Using Wood Strippers

by Alan Noel
Professional Wood Finisher

One of the things we strive to do in the antique restoration business is to do our best to save the original finish whenever and wherever possible. This not only helps to maintain the value, but the aesthetics of the piece as well. However, when the finish is no longer viable, which is to say that the finish no longer offers any protection or is damaged in a way that takes away from the aesthetics of the piece, the finish has to be removed. This can be accomplished mechanically with scrapers and sandpaper, or stripped with commercially-available chemical strippers.

Tips

1. Chemical strippers are sold as fast-acting liquids such as Kutzit or thicker or "gel" versions such as Strypeeze.

2. Methylene chloride is the main component in strippers and is a very heavy chemical. Always buy the heaviest container/brand of stripper because it will contain the most methylene chloride and therefore be the most efficient stripper.

3. Be sure to wear "nitrile" stripping gloves. These will hold up the longest when dealing with strippers.

4. Be sure to wear eye protection along with long pants and sleeves.

5. Strippers work best when used above 60 degrees.

6. Stripper fumes are heavier than air and will collect on the floor. Always strip in a WELL-VENTILATED AREA or outside in a shaded area, and wear a chemical mask when stripping in an enclosed area (preferably with a fresh air make-up system).

7. When stripping painted surfaces, use the gel version. Coat the surface liberally and then cover with painter's plastic. This allows the stripper to work much longer and penetrate deeper.

8. Always try to work from the bottom up so splatters and drips will fall on an already wetted surface. Otherwise the stripper will "burn" the wood and cause streaks that are very hard to remove.

9. Scrapers work great as well for those with experience in their use. Sandpaper, on the other hand, is very labor intensive, frustrating, and really not the way to go. Any patina the piece might have had will be sanded away along with the finish.

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