It’s hard to remember that twenty years ago I couldn’t even put up a shelf.  The very first house I bought in my twenties I decided to paint the pine doors.  And as I didn’t know about primer and undercoats, seven coats of enamel later I wondered what the problem was.  I laugh when I think of this!  How much water (and paint) has gone under the bridge since then…

I used to really hate ‘prep work’ – I always want to just get on and finish a job so I can see the wonderful transformation I’m so excited about.  I’ve learned through mistakes and trial and error that if you put in some work at the beginning, the outcome really is so much better.  And believe me, I’m always sceptical about this – I’m Mrs Shortcut herself.

So when I recently acquired a table where the top has been wrecked by stripping it the wrong way, I thought I’d mention it.  This antique table has lost its patina and character.  The chap I picked it up from had attacked it with a belt sander, and sanded off all the paint (imagine the dust!) and all the character…  In fact, he was selling it as he didn’t know how to get the paint off the carving.  At least he hadn’t sanded this off too…

how not to strip woodInstead, paint stripper or a heat gun are the tools you need.  Paint stripper is most commonly used.  It’s evil stuff – get it on your skin and it burns.  Get it on anything you value – oh dear.  Basically, you paint it on thickly, wait until it bubbles (or at least the surface below bubbles) and then scrape it off.  If the piece is carved, it’s harder work.  But done well, all of the patina will be preserved.

Below, you can see some detailed carving half way through being stripped with paint stripper.

half stripped furniture

See how all the lovely patina is preserved?  In fact, often you get such a nice result that you could just leave it (if that’s your taste).  Many an antique shop does exactly that.

A heat gun is better for thick paint – I’ve used it on an old mantelpiece where it lifted the old layers of paint and varnish in a deliciously satisfying peel.  In fact, I got quite addicted to this and was sorry to finish the mantle!  With this, you just have to be careful not to hold it too long in one place and burn the wood.

stripped mantlepiece

Even though I was going to paint this white, the old paint was coming off in chunks, so it had to be stripped. I actually like the way it looks, but I needed to build it in with other wood that would never have matched, so I had to paint it.  In addition, the decorative corbels are plaster, so I would not be able to get them to match the wood.

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