Stripping Veneer

How to get old finish off a veneered desktop without damaging or lifting the veneer. April 30, 2009

I have a desk that a customer has asked me to refinish. It was made back in the 50's. It is a mix of solids and plywood. I thought the top was solid until I got it off and sawed the bottom surface and found it was a different species. I then sawed the edgeband and it appears to be a natural shellac finish. I scuffed a section and rubbed it down with denatured alcohol. The customer wants me to dye it a Jacobean color.

My question is; how can I get the shellac out of the pores of the oak veneer so it will take the dye? I am going to lightly sand the desk down and then "wash" it with the denatured alcohol but Iím not sure if this will be enough and I also don't want to have the veneer delaminate. I will be finishing with a water soluble analine dye, dewaxed shellac and then target oxford wb lacquer.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor J:
Denatured alcohol will remove the shellac, but it's slow. I prefer a paste stripper or something like the liquid "refinishers" out there because they remove the old finish better. Get the wood to the point with the stripper and light sanding where it will accept water when you dribble some on the surface and it doesn't want to bead up. Rather than use the dye with 100% water add about 25% denatured alcohol to it so it "bites" into the stripped wood better. Then continue with the rest of your products.

From contributor D:
Contributor J is right on point. The only thing I would add is to use Scotch Brite pads to help speed the removal of shellac and you may want to clean out the pores with a brass brush to aide in the final color appearance.

From contributor R:
It sounds like you have some good advice already with the two replies. I wouldnít use a wire brush to clean out of the grain. I would use a general paint stripper and water down with methylated spirits, always avoiding the stripper getting sticky. Finally take off the excess stripper with fine steel wool. When you come to stain, remember the first coat always swells the grain, so apply one coat of water. Allow the grain to raise, rub down and apply a second coat, this time with water stain.

From the original questioner:
Thanks everyone I appreciate the help. I have most of the shellac sanded off. I was pretty brittle and seemed to flake off as I ran the sander over it with 150. Now itís time to start scrubbing.

From contributor G:
I'm going to caution against using steel wool on a job and then water-popping (raising the grain) as any missed steel dust will make rust spots.

From the original questioner:
The piece came out great and the customer is thrilled. I used a fine Scotch Brite pad instead of the steel wool and it did the trick. The only two problems I ran into were one in a couple of places (fortunately on the underside) the veneer was so thin that you could see the next layer telegraphing through and for some reason no matter how much scrubbing and what little sanding I dared do it still had a few spots where didn't accept the dye as much as the surrounding area.

Second there were some "sweat" rings from the condensation off glasses. Again scrubbing with the spirits and sanding the top when I wiped it down a final time with denatured alcohol and then with water and there was no evidence of them. Once I applied the dye they re-appeared. Again dealing with veneer and it being so thin and so old I was hesitant to go any further with it and they were pretty faint. The customer actually liked them and said she wanted the piece to look "old and well loved" so it worked out for once. My only concern is how to correct that in the future as I am sure not everyone will feel the same way.