How to Strip Woodwork

There are three main ways of removing paint, varnish or other finishes from wood. Both sanding and heat stripping can be used for removing paint. Chemicals will remove French polish and varnish as well as oil-based paints. Do not use heat to remove paint if you want a natural wood finish, as it is easy to scorch the wood.


Flat surfaces are the easiest to sand as you can use an electric sander, but sanding can be both dusty and messy. If you are sanding mouldings use a pliable abrasive block or a sheet of sandpaper.

Chemical stripping

Professional decorators rarely use chemicals to strip wood as the process can be messy, expensive and lengthy. Chemicals can also alter the colour of the wood. For stripping paint and varnish, the proprietary paint or varnish stripper is painted on and then rubbed off using wire wool or scraped away with a shave hook or broad scraper. Keep your hands protected as the stripper is extremely powerful.

If you are removing French polish, use methylated spirits and fine to medium wire wool instead of paint stripper. Once the polish is removed, rub in a mixture (2 to 1) of boiled linseed oil and white spirit to restore the colour.

Heat stripping

If you want to heat strip it is preferable to use a hot-air stripper as there is less danger of fire than with a blow-torch. Even so, work slowly and carefully as it is easy to set bits of old paint on fire. Do not use hot air or a blow-torch near mirrors and use with care on window frames as the heat can crack the glass. Keep the heat source moving up and down constantly to soften the paint; at the same time scrape the paint off, using a scraper on flat areas and a shave hook on mouldings and difficult corners.

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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