Answering Furniture Finish Removal Questions

Q. I am trying to strip shellac finish from 35-year-old doors and frames. I have used 3M Safest Stripper and Bix. Both worked about the same, but took a lot longer than I imagined it would. Is there a different product I can use?

A. The "safe" strippers take much longer to work than the traditional methylene chloride strippers. If time is short, then use a methylene chloride stripper such as Kleen Kut or Strypeeze®.

Q. At paint departments, everywhere I see a whole set of chemicals that are used for thinning, dissolving, stripping or diluting paint and finishes. So what are the differences in all these? Under what circumstances (in the real world) do you use one or the other? The labels aren't very helpful only saying stuff like "Thins certain oil based paints."

A. Denatured alcohol is used for shellac mixing and removing. You can use it as a cleaner for the tools used with shellac. The others are various combinations of themselves, as with lacquer thinner. They are used to thin finishes. Different ones are used depending upon how fast the finish is supposed to dry. They will also strip some finishes, clean the tools used, and are used as cleaners for some applications.

For the most part, brand names and price indicate the purity or quality of the product. For instance, cheap mineral spirits may have latent oil in it and leave a residue of some sort. Good quality mineral spirits leaves no residue when it evaporates. This is refined more when distilled.

It would make more sense to you if you started with the finish and looked at the recommended thinners and the relative characteristics these impart to their uses.

Q. I have and old chest that i would like to refinish but I am unable to scrape the old veneer off. What are some solutions to my problem?

A. If the veneer is old enough, soaking it with hot water will cause the hide glue to release. You will be able to peel the veneer off then.

Q. We recently purchased a new king-sized bed. There is a very distinct odor from the finish. Does anyone know of a product that will remove the odor without harming the finish?

A. Often, these odors simply go away after whatever is causing them evaporates completely. It can be annoying in winter, when the house is closed up all the time. It is likely that the best course of action would be some other odor to mask the smell until the smell is gone. You might consider wiping the surface with something on the order of Pledge to clean the surface and impart the smell of Pledge to the piece. A scented dryer fabric softener sheet might work as well for transferring the scent of something else.

Q. How do I get mold off of wood table that sat in my pickup on a blanket that got damp? What is the best homemade product, or what I can buy at a home center?

A. If the table is made of raw wood, use TSP (Trisodium Phosphate). If it has a finish, 1/2 and 1/2 mixes of household bleach and water. Wipe dry immediately after application.

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