Chemical Strippers - Friend or Foe?

I'm not an expert woodworker, instead I'm an antique radio hobbyist who often ends up having to refinish the old wooden cabinets. I've got one on the go right now that's giving me plenty of trouble - it came in with most veneer peeled off, pieces of wood chipped out of the legs, warped wood, and so forth. Tons of wood glue, masking tape, and plastic cement later, the cabinet is coming along quite well. But the stripping is proving to be a problem, especially on the ornately-shaped legs. It's almost impossible to get at certain areas of these legs with either sandpaper or a paint scraper. So I tried some Minwax Antique Furniture Stripper. Didn't do any good at all. It did remove most of the varnish from open areas, but it couldn't touch the corners and tight spots. What's more, the chemical drips left stains on the areas I'd already scraped, and even peeled some of the veneer I'd reglued. I'm guessing that the pros don't waste their time with chemical strippers, am I right? If so, what do you recommend for removing varnish from such tricky areas? Thanks for any advice.
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wrote:

No. Chemical strippers are extremely useful. The difference is that you don't just buy a tin of "Magic Pantagrullion" and expect it to work for all cases.

First identify what the varnish is made of. Then identify what anything else is made of (glues etc.) Then choose a solvent that affects one and not the other.
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I'm not much good at identifying finishes. However the stripper I use is a mixture of methanol / acetone / toluene. Judging from the odor, you'd think it was pretty strong stuff. Not sure where I'd find anything stronger in Canada.....
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strippers,
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wrote:

Methanol / dichloromethane is another favourite (Nitromors, in the UK)
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ATM strippers (acetone / toluene/ methanol) are relatively weak as finish strippers go. Old radios are very often finished with a phenolic based varnish. These are most easily stripped with a methylene chloride containing stripper. They work quickly and do not require neutralization as do lye based strippers such as the old Peel Away. The new Peel Away is NMP based so it takes some time to work and effort to keep wet. You might consider using an ATM stripper to wash down a piece hand stripped with a methylene chloride stripper. You will need to remove the wax that comes with the methylene based strippers not to mention any finish that needs to be rinsed away.
Good Luck.
To e-mail, remove NGs

think
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If by NMP you mean N-methyl pyrilidone I suggest that a quick read of its MSDS is in order. This is a potent solvent (which I use a lot in a laboratory setting) but to be exposed to it in use without the proper protection or knowledge is akin to playing Russian roulette.
Phil
Baron wrote:

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In UK people who strip old pine use a hot caustic soda solution (sodium hydroxide) but this isnt nice stuff.

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Greetings,
Since this thread has attracked the attention of those who seem to know, I will ask my question.
I have a chair made of white oak and stained walnut (not by me). It has a lot of dirt and wax on it. What should I use to clean it without disturbing the stain?
Should I just use 409 cleaner and soft rags?
Sincerely, Bill THomas
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Chris,
Strippers are most useful, getting one that works is the trick. Most hardware, paint stores, and home improvement stores have expensive, weak strippers. Kutzit is a pretty good in store item. Benco has good products as does Besway. Most of the commercial blends are very similar, either water wash or solvent wash or both. Some flammable some not.
As has already been stated in another post, a factory blend of acetone, toluene, methanol, and methylene chloride is as good as it will get without harming the piece you are working on. Stay away from the caustic based products. Stay away from the semi paste strippers as well, I know there are those of you who swear by the semi paste, its just not for me. More work than it is worth.
The key is to use plenty of stripper to saturate the areas, no scraping unless you use a wood scraper. I like using a sash brush (round) with the bristles cut to about 1-1 1/2 inches.
You did not say how old the radio cabinet is but assuming from the 1940's it will probably have a lacquer on it if it is and original finish. If some handyman has recoated it with a poly or urethane it will be far more difficult to strip but just hang in there and it will come off. While stripping rinse with clean stripper. When done use lacquer thinner to re rinse the whole piece just as if you are striping again.
Hope this helps.
Bob Klein Robert's Antiques Restoration Pensacola, Fl

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wrote:

Chemicals are good (esp Methylene Chloride, but use a mask and ventilate!), but it sounds as though you need to use different scrapers. I'd recommend a brass-bristle brush, which can clean out tiny corners and wood grain, and if you can get a dentist's pick, that'll really help you clear out the crannies.
For ornate legs and stuff, perhaps using a steel wool pad will help as well.
Best of luck: I love those old radio cases.
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