Prepping Your Piece
Prepping Your Piece of Furniture (non-stripping)
NOTE: Click on the the name of the product to be taken to Amazon or similar online market. Most are affiliate links for your convenience. Watch for: “TIP:” if you want the inside scoop from experienced flippers. *Most product links are affiliates, both for your convenience. For a more detailed look at products mentioned, go to Module #1, Prep and Repair Tools & Products.
1. Cover your work surface with a drop cloth. A heavy canvas painter’s drop cloth is your best bet. It’s stiff and thick and will protect your table or floor from spills.
2. Remove all hardware and place in a baggie and label it. You might even want to take pictures to identify what goes where.
3. Clean your piece.
4. Inspect your piece. Look for scratches, holes and dents that need repair.
5. Sand to level and smooth the surface and to provide a uniform texture that will help the surface to take stains evenly and/or provide a tooth for paint to grab onto.
TIP: Since I often work on furniture in my kitchen, the drop cloth can be easily cleaned after sanding with my Hoover Linx vacuum. I've even been known to pick it up and vacuum my kitchen island!
Cleaning Solution Options for Furniture
Mineral Spirits – for cleaning oil based finishes (never use on water based).
Denatured Alcohol – to clean water based or oil based finishes. Use a green Scotch Pad and lightly scrub the surface. If it is really gunky you might want to use steel wool or a metal scraper (careful not to mar the wood surface)
Vinegar & Water – a great natural cleaner and deodorizer.
TSP – to remove stains, nicotine, wax and grease. Mix with warm water, gently scrub with green scrub pad or rag (depending on how delicate your surface is). Wipe dry with paper towel or clean rag. Wear rubber gloves and eye protection. Read labels of your other products you are using - TSP can clash with some paints.
Krud Kutter is a biodegradable, non-toxic cleaner/degreaser. (This is what I use most of the time.)
For Tough Smells: Krud Kutter, OdoBan, vinegar and water, mineral spirits, odor/stain blocking primer, shellac, Ozium spray from a car parts store. There is even a Glade paint additive. Some smells may be absorbed by newspaper and/or if you put your piece out in the sun for a bit.
TIP: Using a green scrubbie can help remove shine and scrub off any crud.
Cleaning Solution Options for Hardware
Barkeepers Friend - Apply and scrub
Ketchup/tomato sauce/tomato paste/spaghetti sauce - soak over night, scrub. Soak more if needed.
Vinegar/water - boil on stove or crock pot. Also removes paint from hardware.
Other Cleaning Solution Recipes From Other Flippers (will add as more are found)
Vinegar, Water, Bi-carb Soda
1. Add water and vinegar to a pot and bring to boil.
2. Add hardware and then a scoop of bi-carb soda. It fizzes and you will see the paint, rust etc. falling off.
3. Leave on slow boil for 5 mins, turn off and leave. Wash with water.
If your piece needs repairs, apply stainable wood filler like this one (Elmers) or Retique It Mud (if you are staining your piece) to the damaged part of the wood being careful not to overfill. Do realize that even stainable wood fillers take the stain differently than the original wood. Or, consider adding a little Retique It Liquid Wood over top of wood filler to make it more stainable. It comes in different colors to help you match.
Use a putty knife to scrape away excess wood filler and allow it to dry. Carefully sand it down level after it dries with 180 or 200 grit sandpaper. Finish up with a 400 grit for a smoother finish if you are painting, no more than 180 if you are staining.
If you are replacing any hardware on your furniture, fill in the old holes where the previous hardware was attached. Scrape flush to the board with a putty knife and let dry. Reapply if needed.
NOTE: The grit you use will depend on what type of sanding is needed. Learn the difference between the grit numbers - the higher the number, the finer the sand paper. 80 grit is very course. 400 grit is for fine finishing. If you sand down to the bare wood, finishing the surface with 400 grit may smooth out the surface too much and cause the stain not to soak in enough to give you the desired look. If you are having problems with your stain not soaking in like you'd envisioned, it may be the surface is too smooth.
TIP: No more than 180 or 220 grit is recommended by most furniture re-finishers because it allows the grain to receive the stain well.
