Craftsman, Woodworker, Antiques Refinisher, Columnist, Author and Television Host
Q. - Why is ?dipping? not considered an appropriate means of removing a finish anymore?
A. ? First, the chemicals are often harmful to the environment. Second, they are often dangerous to the operator. Finally, the active ingredient in the tank of stripper also dissolves the adhesive under any veneer and the glue in the joints. If rinsed with water, the raw wood will swell for a few months, but as the wood dries out, the joints will loosen and fall apart since the glue was destroyed by the stripper. Heard enough?
Q. - What is the best stripper to remove either paint or polyurethane vanish?
A. ? One with a high concentration of methylene chloride. My personal preference is Formby?s Paint and Poly Remover. When using any chemical remover you should always work in a well-ventilated area (preferably outdoors, in the shade) and wear a charcoal respirator (a dust mask does no good), heavy rubber gloves, long sleeved shirt, old jeans and safety glasses. Remove all children, pets, bikes, cars and valuable items from a ten-foot perimeter. Trust me, even one drop will dissolve automotive paint. I know.
Q. - Could I encounter lead paint on antiques?
A. - Quite possibly.
The use of lead in paint was outlawed in the 1970s, but cans containing it might still be stuck on a shelf in a garage or basement. For that reason we can never assume lead paint is not present on our antiques, doors or woodwork. There are several web sites dedicated to lead paint, so I strongly urge anyone who thinks they might be dealing with lead paint to thoroughly investigate the information they contain.
What we know for sure is that sanding, scraping or using a heat gun to remove lead paint is dangerous, for these methods make it easier for the lead to enter our lungs. If you must remove paint that could possibly contain lead, current research indicates that heavy-bodied, methylene chloride-based paint and varnish removers are safer than sanding, scraping or heat guns, for they do not release dust particles or heated fumes into the air. Even so, take every safety precaution recommended by the manufacturer, including wearing a charcoal respirator, heavy rubber gloves and safety glasses - and work outdoors.
Q. - My stripper is evaporating before all the paint has been softened. What can I do?
A. ? Avoid working in direct sunlight. Shake the can to evenly distribute the film-forming paraffin that retards evaporation. Apply a very heavy layer of remover. Do not ?over-brush? the stripper as that breaks the paraffin barrier. Cover the remover with waxed paper or plastic-wrap to shield it from the air. Don?t poke at the remover while it is working.
Q. - What rinse should I use to remove the stripper residue and when should I use it?
A. ? When the paint has been softened, use a wide plastic scraper to remove the bulk of the ?gunk.? After scraping off all the gunk, if you can see streaks of hard paint, do not rinse. Instead, repeat #7 over the entire surface (not just the paint streaks, as that may cause a color difference). When softened, use coarse steel wool or a synthetic pad dipped in your rinse to scrub off the last of the paint. Finally, use a rag dipped in a clean pan of rinse for a final wipe down.
Regardless what the can of remover touts, do not use water as a rinse and do not think that any stripper is a ?no-rinse? product. The rinse should be formulated by the same company that made the stripper (i.e. Formby?s Paint and Poly Remover Wash) or, if unavailable, use mineral spirits or paint thinner. Unlike these solvents, water will not dissolve the paraffin left on the wood by the remover, which will cause problems later, and will cause any softened paint in the pores and joints to immediately re-harden. That means you will have to sand out the paint and the paraffin later ? and that is a real chore.
Q. - How do I get paint out of the pores of the wood?
A. ? This often happens in open-pored woods, such as oak, ash, mahogany and walnut. Here is the best method I have found: immediately after scraping off the majority of the gunk, dip a brass bristle brush (also used to clean barbecue grills) into your solvent rinse and scrub the wood in the direction of the grain. Do not use a traditional wire brush as the steel bristles will scratch the wood. Even using brass bristles, do not scrub across the grain of the wood, as this will leave scratches to be sanded out. Complete as described above.
Q. - I stripped a piece of furniture but the color did not change very much. Should I do it again?
A. ? Only if you have money to burn.
Strippers remove finishes ON the wood, not stains and dyes IN the wood. They also cannot remove the natural color of woods such as mahogany, walnut and cherry. If you are diligent and lucky enough to be working with a wood such as hard maple, which is less porous and absorbs less stain than oak or pine, you may be able to sand off enough wood to remove the man-made stain or dye previously applied to it. No amount of sanding will remove the natural color of any wood; if anything, it becomes even more evident as you sand off the oxidized outer layer of wood.
Three Important Rules: Always follow the manufacturer's directions, take all safety precautions and first test every product in an inconspicuous spot.