Stripping Wooden Furniture

Inspired by the almighty task of stripping and refinishing 87 pub chairs it occurred to me that it might be a good topic for a blog so here it is step by step with pictures – not as many as there could have been due to the annoyance of having to keep taking my gloves off to snap a picture!

At this point you may be considering sanding down your piece of furniture, but this is very labour intensive if you have a thick old finish to remove paint/varnish etc. This post is about chemically removing the existing finish.

Ok, so as a business we use an industrial strength chemical stripper which is dichloromethane (dcm) based, you shouldn’t be able to get hold of a dcm based stripper if you are not in the appropriate industry. I know for a fact that there are people selling dcm products on ebay but let me just say this stuff is pretty grim to come into contact with (there is a reason that the EU banned it’s general sale) so I would recommend you go with a product like Rustins Strypit (which i have found to be pretty effective) which isn’t going to melt your skin! Nitromors is another product which some people rave about but it is also pretty pricey considering the effective ingredient has now been removed. Whatever product you use you should protect yourself by working in a well ventilated area (outside is best), cover your arms, wear tough non melty gloves and a mask. The stripper is designed to blister the surface away from the wood, it can do the same to your lungs and skin, consider yourself warned!

Depending on your piece of furniture break it down into areas, on a chair i like to start with the larger areas before moving on to the fiddly  bits. Put a generous layer of stripper on the area you wish to strip (dab it rather than brush it on) and leave. Now if you are anything like me then the leaving bit is the hardest but its important to leave it alone as it forms a skin which slows the drying process aka don’t poke it!

Once its started to bubble test a small area with a paint scraper (either use a blunt one or be careful not to gouge wood!) Depending on the finish you are removing you may have to use quite a lot of stripper and a lot of elbow grease.

Remove stubborn patches with coarse wire wool soaked in stripper.

For fiddly bits I use the scraper where i can and then move on to the coarse wire wool, the old finish will clog the wire wool so keep a supply of fresh bits. The cheap wire scourers work well as you can shake out the gooey bits of old finish. Continue until your piece is stripped all over.

You will have some stripper residue left after you have removed the old finish, depending on the stripper you have chosen it will either be water washable or spirit washable. Where possible use a spirit washable stripper (meths) to wipe over the piece, I tend to wire wool with meths after stripping and then wipe over with white spirit to remove any last traces of grime. If you use a water washable stripper be aware that the water will raise the grain of the wood and will then require sanding!

Hey presto… you are ready to apply your new finish         

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