American Woodworker

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Rescue a Windsor-Style Chair - Part 1: Removing the Old Finish

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A few years ago I found an old Windsor chair near the dumpster of one of the buildings in Harvard. It was a snowy day and, when I picked up the chair, I saw that it suffered from few problems - loose legs and stretchers, missing and broken spindles. I am sure that these were the reasons it was tossed away from the department/office it used to live in. I decided to restore it and add a detail or two to make it stand out. The first step was to extract the sockets and all the loose parts from their mortises. The next step was to start the stripping process – as the old chair was covered with chipped, cracked and peeled off polyurethane finish.

 

Honestly, I really don't like stripping finishes. This is because stripping agents are among the more harsh materials in our woodworking world, and in order use them one needs to take extra care, wear gloves and even a respirator.

 

 

How I remove finish with a stripper: I pour some stripper into a metal container. Then with a brush I apply it onto the surfaces. Once the stripper have dissolved the finish (made it softer, and liquidy) it is time to scrape the stripper-finish goo. I like to use coarse saw-dust as a medium for scrubbing and absorbing the stripper-finish goo. To collect the goo form beaded details and other intricate areas you can use ropes, shop made wooden scrapers, etc. Then after all the goo have been taken off, you can clean any remaining stripper residues with a cotton rag moisten with mineral spirit or water – read the instructions carefully to learn what is the recommended material to rinse & naturalize the stripper.

Next time I will talk about the restoration/alternation process