How to remove an old finish ?

If you want to refinish a nice piece of furniture because the finish is old and brittle, you will have to remove the finish or we call this method stripping the finish to the raw wood. There are several technics you can use.

First of all, you will have to be extremely careful with the different products you will use. Generally, the more powerful the product is, the more dangerous it is for your lungs and hands.

Always work in an area with some fresh air, use a respirator, apron, and heavy duty gloves. Never breathe the chemical or spill some on your body, it will burn you.

Methods to remove finish:

  • Use paste or semi paste stripper. It will remove several layers of paint and will cling on vertical surfaces (apply with an old brush). Home improvement sell different brands safe to be used by the public. They used to sell methylene chloride paste stripper, but this product was banned by the government in 2017 because of health reason. Only professional businesses can use this chemical.
  • Acetone is an other good chemical to remove finish. You can rub the old finish with steel wool and acetone and remove the residue with cotton rags.
  • Use a cabinet scraper or sharp chisel to remove brittle finish on flat surfaces. This technique is not easy because you do want to scorch the wood.
  • Use of a heat gun. We use this method a lot in the removing of varnish on boats or to remove a lot of layers of paint. You will have to know when the heat is sufficient to scrape the layers and not burn the wood.
  • Professionals use tanks sometimes to remove the finish. Two systems are used in the industry, a dipping tank is good for metal furniture, but very bad for wood furniture. It consists of a tank full of chemicals. The furniture is submerged for a few hours and then removed from the bath. You have no control of what is happening in the bath (it will damaged the wood joints and loose veneers) and flow over system which is where chemicals are in a 5 gall bucket, and pumped out through a brush, so you can rinse the furniture and stop at anytime if you discover some damages due to the chemical.