How to Remove Paint and Varnish

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How to Remove Paint and Varnish

People who restore heirloom or antique furniture to its original glory often first have to deal with layers of old paint and varnish. There are a couple of different methods for properly removing these materials, each with their own pros and cons. Fortunately, deciding which method is best for a specific piece of furniture is easy, as long as a few important points are considered. Even a DIY novice can attempt this task successfully, if they prepare properly and are careful throughout the process.


Sanding method

One method available for removing paint or varnish is sanding. This works best for flat surfaces without intricate carvings or other small nooks and crannies.


To use the sanding method, a few materials are necessary:

  • Mask: Any type will do, as long as it keeps dust away from the mouth and nose
  • Safety glasses
  • Sander: Electric sander is best, though a hand sander will work in a pinch
  • Coarse sandpaper: 60 or 80 grit
  • Fine sandpaper: 100 grit or higher
  • Damp cloth
  • Screwdriver

The sanding removal process

If the furniture has any hardware, remove it first. Use a screwdriver to remove the hardware easily. Once the hardware is off, sand the piece with the coarse sandpaper. It usually takes several passes with the sander before the original wood grain shows through. Continue sanding until all the paint or varnish is gone and wood is visible underneath.

Once the paint or varnish is removed, sand the furniture with a fine grit sandpaper to make the surface smooth again. This should only take one or two passes. Finally, wipe the excess dust off the surface with a damp cloth before applying a fresh coat of paint or stain.

Pros and cons of sanding

The sanding method is a simple process that requires few materials. It is generally quick and inexpensive. However, if multiple layers of paint or varnish are involved, sanding may be very labour intensive and require long periods of time to complete. Also, coarse grit sandpaper may damage very delicate woods or veneer. It is difficult to remove paint or varnish from intricate carvings or cracks, too, since the sander cannot reach into these areas.


Chemical method

A chemical treatment is often the preferred method for multiple layers of paint, or furniture with detailed areas where a sander cannot reach.


The chemical method also requires a few materials to begin. These include the following:

  • Mask
  • Safety goggles
  • Gloves
  • Aluminium foil (optional)
  • Large plastic putty knife or paint scraper
  • Chemical paint stripper or remover
  • Container for disposing of old paint or varnish
  • Screwdriver
  • Paint brush

The chemical removal process

Remove all hardware before beginning the process. Use the paintbrush to liberally smear the entire painted or varnished surface with the paint remover. Allow this to set for the amount of time specified on the product directions, usually 20 minutes or longer. Placing aluminium foil over the paint remover may help it penetrate the paint or varnish more quickly, but this is optional.

Once the specified time elapses, carefully remove the foil and scrape the putty knife against the furniture. If the knife goes straight through to wood grain, then one coat of paint remover is probably enough. However, if there are more layers of paint underneath, another coat or two may be required.

Once this process is finished, it may be necessary to sand the surface with a fine grit paper to remove excess clumps and smooth the furniture for new paint or varnish.

Pros and cons of paint remover chemicals

Though paint remover works well for small cracks and thick layers of paint, it is a time-consuming process. If the furniture piece only has one layer of paint, sanding is usually much quicker. In addition, paint remover chemicals are quite strong and may damage thin veneer or delicate wood. It is also a dangerous material to ingest; so protective gear must be worn at all times.


How to buy paint and varnish removal products on eBay

You can find all the materials you need to remove paint and varnish from your furniture on eBay. To locate sanders, sandpaper, and other tools, you can enter phrases like "electric sander" and "fine grit sandpaper" in the search box found on any page. Make sure you purchase the correct sandpaper for your sander by reading the descriptions thoroughly. Consider looking for someone local who can arrange pickup or quick shipping, so you can get started on your project right away.

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