Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 190, July 2021 Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
 
Finishing: Stripping Wood Finish in a Hot Lye Bath
By Alan Noel
Professional Wood Finisher

One day back in college, when I worked for my friends Willard and Otis, we dragged out an old heating oil tank that had been cut in half in order for us to use it for stripping old finishes. After placing it on a makeshift stand we scraped out the remaining sludge. After cleaning the tank, Otis placed gas burners underneath and we filled it full of water. When it was almost full, Otis added lye to the water and fired up the gas burners, getting the flames just right. Once adjusted we left it overnight so the mix would come to a full boil.

The next day we were ready for business. Boiling hot, we lowered our first door, which had several layers of lead based paint on it, into the tank and threw in a couple of cinder blocks to weigh the door down. Ten minutes later we took off the cinder blocks and voile! The heart pine door was clean as a whistle, which would have taken weeks if we had used a conventional stripper.

After we stripped twelve or so doors it was lunch time. We fired up the tank while we ate lunch in order to get the temperature back up. While eating, one of Otis' friends came by to strip a small french desk and asked if he could put it in the tank. Once his project was in the tank he came inside to chat for a bit before returning to his project. We soon found him collecting multiple pieces of veneers that had come loose because a hot lye bath just loves hide glue.

The lesson learned with this experiment is to NEVER place a veneered piece of furniture in a hot lye bath! Not only will it take any veneer off in a big hurry, but it will also cause the grain to raise dramatically, especially if you use a pressure washer to wash off the lye residue.

Click here to visit the Highland Woodworking Finishing Department


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

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