How to Recognize the Finish and Deciding to Strip

The first refinishing decision you will have to make is whether you need to strip the entire piece. A scruffy, dirty finish does not automatically need stripping; basically, as long as there are not too many scratches and they are not too deep, there are quite a few ways to avoid going back to the bare wood.

Clean your piece thoroughly with detergent and warm water, and, perhaps, use a mild abrasive like steel wool. Try not to get the surface too wet, which will lift if water gets under it. Shellac and lacquer cloud if water is left lying on them. White spirit (paint thinner) or methylated spirits (wood alcohol) will shift stubborn grime, but be careful – if the rag is really soaked, it could start dissolving the finish.

Deciding  Strip

To establish what the finish is, test an inconspicuous part with solvents. Meths will dissolve french polish, which will set again, but varnish will merely crinkle and lift. Cellulose and the acid lacquers will soften and set again when treated with their own solvents (thinĀ­ners), but meths alone will not- affect them. Scraping with a chisel is another way of distinguishing varnish from cellulose; varnish comes off in a yellow shaving, the lacquers make white dust. A certain amount of common sense helps you narrow the options, in that a battered antique is obviously not going to have a thoroughly modern finish. Once you know what you have, use a cleaner that will not dissolve it.

If the finish is basically intact, sand it with fine paper or steel wool and prepare it for a new coat of the same thing. If, however, it is worn right through, chipped, and peeling, you will need to remove it all. Sometimes the top of a table or sideboard is badly damaged, and the rest is sound, in which case it is possible to strip and recoat just the top, although matching colours could be a problem. Crazing and cracks in french polish and lacquered surfaces can be healed, if they are not too deep, by reamalgamation. If you are going to be repairing the wood in any way, clean the finish off around where the repair will be, but wait till the gluing and clamping are over before stripping completely.

Filed Under: Home & Maintenance


About the Author: Jason Prickett loves to write about home maintenance and stuff you can do yourself instead of hiring any professional. His step by step guides will assist you in completing your home maintenance tasks.

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