Restoring Natural Beauty to Wood Furniture

While stripping is pleasurable in some venues, in the home workshop, it is seldom so. In fact, if you can do it outside, so much the better. Stripping wood furniture, removing old paint and varnish, is a tedious and messy job, but one that produces dramatic results. There is nothing like finding a great old dresser at a yard sale, removing its decades old paint job and discovering a real beauty beneath. Manufacturers love strippers too, and stripping products are the darlings of their lines - each year do-it-yourselfers will find several new products on the market with claims of "ease" and "fast-working," and some products do perform better than others. The following text discusses various types of paint and varnish removers to make your stripping experience a positive one.

First of all, whatever type of paint and varnish remover you choose, your project is bound to be messy. Be sure to work on a large plastic drop cloth and give yourself (and your brush) plenty of room to spread out. More importantly, beware of fumes. If possible, work outside. If weather won’t cooperate and you need to work inside, open windows and doors, run a fan or two to incorporate a flow of fresh air, and wear the appropriate garb: safety glasses, apron, neoprene gloves and long sleeves. If you have asthma or a breathing problem, obtain a charcoal filter respirator.

When deciding on whether or not to strip a piece of furniture, chances are, even if you plan to repaint, the stripped wood will make for a better surface and ultimately a more appealing piece of furniture. As paint accumulates, it looks exactly like, well, accumulated paint, making for a thick, inelegant finish. Stripping is a great weekend project that will pay off with the restored beauty of your furniture, be it a chair, hutch, old toy box or front door.

Semi-paste paint and varnish remover combines methylene chloride with wax for a stripper with slow evaporation traits. Consequently, it will take less stripper than other products to accomplish the job. The wax must be entirely removed, however, with lacquer thinner or mineral spirits. Rinse the stripper once the paint or varnish begins to soften. This type of stripper usually makes for quicker stripping than other types.

Liquid paint and varnish removers can be thin and runny - extra messy. They are ideal for pieces that don’t require a slow acting solvent. Because running is an issue, consider it for horizontal projects like doors set up on horses. Rinse with lacquer thinner or denatured alcohol for a cleaner finish.

Water-wash paint and varnish removers are advertised to work like semi-paste strippers, but the jury is still out as to whether to use them or something else. They claim they may be rinsed with water, but as water can loosen veneer and glued joints, it's not an ideal choice for many projects.

No rinse paint and varnish removers are marketed to tell you that stripping can be easy and hassle-free - it just isn’t. It just isn’t good sense to leave your stripping product atop your wood and apply your finish - you never know if it will interfere, and giving a piece a rinse is no trouble after all the pains you took to strip the piece initially. Shortcuts seldom pay off with stripping.

For removing shellac and lacquer finishes, consider using a solvent refinisher - they will simply dissolve the old finish with great results. Modern varnishes and paints cannot be removed with such solvents.

Non-methylene chloride strippers are available today, and citrus strippers are a safe way to strip. Many do-it-yourselfers are still reluctant to use these citrus-based products. Many are available to help with the clean-up process as well. While I generally prefer to provide objective information for consumers, I have personal experience using a citrus stripper to strip an antique pie safe, and it worked beautifully.

Once you have completed the stripping process, look over the wood. If the tone appears uneven, you may need to purchase some wood bleach and use it on the furniture to restore its balance. Also, you must clean the stripper and its residue off the furniture or your finish will turn out blotchy. Give it a rinse with water even if you plan to sand.

If you see a lot of stripping in your furniture's future, experiment with a few types. The more you strip, the easier it will become and the less it will seem like a hassle. Stripping will truly restore your favorite pieces back to their former glory.

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