Wood Ceiling Refinishing

Billy McCarley

The problem with refinishing a wood ceiling is that when you sand the wood, you get a face full of wood dust and particles. The good news is that you can refinish your wood ceiling with minimal sanding and still end up with a high-quality result.

If you are planning to refinish your wood ceiling, you should know about the tools, materials and techniques required for a successful outcome.


Move all furniture out of the room and open as many windows as possible. Cover the entire floor with painter's plastic held in place with masking tape. It's best to work from a rolling scaffold; however, sawhorses and 2-by-10 boards can serve as scaffolding, too.

Finish Removal

Apply paint/finish stripper to the surface of the ceiling using a paintbrush. Work with your arms extended away from your face to prevent stripper from dripping into your face. You should wear goggles, a dust mask and rubber gloves to protect yourself from the stripper.

Once the ceiling has been coated with stripper, allow it to set for 30 minutes, then remove the finish residue with a putty knife. Scrape the surface of the ceiling well, and wipe away excess stripper and residue using a heavy-grit wool pad. The wool pad will help smooth the surface, too. Reapply the stripper if need be. If the natural wood surface is visible and no slick finish remains, you don't have to apply additional finish.

Sand the surface of the ceiling using 120-grit sanding screen. You can attach the screen to an orbital sander or hand sand using a sanding block. You won't need to do much sanding; the purpose of this step is just to smooth the surface.


Refinish the ceiling using gel stain and a cotton rag. Tape up all borders surrounding the ceiling with blue painter's tape to avoid getting stain on trim or surrounding walls. Wipe away any excess stain with a cotton rag and apply polyurethane finish, such as gloss, semigloss or satin, with a paintbrush or spray can.

As an alternative, apply milk paint or interior latex paint to the ceiling using a roller and trim brush.