stripping vs. sanding vs. scraping

I need to remove the dark walnut finish from about 50' of handrails in my house. The rails are about the size of a 2x6, fully rectangular (i.e. no curved profiles), and I'm guessing oak. The finish is 20 years old. I can remove the rails to do the work.
I assume I can sand the finish off with a belt sander (which I'd have to buy, though I'd rather not have to) or my palm sander, which could take a while. Either option seems like a big mess and clouds of chemical-laden dust.
Are there other options, like using a chemical stripper instead, or as a first pass? Will that actually take a stain out of wood?
What about using a plane or a scraper of some sort?
Thanks, Michael
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I've tried all three approaches to remove paint from baseboard and casing that I reinstalled after renovation work. Sanding resulted in a wavy surface. Running the trim through a thickness planer took the edge right off the knives--silica in the paint. Chemicals... well, they are chemicals. I also tried a conventional paint scraper and a carbide paint scraper--both left gouges in the wood on errant strokes. The last room I did I simply used a Stanley card scraper (about 4"X6" flat piece of steel). It was pretty fast, left the wood intact in it's original shape, was easier to sharpen than the thickness planer knives, and was cheap (About $6 as I recall). The Stanley scraper is relatively thick and I use it for rough work. I have a couple thinner L-N scrapers for finer finish work.
John
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On Tue, 30 Dec 2003 12:32:10 -0500, Michael Press

Scraper.
In fact, several scrapers. Have enough to do a reasonable amount of work before you have to stop and re-sharpen them.
For scraping off old finishes, a simple broken glass scraper works well. Take a pane of cheap greenhouse or window glass (S/H is fine), wrap it in newspaper and tap it with a hammer. Select pieces with good slightly convex edges and wrap some gaffer tape over the others to protect your fingers.
Don't use a belt sander - quick way to put ugly flats on the timber. -- Klein bottle for rent. Apply within.
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A - scrap the idea of a belt sander. You are almost certain to ruin the hand rails with one. Nothing against you, it's just the nature of the beasts.
B- try a MEK stripper, it may work well and it is the least intrusive, at least to the rails, method and won't harm them. Like chicken soup, it can't hurt. It will however require the use of gloves, maybe a respirator, and a well ventilated work area.
C- If it is oak, no matter what you do you had better plan on some sessions with a stripper and a light wire brush so you can get all the stain and finish out of the deep pores.
D - if you have to buy any sander make it a Random orbital sander with a hook and loop sandpaper attachment arrangement.
E - if you are familiar with the care and feeding of card and or cabinet scrapers they would be my tool of choice.
--
Mike G.
snipped-for-privacy@heirloom-woods.net
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%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%% I refinish antique & used furniture & I would say for you the easiest & best way for you to do this is to send the railing out and get the railing & post dipped, and you stain and poly it. I'm not saying you can't strip the finish off yourself, you can but it can be messy and you might have wished you never started it. 1. You can use a gel type stripper to strip the finish off (very messy). 2. Sand with a belt or palm sander or scrap it (dusty).
If you do plan on sanding it I would say, try it with a palm sander with a heavy grit first then a lesser grit but not a belt sander because a belt sander you might belt too much to fast, & leave belt marks. (If you sand too much you can't put it back.) I myself have screwed up furniture with a belt sander so be careful.
After you have it striped you can stain it, but remember it's always easier to apply a darker stain if it's to light because it is harder to make it lighter once it's too dark. So don't stain it with a stain that you may think might be to dark. First try it on a sample piece of wood.
Also when you put the poly on to seal it, steel wool it with fine steel wool in between coats.
Hope this will help you also there's a photo of a desk I just refinished.
Ron
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If you have a Shellac or Laquer finish, you might be able to retore the finish without stripping it. If you take some alcohol and rub in on a spot. If it desolves the finish it is shellac, if it desolves in laquer thinner it is laquer. If any of these work, get some protective gloves and rub out a small area. If you like the rejuvenated finish, then you can just apply another topcoat of laquer. You can also add a little dye to a glaze coat to shift the color to your liking.

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