About Paint & Varnish Removal

The Procedure

  1. For best results work in warm weather. A good working temperature range is from 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. As mentioned earlier, try to work in the shade even if it means moving the work as the sun moves.
  2. Remove as much hardware as possible from the piece. Use masking tape to cover any hardware that can't be removed. You may even want to polish handles, rings or other ornamental hardware while you're waiting for the remover to do its work.
  3. Wear chemical-resistant gloves and safety goggles to avoid contact with the skin and eyes. Chemicals in paint removers can be painful and irritating if splashed into the eyes or onto the skin.
  4. When you're ready to use the paint remover, STOP! Read the entire label before opening the container. Cover the container with a cloth and shake then open the cap slowly to allow for the gradual release of pressure buildup.
  5. Carefully pour the remover into one of the metal cans you have collected. Replace the container cap tightly each time you pour some remover. Store the container in a cool place when not in use. Dip your brush into the metal can and bring out a generous portion of remover.
  6. Don't apply the remover as you would paint. In fact, don't "brush" on the remover in the usual sense; rather "lay" it on in much the same way as you would icing on a cake. Working in one direction, preferably on a flat surface, apply the remover to an area of about two square feet at a time. If you are working on a vertical surface, such as a table leg, start at the top and work down.
  7. You will have to wait while the remover is working. The time required for the stripper to remove the old finish varies among products. In general, removal time is from 15 to 20 minutes. The more layers of paint the longer the stripping time. More durable finishes such as polyurethane also require longer working times.
  8. While the remover is working, bide your time. Get some fresh air, away from the worksite, to reduce your exposure to the paint removing chemicals.
  9. When the remover has done its work, it's time to remove the resulting sludge. A gentle scraping with a dull putty knife will take the residue right off. Scrape away from you and go with the grain to minimize the effect of any scratches made by the blade. On carved or grooved surfaces, a toothpick, coarse twine or old toothbrush can greatly aid the removal process. Wipe off your tools frequently on newspaper.
  10. The first section or two will be a trial-and-error process until you determine how many coats of paint you are trying to remove. The object is to remove all the old finish from one section at a time. On very old furniture with many coats of paint, several soak-and-scrape operations may be required. Wait the full time for each layer you add, and be equally generous with each successive coat. As you are probably beginning to realize, stripping isn't hard at all, but it does take patience.
  11. As you remove the paint, wrap the residue in plenty of newspaper and place outdoors, in the open air, so the liquid will evaporate completely before sealing all materials in one of the clean metal containers for disposal (more on this later). After removing the bulk of the sludge from the piece, use the old rags or burlap to wipe away any remaining residue with Deglosser, mineral spirits or by the water wash method. Place used rags outdoors as well.
  12. All traces of the stripper must be removed for the new finish to adhere properly. This is especially true for open-grained woods like walnut, oak or mahogany. Allow the piece to dry overnight before continuing with the refinishing.

Next: Cleanup & Disposal