Stripping the Finish

by Alan Noel
Professional Wood Finisher


When I first started in the restoration business I was in college and worked part time for a very high end firm in Wilson, North Carolina. Being a complete novice in the decorative arts the guys in the shop would only allow me to carry out simple procedures such as hand polishing the hardware or to gently clean the surfaces with waterless hand cleaners and other mild detergents.

Since the finish is so important to the overall value of antique furniture, stripping was a bad word. Stripping the old finish would have to be a last resort but sometimes it just couldn't be avoided and was necessary to complete the task at hand. This also leads us down a slippery slope when antique value is in question and this is, since none of us were around when the piece was made, how do we know definitively what the original finish actually was?

Nevertheless, stripping the finish is sometimes unavoidable. Here are some tips to make the job easier.

1. Be sure to wear safety glasses, chemical resistant gloves, long sleeves and an apron to avoid getting the stripper directly on your skin. If this happens, wash the affected area with lots of cold water.

2. ALWAYS work in a well ventilated area with absolutely no sources of ignition anywhere close by. Outdoors is best.

3. The best strippers contain large amounts of METHYLENE CHLORIDE. This chemical is very heavy. Pick the product that is the heaviest.

4. When working with fast acting liquid or gel strippers, always start the project at the lowest point.

5. Work your way up making sure to keep the surface you are working on wet at all times from the bottom up.

6. Never apply stripper to any surface and allow it to run down to another finished surface or a previously stripped surface. This will cause chemical burns that will be VERY difficult to remove.

7. A table top or other large flat surfaces are easier to handle if they are stood on edge and stripped from the bottom up.

8. Gel strippers are best for painted surfaces. After a generous application, wrap with Saran Wrap to slow down evaporation. This will allow the chemical to work much longer if there is more than one layer of paint.



Visiting Atlanta? Attend one of Alan's upcoming highly informative Highland Woodworking wood finishing seminars:

Gilding and Gold Leafing, June 9, 2010

Antiques Show and Tell, June 12, 2010

Spray Finishing, June 19, 2010

Finishing the Finish, July 7, 2010

French Polish Workshop, July 14, 2010

Antique Resotration, July 24 & 25, 2010

Visit Highland Woodworking's Online
Wood Finishing Supplies Department




Alan can be reached directly via email c/o Alan Noel Furniture Refinishing at anoelfurniturere@bellsouth.net.


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