic on the backsplash and behind the stove. She was told that she cannot put wallpaper over the plastic. If not, what can she do to take the curse off that horrible color that makes the kitchen look unfinished?
Etta Trehub, Framingham, Mass.
A. You can paper over laminated plastic, but you must sand that plastic heavily to roughen it, so that the wallpaper paste will stick, and stay stuck. Paper on a backsplash is iffy because of the wear and tear it will take. Behind the stove can be done; there is basically no fire hazard there. If you do repaper, use a Wall-Tex type paper, which is vinyl-coated cloth and quite sturdy for that purpose. In both cases it is not an ideal solution but can work for a few years.