The Furniture Stripping Process
What happens to a piece of furniture when it comes in for stripping? The following steps are followed for items being stripped using a process which employs a water rinse or bath at some point. Immersion systems and flow-table systems will both use this process with some minor variations. The hand stripping process which is typically solvent only, and which is becoming increasingly rare among professional refinishers, will be outlined afterwards.
We disassemble because we want to protect metal pieces from rusting, we want to eliminate pockets where stripping fluids can become trapped, and we want to be able to treat non-wood components separately whenever possible. It is also a help to break large items down into sections which makes the stripping process more manageable and successful. For instance, from a dining table we would remove the legs, extension slides and metal hardware. From a dresser or a desk we would remove handles or knobs, hinges, metal drawer runners or guides and removable back panels. From china cabinets and curios we would also remove glass windows and mirrors. All upholstered sections must be removed.
2) Finish removal
Items then are placed on a table and coated with an industrial strength paint and finish remover or in a tank filled with the same liquid. The stripper will soften the finish and make it easer to scrape and scrub off, but rarely will simply wash the finish off without additional effort. Depending on the tenacity of the finish and the size and shape of the piece, this step could take minutes to hours.
3) First water rinse
After allowing the stripping liquid to drain off the piece back into back into a collection reservoir, each piece is then carefully rinsed with water from a high pressure washer. This removes the remaining stripper and also pulls out some of the finish lodged in the pores of the wood. In truth this is more an additional finish removal step than a simple rinse.
4) Caustic wash
Next the item is washed with a weak caustic solution that is usually heated. The primary benefit from this step is to remove any remaining stripping residue. Surface pigments and dirt are also removed. Some finishes and paints are actually more effectively removed by this solution and may proceed through a wash-scrub-wash cycle in this step.
5) Second water rinse
The caustic cleaning solution remains active as long as it is on the piece so it must be rinsed off. Again, we use a high pressure water wash, but this time in a more literally rinsing action.
6) Acid Wash
The item is then washed with a weak acidic solution . This wash removes most water borne mineral stains and also brightens and neutralizes the wood. Woods with high tannin content such as oak may require additional acid washing to draw out the tannins and ensure a uniform natural appearance.
7) The final step
Excess surface liquids need to be removed from the piece. Squeegees, towels and a heated blower may all be used in this step. It is then allowed to dry and reach equilibrium with the atmospheric moisture. Once the piece is fully dry it can be reassembled, repaired or prepped for finishing, depending on the path it is on.
The process of hand stripping is similar but simpler. A thicker formulation of the same or a similar industrial paint and finish remover is used. The stripper is painted onto the piece a section at a time. The stripper is allowed to work for 3 -5 minutes and then scraped or scrubbed off. A second application of stripper is then made and the surface is scrubbed with steel wool again. Next it is scrubbed with steel wool dipped in acetone and finally wiped down with acetone and a cloth. Does that sound simple? Try it yourself and you may understand why nearly every week people bring in things for us to strip that they have labored to hand strip and finally have given up on. Those people always are surprised how much cleaner our stripping got their piece than their best effort and how quickly we were able to complete the job.
Why hand strip? Here are some reasons:
- The item is constructed with sections made from composite wood materials (particle board, mdf, etc). Such materials are likely to swell in a system including water.
- The item is too large to be used in the stripping system.
- The item is upholstered and the upholstery does not need to be removed.
- Prejudice, you are just convinced it is better to hand strip and no facts will sway you. Just in case it might make a difference, we address some of the typical complaints associated with this prejudice on our FAQs page.