JC Wood Blog

How To Remove Stain And Varnish For Wood Finishing Furniture

Posted by Jody Raines

wood finishingWood finishing can be an unpleasant task.  The hardest part of refinishing wood furniture is the first step to accomplishing a beautiful final piece.  Before you can begin to finish wood, you must first remove the old finish.

The task of stripping is usually messy, and if not done correctly, can actually result in ruining the furniture.  In fact, for the non-experienced furniture restoration project, the intial furniture may look to be ruined. Over the years, we've rescued several "do-it-yourself" wood refinishing projects.  If you get stuck in the middle of a project, it may be time to call in the expert.

Stripping the wood of the old finish is critical to the project and can be hazardous if you are not sure when the furniture was made and what chemicals could have been used in the process.  Some older furniture may have been finished with lead based product and this can be harmful if the dust becomes airborne.

There are two main ways to remove the old varnish and stain - the first is a mechanical process by sanding, and the second is a chemical process with the use of strippers.  A third choice may be heat guns, but any of these processes have to be used carefully to avoid damage to the furniture.

Sanding with an experienced hand and good equipment is effective at removing old stain and varnish.  If you do not have professional equipment, sanding will take a lot of elbow grease and is time consuming. In any situation when you are removing the finish mechanically, whether manually or with a belt sander or orbital finishing sander, care must be used not to go too deeply or damage the furniture itself.   One limitation of sanding is removing stain from curved or ornate sections.  Especially little ridges or intricate pieces are difficult to sand.

Using a chemical or paint stripper is fast and in some instances the easiest way to remove wood finishes.  Keep in mind that even the best chemical stripper may have to be followed by sanding.  We are perfectionists when it comes to stripping, and most of the time our projects require sanding as well as stripping.  Dependent upon the piece and the antique value, we gauge each piece and method.

As with anything that is worthwhile, expect that it will take some some to remove the stain and the varnish and be thorough - even a few tiny spots that are not done will show up when you move to the next step of re-staining the wood and refinishing furniture.   If you move too quickly through this first and most critical step, your final project will not be satisfactory.  Better to take the time and do this right.

Have you tried to refinish furniture but become frustrated with the project?  Did it take too long and the result just wasn't up to what you had hoped?  We specialize in rescuing furniture that may have been botched by others...

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