Tape pulled off finish around stairs

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Q: I am a stain and lacquer railing/cabinet finisher. I recently worked on a railing in a home that had the hardwood floors refinished almost a year prior. I noticed the work was sub-standard; the sanding was uneven, the stain wiping inconsistent.

In order for me to complete my job I have to mask the floors using high tack tape. I was told the top finish was Bona and I know it is not an issue masking to it.

After completing the railing and removing the masking it was noticed that there are two different ‘strips’ where the tape pulled the finish as well as some of the stain from the floor. Further inspection of the floor reveals a finish full of debris or dust like contaminants. Further inquiry into the products used reveals use of a stain that is not sold as flooring product. It is an oil/solvent base product with a specified dry/curing time.

The homeowners would like to hold me accountable. However, I have taped literally hundreds and hundreds of floors. A proper finish on a floor is never removed by tape.

It is impossible for me to use any stain, regardless of its viscosity, and put a finish coat of lacquer with an airless sprayer without protecting the surrounds.

The homeowners had their flooring finisher back in and he gave them a quote for an attempted repair, an entire re-coat, as well as re-sanding and refinishing.

This floor was improperly finished, with improper products. Had this been done correctly, we would not have this issue.

A: I’m not sure what stain was used but apparently it is not a semi transparent, penetrating stain to pull off the floor. A solvent stain would have to be 100% dry with all solvents evaporated to apply a water born finish such as Bona.

I absolutely agree with you the finish, if properly done will not pull off with tape. There has been much talk about this over the years, so clearly your issue is not the first time it’s happened. I did a test more than 8 years ago. I had several oak boards which I had stained and finished. Some had solvent/oil based polyurethane and some had water born. I applied several types of tape to the boards, pressing it down hard. Green painters tape, grey duck tape and even the black gorilla tape. I left the tape in place for a week before removing. Guess what? No issues. No issues because I thoroughly sanded and prepped the previous coat of finish before applying another. The Bona finish coats did not gain good adhesion. This particularly happens around the edges of rooms near the quarter round because some guys don’t like to get on their hands and knees and abrade the finish right up to the trim, so the finish coats are really just sitting there waiting for someone to put tape down in preparation for painting and they end up with what you have. No, this is not your fault. You were just the unfortunate person to expose the existing problem.

Similar Q: We moved into a new house and noticed the polyurethane peeling off our steps. They wiped the poly off with steel wool and reapplied. Now after about four months the touch up is peeling off, mostly where our small dog goes up and down the steps. What do we need to do so that the poly sticks to our hardwood steps?

A: You need to remove whatever finish is on the steps, down to clean, bare wood and start over. If this is a solvent or oil based coating, each coat needs to be gently but thoroughly buffed or sanded with fine sandpaper before another coat is applied. It is this scratching or sanding that allows for a mechanical bond of the finish.

Related Q: We delivered a customers household items. We used floor runners on the steps, and we used painters tape to hold the runner down for safety. When we pulled the tape up the urethane finish came up with the tape in some areas. The customer now wants us to refinish the stairs. We know the floors had been refinished, but we’re unsure how long ago. Is this our liability?

A: My opinion: Painters tape is meant to release within so many days without causing any damage. Regardless, the pulling off of the finish was not really caused by the tape. The real problem is the top coat of finish had not adhered to what was beneath it. This can be caused by contaminations between the final coat of finish and the one below. But more often the cause is improper or insufficient preparation of the previous coat of finish to ensure proper adhesion.

I’ve done tape pull tests on polyurethane finishes before using a number of different types of tape. I couldn’t get any of them to pull the polyurethane off the sample board I had prepared. If the finish had pulled off I would have considered that I failed in my preparation of the sample board.

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