Taking it off.

The speed of the stripping process depends upon the strength of the stripper and the stubbornness of the finish. On this table, the paint began to bubble and blister almost as soon as Maxwell brushed on a coat of the liquid-type stripper. "Methylene chloride strippers work fast and eat through almost anything," he says. The chemical breaks the bond between the wood and paint; most finishes will come off in sheets. For tough paints, Maxwell carefully scratches the surface of the finish to help the stripper get down to the wood. If you find yourself prying or scraping off the finish though, put on more stripper or you'll damage the wood.

To strip the flat top, Maxwell used a putty knife to remove the thick sludge, scrubbed the surface with coarse steel wool and finished up with a second dose of stripper. Carvings and turnings require special attention. Maxwell prefers using a scrub brush to work the paint out of all the nooks and crannies on the legs, but coarse twine and wood shavings also work well.

For some vertical surfaces and difficult finishes, Maxwell will use a paste-type stripper. "These chemicals work when wet," he says. "Pastes have chemical retarders built in to block evaporation, helping them stay wet longer." To further limit evaporation, as well as your exposure to the chemicals, consider wrapping the piece in newspaper, waxpaper or polyethylene sheeting and letting the chemical work overnight. If the stripper dries, you can reactivate it by brushing on a little more, and then scraping it all off.

"The only trick to stripping," says Maxwell, "is to treat every element making up a piece of furniture in exactly the same manner." Because the chemicals and scrubbings affect the ability of the wood to absorb stain and finish, he gives every leg the same degree of attention.

Once the paint is off, you'll need to rinse off any remaining stripper; otherwise, the chemical residue will react with the new finish. Commercial stripper rinses are available, but Maxwell recommends denatured alcohol or mineral spirits. Water-based strippers can be rinsed off with water but, he says, "the water will wind up raising the grain, which will mean more sanding later on."

After it had thoroughly dried, Maxwell gave the table a finish sanding. After starting with a power sander, he switched to a small cork-padded block. "Power sanders do tend to leave swirl marks that will show when you apply the stain," he says. Maxwell also advises against too much sanding. "If a piece is getting a surface finish, using 100-grit sandpaper is sufficient," he explains.
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