Struggling to Remove a Super-Tough Finish

      A seemingly bulletproof finish that seems to resist all chemical strippers finally yields to a heat gun. April 15, 2012

Question
I have been in business for over 35 years specializing in antique clocks. As far as I can remember I have never run into a coating that could not be removed chemically. I have been fortunate in a sense that most of my restorations are dated pieces so most have a shellac finish. Some have a milk type water based coating, and a few have a varnish, BLS, or Tung type finish. This piece is not an old piece, (usual for me) so the finish can be anything. I have tried every standard solvent including alkali enhanced MC, and still, I have not found anything that touches it.

This piece is a mantel clock that has a fairly thin mahogany veneer so I am hesitant to mechanically remove the finish for fear of going through and I figure that won't handle the grain fill. Does anyone have any suggestions for a killer stripper that won't lift the veneer at the same time? This is such a basic question I am a little embarrassed to ask on this site but I respect the great resource of knowledge the members hold here.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor R:
On some furniture I have tried every kind of stripper on the market but nothing seemed to phase it. I ended up scuffing the piece (a stool) with 80 grit paper and then using an air craft stripper on it. Eventually I was able to remove the finish but it took a lot of elbow grease, a gallon or so of stripper, and lots of hand scraping. The stripper that worked for me was one I picked up at an auto-body supply house.



From contributor C:
We've run into a polyester finish that wouldn't budge. We tried a heat gun and the topcoat peeled off in sheets (similar to plastic).


From the original questioner:
I have had other shops call to see if I had anything special to use on a stubborn finish - maybe it could generate a few dollars. I tried the heat gun and used the enhanced MC. I don't think I would try that on a larger piece like a table top. I had to cook it pretty well done. I think much more would have messed with the veneer bond, but beggers can't be choosers. Thank you very much for the pointer! If anyone can shed any light on what I am actually dealing with I'm all ears.


From contributor S:
I ran into a similar product years ago when I was trying to strip my wife's grandmother's dining table and buffet. 80 grit on a belt sander wouldn't take it off. I finally told her that I couldn't do anything with it and left it at that.


From contributor H:
Everything will come off, except the gelcoat that was used on Eames chairs that were molded with the finish on. You probably have a well cured polyester that was semi popular in the late 50's. You will need a thin body MC stripper such as Bestways M-36.

The trick is to get the stripped under the surface. Apply a few coats of stripper to soften the surface then take a razor blade and cut into the finish with the grain. Re-apply the stripper and let it soak into the finish. As soon as it bites into the finish it will be absorbed into the wood and the finish should start to jump off like popcorn popping. Keep it wet. The last trick is to use a safety stripper where you brush on a heavy coat then cover the surface with cheese cloth then thin plastic. Leave the mummify clock wrapped for a few days. This will also soften the finish, but is not real great for the veneer.



From the original questioner:
Suggestion worked! I did chicken out on the soaking with cheese cloth for fear my veneer would be on the floor in the morning.



Would you like to add information to this article?
Interested in writing or submitting an article?
Have a question about this article?


Have you reviewed the related Knowledge Base areas below?
  • KnowledgeBase: Knowledge Base

  • KnowledgeBase: Finishing

  • KnowledgeBase: Finishing: Refinishing


    Would you like to add information to this article? ... Click Here

    If you have a question regarding a Knowledge Base article, your best chance at uncovering an answer is to search the entire Knowledge Base for related articles or to post your question at the appropriate WOODWEB Forum. Before posting your message, be sure to
    review our Forum Guidelines.

    Questions entered in the Knowledge Base Article comment form will not generate responses! A list of WOODWEB Forums can be found at WOODWEB's Site Map.

    When you post your question at the Forum, be sure to include references to the Knowledge Base article that inspired your question. The more information you provide with your question, the better your chances are of receiving responses.

    Return to beginning of article.



    Refer a Friend || Read This Important Information || Site Map || Privacy Policy || Site User Agreement

    Letters, questions or comments? E-Mail us and let us know what you think. Be sure to review our Frequently Asked Questions page.

    Contact us to discuss advertising or to report problems with this site.

    To report a problem, send an e-mail to our Webmaster

    Copyright © 1996-2016 - WOODWEB ® Inc.
    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without permission of the Editor.
    Review WOODWEB's Copyright Policy.

    The editors, writers, and staff at WOODWEB try to promote safe practices. What is safe for one woodworker under certain conditions may not be safe for others in different circumstances. Readers should undertake the use of materials and methods discussed at WOODWEB after considerate evaluation, and at their own risk.

    WOODWEB, Inc.
    335 Bedell Road
    Montrose, PA 18801

    Contact WOODWEB











  • WOODWEB - the leading resource for professional woodworkers


      Home » Knowledge Base » Knowledge Base Article