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How to Restore an Oak Beam: Get Your Beams Beaming

Sep 2014

Listen up, all you oak lovers! We all know there’s nothing nicer than a quality piece of timber but we also know the sinking feeling when you see your beams, benches and other assorted timber features looking a little worse for wear.

There’s some good news, though. Most of the time this decline in decorative charm is due to breakdown of the original finish and a build-up of patina, dust and general grime on the surface of the timber.

All they need to get back to their original glory is a bit of elbow grease and the bits and pieces listed below.

What you’ll need.


Belt/Orbital sander

Oil or wax stain

Lacquer (optional)

Safety kit


Step One – Sanding

Start by getting rid of the old finish. Whether there’s a top coat or just a wax finish, the process is the same. Get your belt sander and work parallel to the grain until the faded outer colour has gone and you’re left with the bright amber underneath.

A belt sander will cut through the top layer pretty quickly but they are a bit cumbersome. If you’re tight for space, consider picking up an orbital sander instead.

Now, depending on whether you’re a perfectionist or not, you may be done. A big mechanical sander isn’t going to leave the smoothest of finishes so if your beam is highly exposed, or if you want everything absolutely perfect, sand the beam by hand with a fine or very fine sandpaper to smooth out the imperfections.

Once all the coarse scratches are worked out and you’re down to a nice smooth finish, you’re ready to move on.


Step Two – Stain

Most oak beams are finished with an oil stain. These oils are absorbed into the beam and work to protect the timber from the inside out. They also work to replace the natural oils found in oak and keep the timber nice and supple.

Spray the oil onto the beam with an air-powered sprayer or, if you don’t have a fancy sprayer, wipe it on with a cloth or sponge. Try and get a good even coverage and then leave it to dry for five or so minutes.

When the oil has been soaked up wipe the excess off with a clean rag. If you want a darker finish, just repeat the staining process. Remember to let each coat sink into the timber before you wipe it off, though.

If you’re happy with the look of your beam, you’re done. Go get a drink and then admire your handiwork. If you’d prefer a glossy finish, we better move on to the next step.


Step Three – Top Coat

Back in the day, beams would be finished with either varnish or shellac. Both products were okay (ish) but times have moved on and lacquer is now the undisputed top coat king. It dries faster, it’s easier to apply, it’s more reliable, more affordable and it’s available in a range of shininess.

Before you get started, leave the oil stain to dry for at least 72 hours.

Pick out a lacquer and get your spray gun, overalls and respirator. Yes, I know, most people don’t have spray guns and safety kit just knocking about but you can hire it for a few days for not much at all.

Fill the spray gun and apply a thin coat to the beam. Work with steady strokes parallel to the grain and keep moving the gun to prevent drips. Once that layer is dry, sand the beam one last time with a fine or very fine sand paper.

Once you’ve sanded it, spray on one or two more coats and leave it them to dry.


And that’s it. You’re done. Go have a sit down and admire your handiwork.

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