Sanding Block - Sanding blocks work well for small jobs and scuffing flat surfaces.
Sanding Sponge –Sanding sponges are easy to manage, work well on spindles and curved edges. It’s all a matter of preference and depends on what needs to be done.
Abrasive comparison for sanding sponges Grit Equivalent: Very-fine = 400 Grit, Fine = 320 Grit, Medium = 200 Grit, Coarse =100 Grit
Flexible Sanding Pads – These are thin flexible sanding pads that are great for spindles and contoured surfaces. They wrap around sanding sponges well if you need extra grip.
Sanding Cord - They are used to sand, clean, debur, or polish hard-to-reach areas.
Steel Wool - Use steel wool for cleaning, polishing, buffing and refinishing. 0000 or 000 are for smoothing a finish. 0 = Fine, 00 = Very Fine, 000 = Extra Fine, 0000 = Super Fine
TIP: Don't use steel wool on a piece that will have a water based finish. If any is left behind it may rust and ruin the look.
Remember to wear a dust mask if sanding or smoothing to prevent inhaling particles. This is where a hand sander with a bag comes in handy. Be aware that old paint may contain lead.
Tack Cloth – Use to remove dust after sanding (oil based tack cloth if using oil based finishes only).
Damp cloth – Use to remove dust after sanding (for water based finishes). For convenience, use disposable cloths.
Liquid Sander/Deglosser - Helps dull any paint, gloss or varnish, preps the area for a new coat of paint or varnish and helps bond the new finish. It works well on intricate pieces getting into places that are nearly impossible to work with sandpaper alone. This does not smooth out a surface like traditional sand paper and is not sufficient for all finishes.
Use a clean cloth to apply it on a freshly cleaned surface and wait for the recommended amount of dry time. There's no scrubbing or clean up.
Be sure to remove all hardware and scrape off loose paint before beginning.
Follow directions on your product on how to remove old paint or varnish safely. Following manufacturers’ directions can help you do a better job with considerably less effort.
NOTE: Older furniture may have lead-based paint, so if you choose strip your piece, always use proper safety measures. Wear safety gear to protect you from the toxic chemicals like protective gloves and a respiratory mask. Take your wood pieces outdoor when working on it, or if you are working on your wood pieces indoor, open the windows and turn on a fan for ventilation.
Using Chemicals to Strip Paint and Varnish
Chemical paint/varnish removers
Use Caution, this is nasty stuff! Most paint strippers are highly flammable, corrosive products. Work in a very well ventilated area, away from children and pets, and turn off all sources of flame and ignition. Wear skin and eye protection. A long sleeved shirt and rubber gloves for the skin and goggles or glasses with side shields should be used if you are using a harsh chemical.
When dictated by the EPA regulations for your paint stripper, a NIOSH approved respirator should be worn to protect the lungs and central nervous system from damage.
Apply the remover and scrape the paint off with a metal scraping tool. In some cases, it may wash away with water. Chemical-based paint/varnish removers come as a paste or a liquid called "paint removers" or "paint strippers."
Liquid removers are best for removing multiple layers. The liquid dries quickly, so keep it in mind if working on large pieces. Liquids may work best on complicated or irregular areas. Use caution when using harsh chemicals.
Paste or Gel Strippers
A gel or paste texture which allows you to apply thick amounts to strip many layers of paint/varnish from a surface with one application. These formulas cling and can be washed off along with the paint/varnish. When using wash-away varnish remover on furniture, don’t use too much water because it may damage the wood. Always follow the instructions on the label.
Spray Paint/Varnish Remover
Spray removers are easy to work with. They have added viscosity so it clings to the surface of your piece.
Foam Paint/Varnish Remover
Aerosol removers spray on as a foam and tend to be cheaper. They are easy to use on small projects with detailing.
Safer Eco Friendly Solutions
There are less toxic paint and varnish removers for people with allergies and sensitivities. They tend to be more expensive and less effective, but if you are trying to eliminate harsh chemicals in your home, the extra expense and effort may be worth it.
