Removing varnish from wood can be a lot of work. In this article we will offer some tips that will make the process as easy as possible. Unfortunately, there is no way to remove varnish from wood quickly and easily.
Removing varnish from the wood’s surface takes skill, time and patience. The skill level required for the job is beginner to intermediate. Perhaps patience is required more than skill for this type of project.
There are several types of paint removers that can help you remove varnish from wood. They are mostly sold as “paint removers”, not varnish removers. You probably will not find anything that is labeled specifically for varnish removal, however, paint remover will do the trick. Paint removers come in many forms including, spray on, aerosol and brush on.
While the spray on and aerosol paint removers are easiest to apply, brush on removers tend to work a little better. The harshest chemical paint removers are the marine types. They are the fastest and best working as well.
These days there are also more environmentally safe paint removers made, unfortunately, they do not work quite as well and are slow acting. If you do not feel safe around harsh chemicals, they may be best.
Sanding by hand works well at two stages of removing varnish from wood surfaces. First a ruff sand paper, like an 80 grit, can be used to ruff up the surface of the varnish a bit so the paint remover will soak in better and work faster. This action is particularly helpful if your wood has a thick coat of varnish.
The second stage of removing the varnish where sandpaper can come into play is after you remove the paint remover. A finer grit sandpaper, like 180 grit can be used to clean up any leftover varnish and smooth out the surface before refinishing it. Be careful not to sand too much of the wood surface away though.
On antiques and intricate furniture or wood products, sanding is not recommended because it may decrease the value of the product by removing some of it’s surface. For plain, modern furniture that has mostly flat surface areas, sanding can be used to take all of the varnish off and a paint remover is not always necessary. For this type of job a power orbital sander is best.
A piece from a burlap sack or scrap of burlap can be used to quickly remove varnish and paint remover particularly on rounded surfaces such as table legs.
One technique is to let the paint remover soak in for the proper amount of time and then the burlap scrap can be used to buff off the paint remover and varnish. Holding a corner of the rag in each hand, saw at the wood with the burlap to rapidly clean off the paint remover. The burlap’s texture is perfect for the job.
Normally paint removers are removed from the wood’s surface using a scraper. You want to be careful in selecting a type of scraper that will not scratch and damage your wood. The best and least harmful type is a pull scraper.
To make a pull scraper, or any scraper safer, you should file down the sharp corners until they are rounded. That way they can not scratch the wood accidentally. A flat metal file can be used or a bench grinder can be used to round the corners of your scraper.
To use a pull scraper, allow the paint remover to set the recommended amount of time, then pull the scraper towards you over the wood’s surface. This will remove the bulk of the varnish. Two or three applications are often needed to completely remove the varnish from the wood.
After the bulk of the varnish has been removed, you can use one of the other above mentioned methods to clean the remaining varnish from the wood, such as using burlap or fine sand paper.
Normally, to effectively remove varnish from wood, you will use a combination of the above methods. What combination you use depends on the type of furniture or wood product you are working on. For instance antiques need special care and should not be sanded, while sanding can be used to completely or partially to remove varnish on simple, newer and flat wood surfaces.
A good example for this article would be a wood chair. On a wood chair that is not an antique, you could brush on paint remover, let it sit; then use a scraper on the flat parts and use a burlap rag on the legs and round parts.
After that, you could even use a fine grit sand paper to get spots you missed with the paint remover or you may choose to do another round of paint remover or both.
That demonstrates how all of the above techniques can be used together to get the job done. With the information in this article, you should be able to decide what combination of techniques are best suited for your upcoming project. What you will need the most of is patience. Removing varnish is a tedious task that takes a lot of time and care.