Simple Tips On How To Remove Varnish From Wood

Applying varnish to a piece of wooden furniture can definitely enhance its aesthetic appeal and give it a very deep shine. It can make the grain structure in a piece of wood really stand out, and varnish can protect it from corrosive elements such as moisture and sunlight. However, if the fixture is old and has some damage, it is better to strip off the varnish and start over.

The techniques for how to remove varnish from wood, however, require a certain amount of time, skill and loads of patience. The varnish needs to be stripped off the wood in the proper manner to avoid destroying the quality of the wood, especially aged ones. Carefully follow these suggestions to get the best results for your wooden furniture.

How To Remove Varnish From Wood
by Wonderlane under CC
How To Remove Varnish From Wood


One of the most common methods employed for removing varnish from wood is through sanding by hand. This procedure works well for two stages of stripping off varnish from surfaces of wooden furniture. First, you can use sandpaper, particularly the ruff type with an 80 grit, for surfaces with a thick coat of varnish. This also works well when trying to rough up the surface of the varnished surface, to allow a paint remover to work faster and to better penetrate the wood surface.

Sanding by hand can also be employed after removing paint with a chemical remover. For this purpose, a finer grit paper, perhaps a 180 grit, can be used to smooth the wooden surface and clean up any leftover varnish. This stage of sanding is done before refinishing the wooden surface of the furniture. A word of caution, though: control your sanding and be careful not to sand too much or the wooden surface may be damaged.

Manual sanding is not a recommended procedure to employ when trying to strip off varnish from antiques, because doing so may lessen the value of the piece. The use of sandpaper destroys the patina of aged wood, thus causing damage. Sanding is also not suitable for pieces that have intricate designs because it may ruin the lines of the carvings. It is still best to use sandpaper for wooden furniture with mostly flat surface areas.

Using Paint Removers To Get Rid Of Varnish

Another method used to remove varnish from wood that is convenient to employ, especially among do-it-yourself enthusiasts, is through the use of paint removers. Although they are labeled as ?paint removers? in home supply stores, they can very well be used to strip off varnish from wooden fixtures. These products are available in different forms in the market, such as spray on, aerosol and brush on.

If you are after convenience in applying the paint remover, then buy the spray on or the aerosol type. If you really want a paint remover that can effectively aid in stripping the varnish from the wooden furniture, then choose the brush on removers, especially the marine type. This type of varnish remover works best and fastest in getting rid of varnish, being the harshest of its kind. For those who want to go ?green? while doing this home improvement task, there are also environmentally safe paint removers available on the market.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to remove varnish from wood using paint removers:

  1. Before everything else, clean the wooden surface by washing it with water. Use a rag with laundry detergent or dishwashing liquid if necessary. Dry thoroughly before applying any remover product.
  2. Wear personal protective equipment to ensure safety while working with these chemicals. Use a respirator, some gloves and wear a long-sleeved shirt to cover up your skin. It is also advisable to open all the windows, turn on fans inside the house and let the air flow before removing varnish in a closed area.
  3. Pour the paint remover onto the wooden surface. After doing so, brush the product liberally all around the area.
  4. Wait until the paint remover sets appropriately on the wooden surface. You might need to read the instructions that come with the paint remover to determine the length of time it takes to set. This is done to ease up the process of removing the varnish from the wooden surface.
  5. Start scraping off the varnish from the wooden surface. A rounded scraper is best to use, since other types may leave scrapes and cause damage to the original surface.
  6. Once done, use a small piece of steel wool to remove any left over varnish. This has to be done before the surface dries up. Also bear in mind that the steel wool may have to be replaced often while doing this chore.
  7. After scraping off all the varnish from the wood, gently sand the surface. As mentioned earlier, a fine grade type of sand paper is best for this purpose.
  8. Repeat the entire process if necessary.

Using Burlap To Remove Varnish From Wood

Aside from sandpaper, another material that can be used in procedures for removing varnish from wood is burlap. Yes, you can use just a small piece from a burlap sack to help remove varnish from a piece of furniture, particularly on wooden surfaces such as table legs.

The rough texture of the burlap makes it a suitable substitute for sandpaper in certain surfaces. Just let the paint remover soak into the surface and then use the burlap scrap to scrape off the paint remover and varnish. Do this in a rapid manner for better results.

Using A Varnish Remover Scraper

Some people also prefer to use a scraper, particularly a pull scraper, to remove varnish from wood with the help of paint removers. As mentioned earlier, use a rounded scraper to avoid damaging the wooden surface. A flat metal file or a bench grinder can be used to make the sharp corners of your available scraper round.

When using a pull scraper after allowing the paint remover to soak in, pull the tool towards you over the wooden surface to be able to remove the bulk of the varnish in one motion. You might need to do this process two to three times to completely remove the varnish from wood. As mentioned in the steps on how to remove varnish from wood using paint removers, thoroughly clean the surface after this process.

Although not an easy task, removing varnish from a wooden surface will be a lot more convenient if you follow these suggestions. Take some time to complete the project, and always be careful not to damage the wooden surface, lest you decrease its value. Being knowledgeable of these various ways to scrape off varnish from wood makes this task a lot easier and more effective in the comforts of your own home.

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