Successful Stripping

Some pros dunk pieces in a vat of chemicals. "This method is the least expensive," Maxwell says, "but too much chemical exposure isn't good for the wood, and can damage the veneers and glued joints." Because of environmental regulations, many dip strippers have switched to flow-over systems, in which the chemicals are circulated through a pump and hosed onto the piece. "Flow-over systems expose the worker to less chemicals, but the furniture is still getting saturated with more stripper than it needs," Maxwell says.

According to Maxwell, stripping furniture is best done by hand. "It does take longer, but it's easier on the furniture, and on the person doing the work," he says. So if you do decide to have a pro do the work, look for a shop that does the work by hand.

Tools you'll need. Before you begin stripping, you'll need the proper safety equipment and a few tools. To protect yourself when using any stripper, use an organic solvent respirator with new filters, splashproof goggles, chemical-resistant gloves, and an apron. To lather the stripper, Maxwell cuts down natural-bristle paintbrushes. "They make good scrubbers," he says. Less expensive synthetic brushes work with some water-based strippers but, says Maxwell, "they turn to pulp the second they touch solvent." You'll also need a collection of scraping and scrubbing tools to remove the paint/stripper sludge. Maxwell uses metal scrapers and steel wool, but if you're using a water-based chemical, use plastic knives and abrasive pads; otherwise, metal particles will leave rust stains on the wood.

The work area. Choose a well-ventilated spot when you work. Because many chemicals in strippers are heavier than air, they will sink to the floor and can be difficult to get rid of, so basements are not a good choice. Some of the vapors can also corrode the metal parts of your furnace or water heater. For maximum ventilation, Maxwell recommends working in the garage or, better yet, outside.

Maxwell does his work on a lipped metal tray that collects the extra stripper into a paint can; he reuses the stripper until it evaporates. You can cover a worktable with several thick layers of newspaper, removing the top sheet as it gets caked up to expose a fresh working surface.
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