Citristrip Paint & Varnish Stripping Gel is one of the recommended strippers for those concerned about harsh smells or methylene chloride. From the company: fresh orange scent, contains no methylene chloride, strips multiple layers, stays active up to 24 hours, for both indoor & outdoor use, thick enough to use on vertical surfaces.
***Soy Gel BLUE BEAR Coatings Remover (formerly called soy gel stripper) is the most recommended eco-friendly product from flippers because of the lack of smell and effectiveness. This is the brand we use and a good choice if you are concerned about stripping paint that is suspected to be lead based. From the company: Very effective paint remover for paints, urethane, enamels, sealers, and many other coatings, non-caustic, biodegradable, no toxic fumes. Removes multiple layers in one application. SAFE! No methylene chloride. Eco friendly. Safe for use indoor. Made with 100% American Grown Soybeans.
Biodegradable Strypeeze – don’t confuse this with the original Strypeeze product that is a harsh chemical. From the company: Users who demand an environmentally safe remover will find plenty of cutting power with Biodegradable Strypeeze®. It contains no harsh chemicals or fumes and is safe to use indoors. It's perfect for stripping interior woodwork or wood floors, and can remove polyurethane and marine finishes too. Surfaces can be cleaned with scraper and water wash-off method.
Some refinishers suggest several hours or even over night for the eco-friendly strippers. This is not necessary for Soy Gel.
Application and Removal
*Always read and follow directions from the manufacturer and use caution. Remember to use eye and hand protection.
If you are brushing on a liquid paint stripper, paint it on in one direction and do not apply remover to areas where it has already been brushed. If you are spraying on your liquid stripper, be sure to apply according to the can’s directions.
You can sand your piece first to make the stripping easier, but be careful not to damage the wood surface.
Apply the stripper and top it with thick plastic to prevent the chemical from drying on the surface if you plan to leave it for a while.
TIP: Citristrip takes several hours to work and will probably need more than one application. Soy Gel works quickly and won't need covering unless you leave it for more than an hour - then cover it so it doesn't dry out until you can get back to it. If it does dry in some spots, just spray with water to reactivate the gel.
Videos Below: Application of Soy Gel
Allow the gel to penetrate the paint/varnish for as long as the packaging instructions direct.
Test your progress by scraping at a small area. If the scraper reaches the bare wood, then the stripper is ready to be removed.
When applying the stripper, start in a small enough area that for easier manageability. You don't want to cover such a large area that the chemical dries before you can finish the job.
Once the chemical has softened the paint underneath, scrape off the paint with a putty knife. Be careful not to damage the surface by keeping the scraper level and don’t push too hard.
Scrape the gunk into a strong paper plate or metal can. Don't use a styrofoam plate or something made of a material that will dissolve from the stripper!
Steel wool or a green scrubbie can take care of any leftovers. Apply a second coat of stripper if needed. Spray water on the stripper if it starts to dry. The water will reactivate the gel.
TIP: Be sure your room is warm when using stripper - if it's too cold, your stripper will not work correctly. Check the instructions on the container.
Video Below: Removing Soy Gel
Once you have successfully removed the paint/varnish, clean the surface with fresh water. Allow the surface to dry and then sand it lightly.
Neutralize before painting: On any surfaces that have been chemically stripped of finish, be sure to neutralize any residual chemicals by wiping the surface with a 50/50 vinegar and water solution or mineral spirits prior to re-painting.
Stripping Detailed Surfaces
Gently scrub detailed areas with steel wool, a stiff toothbrush, steel wool, skewer, or a metal brush. Brass wire brushes are good for narrow spots as well. Be careful not to apply too much pressure or you can easily cause damage and lose definition.
TIP: If your stripper gets goopy after you’ve scraped off your first layer, and you’re having a hard time knowing if you need to apply more stripper, just do a good wipe down with Mineral Spirits to get a fresh start and to see what need to be done from there.
From Lisa: "As a reminder, always wear your PPE (personal protective equipment) when working with chemicals and proper ventilation. It does smell at first so good ventilation, preferably outside, maybe a small cross fanning is in order. Smell dissipates quickly. Get some black chemical resistant gloves and use the green scotch brite pad - super easy to remove excess that a scraper can't do. I also keep a bottle of water handy just in case I get any on my skin. Jasco does a fantastic job pulling out the stain and cuts sanding down tremendously."
