By using one of the relatively simple methods
of stripping wood, you can often transform an old piece of junk furniture, repainted or varnished, into an attractive
and useful item in the home.
Painted pine chest, c.1880
Second-hand furniture and junk which sell everything from washing machines and cookers to dilapidated armchairs and lounge suites, often have a range of painted or varnished wooden furniture in wildly varying condition.
Here, the discerning buyer can frequently pick up some interesting
pieces, such as an attractive pine sideboard or cupboard, usually covered with dirty, scuffed paint or an ugly dark varnish. Yet, if the piece is solid construction and in a style
you like, it can be successfully restored by stripping the wood and renewing the surfaces to provide a useful and stylish item in your home.
WHY STRIP WOOD?
You cannot successfully smarten up a by repainting it or revarnishing
without first removing old finishes. If new paint is applied over old, for example, and the surface becomes chipped, the original colour will show through.
Similarly, if you want to lighten the colour of the wood by
bleaching it or staining it to a darker colour, the finish must be removed first because bleach or stain will only work on bare wood.
Old finishes can be removed by blowtorch, hot-air stripper, alkaline paste or powdered removers or solvent paint removers (liquid or gel type).
Items can also be sent to firms that remove the surface by immersion
in a hot caustic soda bath - a drastic treatment but one that is worth considering for large pieces since it is labour-saving and not too expensive.
METHODS OF STRIPPING
Blowtorches are cheap and fairly easy to use. They can, however, cause the finish to give off unpleasant fumes and great
care must be taken to prevent scorching the wood. Fire is also a hazard.
Blowtorches are only really suitable for
removing finishes on furniture that is to be painted; if the furniture is to be
given a clear finish, char marks (some of which are unavoidable) will show through.
These are much safer than blowtorches, but
using them on large surfaces can be tedious. Charring can occur if the tool is
left on one spot for too long and there is a slight danger of fire on oil-painted surfaces.
Do not use hot-air strippers on lead-based
paints, as lead particles blown into the air can be dangerous if inhaled.
POWDER AND PASTE STRIPPERS
Although these are suitable for removing
varnish as well as oil-based paints, they cause many woods to darken or
discolour, so they should be avoided if you intend to apply a clear finish.
They are comparatively slow-acting, but
the fact that they clean out awkward or intricate areas on furniture very
efficiently is a strong point in their favour.
SOLVENT PAINT REMOVERS
When you intend to apply a clear finish,
old surfaces should be removed with solvent paint remover, available either
with a spirit or water-soluble base.
Make sure the piece is stripped in a very
well-ventilated room or in the open air. Stand the article on a polythene sheet
to avoid damage to floor coverings and wear rubber gloves to protect your
• If, when the wood is bare, there is a stain
or the colour seems too dark, you can bleach it with commercial wood bleaches -
but be careful when using bleach since it is strong and often poisonous.
• Stripping (and bleaching) will usually raise the grain of the wood
slightly, so a light sanding is often necessary. Use a hand-sized sanding block
covered with medium-fine abrasive paper, and then a finer grade. Always sand in
the direction of the grain, never across it or in circles. (Not all woods are
suitable for this kind of treatment, because thin veneers can easily be damaged
and many timbers, such as mahogany, acquire a beautiful deep colour on ageing
that would be removed by abrasion.) Once sanding is complete, you can seal the
surface with varnish, wax or another finish of your choice.