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How do you go about stripping a piece of wooden furniture that has been painted

01:00 Thu 14th Mar 2002 |

A.� Every week thousands of us either find some old wooden furniture in the attic or uncover something at a junk shop or sale, but the true character of the piece is disguised by an often tatty covering of paint. How you get rid of it and uncover the true wood underneath all depends on how much paint is on it, how old it is, and how easy it is going to be to get rid of it.

A hot air gun is a quick and effective way of removing paint from things like a small chest of drawers or a chair, although you need to take care not to scorch the wood by working in short bursts.

Chemical strippers smell strongly, can make life a bit messy and must be handled carefully but are good if you are working with a piece with glass panels that could shatter is exposed to the hot air gun or that has bits that are hard to get into like fine or decorative beading.

Alternatively there are professional strippers where the piece is submerged in paint stripping acid. This isn't recommended for anything fine or fragile but is good for stripping heavy pieces like doors.

Q.� OK, so we've stripped it down to the wood, do we need to treat it

A.� It is almost always essential to treat the newly exposed food if you want it to last and look good. Untreated wood takes up moisture from the air and then expels it in dry weather. This process caused the wood to expand and contract sometimes causing cracking, weakening joints and causing doors to fit poorly.

Q.� So how do we decide the sort of treatment we should go for

A.� The first thing to look at it where in the house the piece is going to go. What kind of finish will compliment what is around it, matt or shiny, light or dark. The second is to consider how much, if any, wear it is going to get.

Q. What can you use if you want to keep the natural colour of the wood

A.� Often stripping wood, particularly dipping it, takes some of the natural oils out of the wood so although they will alter the colour slightly, it is often a good idea to oil or wax the wood. There are also transparent varnishes available.

Q.� What about stains, dyes and varnishes

A.� Stains and dyes are changed the colour of the wood by enhancing the grain in it. Bear in mind that they can only darken the wood, not lighten it. To lighten wood you have to bleached it and then treat it, which is not an easy process.

Although they may seem to do the same job stains and dyes actually work differently, stains sitting mainly on the top of the wood, making it easier to remove, dyes actually penetrating deep into the wood.

Varnishes can be used to seal stains and dyes and some are tinted themselves. The most common varnish is polyurethane, which resists liquid stains and heat marks.

If the wood is going to get heavy usage, like floorboards, there are special varnishes that have a hardening coat and a sealing coat. Varnishes come both water and solvent-based these days.

Q.� What is French polishing

A.� It is a technique that has been around since the 16th century, but got its name when a French cabinet maker developed it in the 1820s.

It basically involves a material called shellac, which is actually a by-product of an encrustation that surrounds a parasitic insect in India. The shellac is dissolved in alcohol and ten applied with a cloth and cotton wool. The alcohol evaporates and leaves the shellac hard on the wood. It can be buffed up to a fine shine.

French polishing is a costly, specialised business and is only really worth doing for fine, expensive pieces of furniture. It won't resist heat marks or household chemicals.

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By Tom Gard

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