There are a lot of questions about stripping antique furniture, but the most important one is whether you should strip it in the first place. We ran a refinishing business along with our antique business for over twenty years. So I speak from a voice of experience on stripping antique furniture and furniture restoration. I spent way too many hours sweating over a stripping tank. Although I have to tell you, it gives you a sense of great satisfaction when you take a piece of antique furniture that has seen better days and restore it to its original beauty.
Should You Be Stripping Antique Furniture
My best answer for whether you should be stripping antique furniture or not is dependent on your personal taste. I know if you are a follower of “The Antiques Roadshow” you have heard many times something to the effect of, “This would have been worth fifty thousand dollars if it hadn’t been refinished.” If you have an antique from the nineteenth century or earlier, this becomes a little more important. Unfortunately, I think this has caused a lot of misinformation about stripping antique furniture. But when it comes to buying antiques, I say buy what you like more than buying antiques for investments. In our home we have pieces that have been refinished and some that are in their original finish. Some people think the bumps and bruises on a piece of antique furniture give it character. They don’t want it to look like a piece of new furniture or a reproduction.
If you have your grandmother’s round oak table from 1910 that has stains all over it and the finish is wearing off, go ahead and get it refinished if you like. There were millions of these tables made and they are never going to be worth multi thousands of dollars. As far as worth is concerned, there are pieces from even the last fifty years, such as some of the mid century modern designers that should not be refinished because they are worth thousands. In conclusion, there is no hard and fast rule on refinishing antique furniture.
The Proper Ways of Stripping Antique Furniture
The first thing you might want to decide is whether you want to tackle stripping your antique yourself or have someone else do it. With all of the regulations now on refinishing shops, you many not have too many choices about who to choose. You might want to have them do just the stripping and let you do the rest of the refinishing and restoration. Be sure to get a written quote and a description of what all you want done to the piece.
If you want to do it yourself, you need to decide on what stripper to use. Here are some questions you need to ask before undetaking stripping antique furniture. Is the antique piece painted or not? If it is painted, is there just one coat of paint on it? Is it a veneered piece or not? As you might expect, it is much easier to strip a piece that is not painted. And no matter what it says on the container, some of the old original painted pieces are VERY difficult to strip. In our shop we used commercial strippers which we bought in 55 gallon drums where we could soak a piece in our stripping tank and then used high powered sprayers to rinse the stripper from the piece. We had to be more careful with veneered pieces, because the powerful sprayers could blast veneer right off the piece. But you will not be using a tank or have access to some of the strippers we used. They are so strong that most retail stores and online outlets will not carry them for fear of liability.
So I caution you when you decide to strip a painted piece of antique furniture. You might be getting into more than you bargained. But here are a couple of strippers ot paint and varnish removers that you ought to consider. The first is made by SOY-Gel and you can get it by the quart or the gallon. The second is by Citri-Strip. Both of these get favorable customer ratings on Amazon.
Before beginning, be sure and remove any hardware. Wear the proper safety items like rubber gloves and protective eyewear. I will not scare you with some of the stories about getting burned with stripper, but we were using high powered stuff, but you don’t want to get any of this in your eyes or on your skin. If it can remove paint and varnish, it will burn you and can really do damage to your eyes. Even soaking through your clothes, it will burn.
You will need a good paint scraper if the piece is painted and a brush with brass bristles also comes in handy to use when there are grooves or moldings. We used a good heavy duty pots and pans scrubber brush. Leaving the stripper on longer will help get old paint off. If you can soak the piece, it will help it even more.
When it comes to getting the stripper off, be sure and carefully read the instructions on the can. Some will allow you to use water and then you can attach a sprayer to your hose and this will help get it out of the hard places. With others you have to use something else, so I would suggest getting the ones that you can use water to remove it.
Water will raise the grain of the wood, so you will need to sand the piece thoroughly after stripping it. The next article will be on refinishing antique furniture, so I will not go further in this article. Hope you have learned enough to help you learn a little bit about stripping antique furniture.