The Secret To Paint Removal!
When we were younger one of our favorite pass-times was refinishing antiques (you know, old family furniture). Our aunts and uncles seemed so glad to get rid of their old chairs, tables and other assorted pieces.
Fortunately, most of our relatives didn’t have the heart to throw away old furniture that they had replaced. Instead, they ended up storing the precious pieces in the garage, basement or attic. Years later, when we arrived “hat in hand”, their universal response to our request for old furniture was that the various heir looms had been taking up much needed space and they all seemed very thankful that we were helping them make space while at the same time preserving the furniture that was such “a very big part of our family’s history” – you know – “their junk”. We can still hear their whispers, “What the heck do those Carey boys want with all of that old furniture?!?”
After we had stripped, repaired. caned, stained, varnished and otherwise restored several pieces attitudes began to change. The change was so startling and the refinished pieces were so strikingly beautiful that one aunt wanted her furniture back. She even offered to pay for the materials we used to bring her old cane chairs back to life. We politely reminded her that the chairs went perfectly with another aunt’s (her sister) table and that we didn’t want to break up the newly restored set.
Some pieces were finished with tongue oil, others with linseed oil and some were waxed, shellacked or varnished. But regardless of the final finish, each piece began its trip to rehabilitation in exactly the same way. First, the piece must be disassembled to its smallest component to make it as easy as possible to strip off the old finish. Keep in mind that the single most important part of antique restoration is stripping away the old finish without damaging the furniture itself. Our favorite paint remover, Green’s Liquid Stripper, has proved to work the best for us. It stays moist the longest, removes the most coats of paint per application and is the easiest to clean once the finish has been dissolved.
It is important to remember that all paint strippers are extremely caustic and therefore an ever-present danger exists during the entire stripping process. Eye protection is an absolute must as are rubber gloves and protective clothing. With paint stripper nothing is safe. Oh, and don’t forget to protect the work area. Newspapers work best. Spread them out atop a large canvas drop cloth. Using the drop cloth will provide an extra level of protection as the newspapers slip and slide – front to back and side to side – as the work proceeds. Follow the stripper manufacturer’s application instructions carefully. Use an old paint brush to apply the chemical brushing in one direction. Once applied don’t brush again. Doing so will reduce the effectiveness of the stripper. Don’t attempt this process in the sun. Once the stripper has dried it stops working. Wind has the same negative “drying” effect. Wait until the paint starts to bubble and soften. Test a small area (by scraping with a putty knife) to see if it’s ready. Make sure the putty knife is dull. This will reduce the chance of gouging the wood. Rub the blade on concrete, file it dull – or – simply purchase one made of plastic. In any event, the blade should be pliable and from 2- to 6-inches wide. Scrape in long sweeping strokes with the blade at about a 25 degree angle to the surface. Put the excess into a disposable container such as a painter’s throw-away paper bucket or an old coffee can. The key is to remove the paint and then the stripper without damaging the piece being refinished – or the surrounding area. Water soluble strippers are OK, but you might be confused into thinking that washing off the stripper with water is the right thing to do. Wrong! Wood and water don’t mix and nothing can do more damage in less time than wetting an antique with water. Wipe the excess stripper away with a dampened cloth or paper towel and then a dry one.
Besides a putty knife you will want a brass brush and plenty of steel wool pads. The brass brush and steel wool are great for removing paint, varnish and stain in scroll work, sculptured areas and around other intricate carvings.
With the raw wood stripped and completely exposed to the rest of the world, the next step involves a light sanding and a thorough rub-down with steel wool. With varnish, the final surface luster depends on the quality of the varnish and how well it is applied. Conversely, with tongue oil and linseed oil the final luster depends on how smooth the wood surface is before the oil is applied. With oil, raised wood grains, sanding marks, scratches and other refinishing flaws can’t be hidden. Polishing the wood with steel wool or extremely fine sandpaper removes even the slightest imperfection and causes the wood to shine – naturally. From that point the oil simply enhances the finish.
By the way, you can prevent damage to the gloves you are wearing by stuffing the steel wool into half a tennis ball. Use a kitchen knife or a razor knife to cut the tennis ball in half, stuff it with the steel wool that will be used to polish the surface and use the tennis ball to grip the steel wool knowing that the metal splinters won’t end up in your gloves – or your fingers.
We like to recommend an all natural tongue or boiled linseed oil finish because you don’t have to worry about hairs, bugs and lint getting caught in the final coat of finish. Most people don’t have a spray painting booth that professionals rely upon to eliminate flaws in a painted or varnished finish.
In years to come additional coats of oil can be added. With an oil finish the surface gets more silky and smooth with use. It’s amazing. Rubbing your hand across the surface of an antique that has been refinished with oil feels the same as touching satin. And don’t forget – if you play your cards right the price for the furniture will be “On The House”. So, good luck!
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