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
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
Visit Highland Woodworking's Online
Antiques Show and Tell
, June 12, 2010
, June 19, 2010
Finishing the Finish
, July 7, 2010
French Polish Workshop
, July 14, 2010
, July 24 & 25, 2010
Wood Finishing Supplies Department
Alan can be reached directly via email c/o Alan Noel Furniture Refinishing at