September 28, 2022

Description of Job
• Clean valuable old furniture.
• Use chemicals to strip furniture of one or more old coats of paint, varnish,
or other finishes.
• Prepare furniture for application of new finish

The Need
Family heirlooms, an old favorite chair, or just a change in decor—sometimes it
makes eminent sense to strip an old varnish, shellac, or paint finish from a stillusable piece of wooden furniture. Once the piece has been brought as close as
possible to its original raw wood state, it can be restained and refinished.
The process can result in a rejuvenation of a valuable old piece at much less
cost than buying a new piece.
This is not rocket science, but furniture stripping involves a great deal of handson dirty work and the use of caustic and toxic chemicals. You have to work within
local, state, and federal regulations on the use and disposal of chemicals and
waste materials.
Communicate clearly with your clients to make sure that they have reasonable
expectations about the final product. Some finishes can be completely removed,
and others cannot. Some modern finishes, including certain polyurethane and
acrylic products, are difficult if not impossible to strip.
There are also some environmentally safe stripping solutions that don’t
require special handling or disposal; depending on the finish being removed, they
may be as effective as harsh chemicals.
Use chemically impervious gloves, eye protection, and protective clothing in
your shop; make sure there is adequate ventilation to remove fumes.
Make sure your contract with the customer limits your liability for damage or
loss of the furniture; don’t accept a very valuable antique or an irreplaceable heirloom if your financial exposure is too high.
Know the Territory
The most common methods for stripping furniture are hand stripping, cold tank
dipping, and hot tank dipping.
Hand stripping is the slowest, most labor-intensive, most expensive, and generally the safest way to remove a finish. A chemical stripper is applied to the furniture with a brush, and after a specified period of time the solution is removed
with rags and brushes; multiple applications may be necessary. Residue is
cleaned off with lacquer thinner or other solvents.
For the cold tank method, the furniture is immersed in a tank filled with a
chemical stripping solution. After a period of time, the chemical is scrubbed off
and residue is washed off with water or a solvent. This method is generally the

quickest and least expensive option for commercial users and works best on
pieces with just a single coat of finish; homeowners working on just one piece
would end up wasting a great deal of costly stripping solution.
The most intense commercial stripping method uses a heated tank of caustic
lye which removes many types of finish but may be too harsh for delicate pieces.
The lye is washed off using water. A side effect of the use of lye is that it may
darken some types of wood. For that reason, most pieces must then undergo a
second dipping, usually in a tank of oxalic acid or a similar chemical to lighten
the wood and neutralize any leftover lye. Hot dipping is well suited to removing
layers of paint from architectural elements of a home, including doors, moldings,
and banisters. It can also be used on painted furniture.
Modern chemicals are much easier to work with and less likely to cause any
damage to furniture than older methods, but any stripping process has the potential of causing some discoloration or other stress.
The most difficult finish to remove is paint, especially on pieces that have a
lot of detail. For example, the paint on flat surfaces of a dresser may come off
relatively easily, but it requires a lot of handwork to get the coating off of carved
decorations, spindles, joined edges, and interior angles. Some practitioners use
sprayers to get a stripping solution into tight spaces and objects as fine and small
as jeweler’s or surgeon’s tools.
The final step may be to return the near-raw wooden piece to the customer for
application of a new finish, or you may offer that service yourself. Some furniture strippers partner with expert furniture finishers.
How to Get Started
Advertise your availability at home centers, community centers, and retail stores.
Make your services known to interior decorators, auction houses, and used furniture dealers. Place ads in newspapers and shoppers.
Ask satisfied customers to recommend you to friends and acquaintances;
offer a bonus or discount for new business they send your way.
Up-front Expenses
The amount of up-front expenses for a furniture stripping business depends on
the level of service you plan to provide to your customers. The least expensive
setup (and the most expensive service to sell) is hand stripping; considerably
more expensive are operations that offer cold and hot dipping.
For hand stripping, you’ll need tarps and level work surfaces, a selection of
stripping chemicals, a set of brushes of various sizes and firmness, wooden

scrapers, disposable rags, and steel wool. You’ll also need containers for the safe
disposal of flammable rags and other debris, and for disposal of used chemicals.
To protect yourself, you’ll need heavy rubber gloves, safety glasses or a face
shield, and a strong ventilation system.
For dipping, you’ll need several tubs large enough to fully accommodate a
piece of furniture and hold caustic chemicals and acids. You’ll also need to arrange for safe disposal of large quantities of the solutions.
How Much to Charge
Charge an hourly rate for your time and the use of chemicals, tanks, and tools.
You can offer the client an estimate of hours, but be careful not to lowball the
price for intricate pieces. Plan on at least 50 percent more time for removal of
paint than for shellac or varnish, and add more time for pieces with intricate carvings and inside angles.
If the customer has not already removed hardware such as knobs, hinges, and
badges add time or a fee for that service. Add a freight charge for pickup and
Many companies also add a charge for disposal of hazardous wastes, either
as a percentage of the total price or as a flat fee.
Legal and Insurance Issues
Special notes: In dealing with your client’s property, seek to limit your liability
for damage or loss to the actual replacement value of items in your possession.
You should protect yourself against claims for sentimental value or loss of use.

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