- Wear chemical-resistant gloves and chemical splash goggles.
- Shake well and open can slowly to relieve pressure.
- Pour into a metal container and apply with a paint brush to a small area (up to 9 sq ft).
- Brush in one direction only.
- Leave the area and let the stripper do the work.
- After 15 minutes, test scrape a small area to see if finish is ready for removal.
- Remove loosened finish by gently scraping in direction of wood grain with a plastic stripping tool. A toothbrush, toothpick or stripping brush will help remove old finish buried in recesses. Multiple coats or stubborn finishes may require repeat application.
- Use a clean abrasive pad dipped in Kleen-Strip After Wash or Odorless Mineral Spirits to loosen remaining finish and remove any residue. Surface should be completely clean and dry before refinishing.
From the company:
HELPFUL TIPS: Do not mix with any other product. For best results, use in temperatures between 65°F and 85°F and away from strong breeze and hot sun. Protect surrounding areas with a heavy plastic drop cloth. Do not use on linoleum, plastic, rubber, asphalt tile, fiberglass or other synthetics. Use over a small area because health and safety risks will increase dramatically when used over large areas. If applying to a vertical surface, begin at the bottom and work up because vapors can accumulate near the floor.
CLEAN UP: Return unused stripper to the original container. The work area and tools can be cleaned up with soap and water. Wash arms and hands with cold water and soap.
DISPOSAL: Take outdoors and allow liquid to evaporate and residue to dry. Then dispose of in metal container in accordance with federal, state and local regulations.
STORAGE: Once opened, stripper should be used within 6 months or disposed of properly to avoid can deterioration. Store in a cool place. Exposure to high temperatures or prolonged exposure to sun may cause can to swell or leak.
NOTE: Some strippers have and are in the process of changing/or their formula, so do more research before choosing which one to buy.
Alternatives to Stripping
Sanding Off Paint/Varnish
You can remove paint by using a power sander, but realize the top layer of the surface will be removed as you sand. This could damage any detailing.
Start with a course grit to remove the paint and then less course grit as you reach the wood and prepare it for paint or stain.
If you are staining the wood, don’t sand with a finish grit like 400 because the stain won’t penetrate as well on an extremely smooth surface.
TIP: If the surface of your piece was cleaned/polished with Pledge or similar product, sanding might not be the best choice. If the Pledge gets down into the wood fibers, fish eyes may develop in your topcoat. Pledge is a furniture refinisher's worst enemy.
Using Heat to Remove Paint/Varnish
A heat gun can be used to soften paint for scraping. Scrape the paint as soon as it is heated. Some heat guns come with a scraping attachment. Carefully control the heat gun, not lingering too long so that the surface burns.
Priming Your Piece
If you are concerned about adhesion or bleed-through, it's best to prime before painting. Some prime regardless, every piece. Some with water-based primers, some with oil-based.
Water-based primers allow easy clean up. Oil-based primers are the ultimate stain blocker, but if you spray or brush, you will need mineral spirits or some other type of brush cleaner like paint thinner for your sprayer and brushes, or you can use a throw away brush like a chip brush, but you will lose bristles as you paint, causing the need to pick them out.
For water base - Zinsser BIN Shellac-Base Primer (gallon).
For oil base - Zinnser Cover Stain Primer.
Oil based primers are more reliable. Use a chip brush to apply so you can just throw it away when you are done. Spray works well, but is more expensive.
If you choose the water-based, have a spray can of either the Bulls Eye clear spray shellac or the Bulls Eye 1 2 3 White oil based spray primer on hand in case you need to touch up a spot that bleeds through. Then just paint over it. Be sure to read the can for details on use of the product.
If you are concerned about adhesion, STIX Bonding Primer is a good choice.
To the right you will see a table that bled through regular primer. We shot the back leg with an oil based spray Zinsser primer and you can see a huge difference on coverage >>>
TIP: If painting a piece red, tint your primer gray. It helps the red cover in fewer coats.
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“There is no short cut to achievement.
Life requires thorough preparation - veneer isn't worth anything.”
- George Washington Carver