Many novice woodworkers and beginners seem to think that sanding off paint and finish from wood is the best method to start off a furniture restoration project. However, they might be surprised to learn that most professionals will tell you that stripping is often easier and safer than sanding. If you have a hand-me-down piece that you would like to restore, you can save a lot of time and frustration, and even avoid risk, by choosing to strip rather than sand.
Continue below to learn more.
Stripping Paint and Finish
When restoring a piece of wood furniture that is covered with a varnish or existing paint, you most certainly need to remove this finish before moving forward with your work. As mentioned, it is common for people to assume that they need to sand all this material off; but the truth is, stripping is faster and safer, especially when it comes to removing paint. Using sandpaper to remove paint and varnish requires a lot of work, plus it is very messy; even more so if the varnish is flaking off. Instead, you could get the job done faster with a paint/varnish remover.
For example, you can use a solvent for different types of wood finishes, such as denatured alcohol for shellac, and lacquer thinner for lacquer. Simply use a soaked rag to spread the solvent across the work surface, and then use a clean dry rag to wipe it away the finish once it dissolves. Another risk factor to consider when it comes to sanding off paint and varnish from wood furniture is uneven coloring. When you sand stain and patina, it cuts through the coloring, which can lead to imbalanced color. To correct this, you would have to sand the entire surface area evenly, which can be quite the challenge, especially for beginners.
As long as you have enough patience to wait for the solvent to dissolve the finish, it is almost always better to strip than sand. Fortunately, older furniture that is finished with shellac or lacquer dissolves quickly, turns to sludge, and easily wipes off. As for safety precautions, it is important to know that some old furniture (40 years+) is painted with lead paint. Stripping this off with sandpaper can be hazardous to your health since it would spread sanding dust and debris in the air.
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