What is a good product to remove polyurethane?

chaispiceApril 29, 2007

I have an old scrubbed pine table. It has a polyurethane finish on it that looks almost plastic. What would be a good product to take this off, and what would you recommend to refinish it to look more natural? I am considering using wax only. Is that a good option? Thanks so much!

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Mechanical removal, most likely by sanding.
Wax is about zero protection for wood and spots very easily with water.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2007 at 11:49AM
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I prefer to chemically strip finishes. Though messy, it's over shortly, works thoroughly, keeps any patina, avoids sand-through risk on veneers, and waves on solids.

A MC chloride stripper is the most commonly available and will work.
about strippers

Stripping wood

Just a couple of my observations about "polyurethane."
* Too many people equate "any clear finish" with polyurethane. Just about any factory or professionally applied finish will not be polyurethane. It just dries too slowly for production work.

* The "plastic look" of polyurethane is more often a flaw in application vs. a flaw in product. Though I think it's often overused, it is not a bad finish, but there may be better ones for your application.

Flexner, the author at the above links says, "Wax is the closest thing to no finish there is." I am also careful to point out the difference between a waxed finish and a wax finish. The former is some other type of finish (lacquer, shellac, or varnish) that has a top coat of wax.

As far as what other finish, that depends on a lot of things:
Choosing a finish

Here is a link that might be useful: Finishing for first-timers.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2007 at 2:29PM
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While I use methylene chloride stripper a lot it needs a great deal of care.
Cancer issues are the least of the problems.
When MC gets into the body it ties up hemoglobin (just like carbon monoxide).
If you have ANY history of heart disease this can cause a lot of problems.
It also burns skin on contact, and is a serious hazard to eyes.
Using it is full rubber glove (the long ones that go past your elbow), face shield, and respirator territory.
It is really nasty stuff.

An old table with a very glossy surface sounds like it may have been refinished, and very well could have polyurethane on it.
If the table is not veneer there is very little risk in sanding the surface.

No wax based finish provides a very large amount of protection to wood.
They all require maintenance and upkeep, and will spot with water. Warm water being even worse.
It looks nice for lightly used things, but is a pretty poor tabletop finish.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2007 at 3:03PM
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I just finished making a tabletop out of 100 year old 4 X 4 wall studs for a lady. I put on 4 coats of semi-gloss minwax poly (what she thought she wanted) and 2 coats of paste wax. Now she wants a satin finish instead. Do I need to strip down to the wood or can I just sand the semi-gloss and put satin over it?

    Bookmark   February 6, 2011 at 9:19AM
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Lea, you can abrade the semi-gloss coat and recoat with satin. 2 things: One coat of satin may not be enough to cover the semi-gloss finish. And satin finish has a fine particulate in it. It is necessary to stir often to maintain uniformity of the finish.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2013 at 1:47PM
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You may not need to strip and re-coat at all, just try rubbing it out with 0000 steel wool for a very matte finish (or use a scotch-brite pad), use pumice and rottenstone or an automotive polishing compound to achieve intermediate to high gloss levels.

Semi-gloss and matte finishes just have particulates in them to dull the surface, you have much better control and a nicer final effect by rubbing out a gloss finish to whatever sheen you prefer.

I've been rubbing out polyurethane finishes for decades now, people think I use some exotic antique wonder varnish made up to a long lost recipe. Actually it's just the exotic antique effect of some elbow grease, which works like a champ with new finishes as well as old.

Badly applied, overly thick poly finishes may need to be stripped. I had decent success with 3M Safestrip while fixing one of my mistakes. It required a lot of patience. I applied the stripper then wrapped the piece in saran wrap to prevent evaporation and let it sit overnight. Methylene chloride is way faster, but as noted above has nasty cardiovascular tox and has become very hard to find.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2013 at 2:26PM
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