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Thread: Refinishing a cedar chest - How to remove the old finish.

  1. #1

    Refinishing a cedar chest - How to remove the old finish.

    My wife picked up an old cedar chest that needs refinishing. It's nice, solid cedar, so I said I'd do it if she helped me with the sanding.

    Busted out the ROS with 120 grit and immediately started clogging the paper bad, small spots of finish turned into coin sized accretions within seconds. I jumped down to 80 grit, same problem.
    I took some denatured alcohol to it, which definitely affected the finish. With some minutes soak and a few minutes scrubbing it got gummy and sticky, and stained the rag. After drying, I can see that alcohol liquefied the finish, as there is now a glossier area with drips around the area I rubbed, indicating I pushed the solids out to the edges with the rubbing. The middle of the rubbed area still has finish, but much less. Test sanding indicates I could probably sand without ruining paper now. The alcohol was very slow and took a lot of rubbing though, hopefully there is something better suited to the job.

    I assume I'll need to use some sort of chemical stripper before I sand to remove the bulk of the finish, but I've never done that before. Should I buy a purpose-made product, or just use something like mineral spirits/paint thinner? Hopefully someone can give me some advice on how best to proceed.

    A couple of photos of the area I rubbed, the top which looks sun/water damaged, and a closeup of the way the finish cracked up in the damaged areas.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Southport, NC
    Sanding is a poor, slow and incomplete way to remove a finish. It will not remove the finish that has penetrated the surface of the wood. What you want to use is a chemical paint stripper that contains methylene chloride. This will do a fast and complete removal if you follow all the directions on the label. Once the paint remover has done its job, sand the surface with 120 grit, then 150 and finish with 180 grit sanding by hand in the direction of the grain.

    Be sure to apply a coat of dewaxed shellac before applying your oil based clear coats. Cedar emits oils that can interfere with the drying of oil based finishes. Use Zinsser Sealcoat. It's a totally dewaxed shellac.

  3. #3
    If alcohol makes it sticky, isn't it shellac? Are there other finishes that are possible? Personally, I dislike using chemical stripper. Maybe part of it is its the way i've done things and I've gotten used to them.

    Have you tried a heat gun? When i do it I get off the bulk of finish pretty quickly. Then I usually hit it with 150 and finish. I live in an old house and clean up almost a century of abuse and bad decorating choices in a house full of woodwork and sometimes depending on what I'm dealing with will scrape gently or even just wash with alcohol after using the heat gun. The li'l woman has also collected some orphans over the years that i"ve refinished. Too much sanding makes it near impossible to maintain the details.

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