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Using Chemical Strippers to Prep a Wood Door for Refinishing

Pro secret for rejuvenating weather-beaten wood

sand the door of old varnish
Photo by Kit Latham
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When the Finish Isn't Finished

On doors where the finish is damaged but largely intact, chemical strippers will take it off much faster than sandpaper. The interior of this door was in good shape, except where the family dog had used it as a scratching post. Dee used methylene chloride, protecting his hands with gloves and his lungs with a respirator equipped with an organic-vapor cartridge.

After pouring out a small puddle, he brushed it out with two strokes then left it. "The more you brush it, the more you interfere with its ability to strip," he says. After three minutes or so, the finish dissolved and was easy to scrape off into a plastic bucket. He removed the gunk from corners and profiles with strip­ping pads and 00 steel wool, both found in paint-supply aisles at home centers.

Once the sludge was gone, Dee neutralized the stripper by scrubbing the wood with a pad dipped in denatured alcohol. Then he wiped away the residue with a rag before it had a chance to dry. He continued wiping the entire surface again and again with clean alcohol-soaked rags until one rag stayed clean. After an hour or two of drying time and a sanding with 120-grit paper, the wood was ready to finish.

hand-sanding the door's profiles
Photo by Kit Latham
Take the proper safety precautions when using chemical strippers
chemical strippers for door refinishing
Photo by Kit Latham
Chemical strippers make quick work of prepping wood surfaces for refinishing

When the Finish Isn't Finished

On doors where the finish is damaged but largely intact, chemical strippers will take it off much faster than sandpaper. The interior of this door was in good shape, except where the family dog had used it as a scratching post. Dee used methylene chloride, protecting his hands with gloves and his lungs with a respirator equipped with an organic-vapor cartridge.

After pouring out a small puddle, he brushed it out with two strokes then left it. "The more you brush it, the more you interfere with its ability to strip," he says. After three minutes or so, the finish dissolved and was easy to scrape off into a plastic bucket. He removed the gunk from corners and profiles with strip­ping pads and 00 steel wool, both found in paint-supply aisles at home centers.

Once the sludge was gone, Dee neutralized the stripper by scrubbing the wood with a pad dipped in denatured alcohol. Then he wiped away the residue with a rag before it had a chance to dry. He continued wiping the entire surface again and again with clean alcohol-soaked rags until one rag stayed clean. After an hour or two of drying time and a sanding with 120-grit paper, the wood was ready to finish.

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