Refinishing antique wardrobe

dany153July 23, 2008

I'm about to attempt to refinish an antique wardrobe that maybe either rosewood or mahogany. This is a large piece that luckily breaks down to 6 pieces. I've done the testing and determined the original finish is lacquer, but that there has been an attempt to refinish part of it and that was done in shellac( it doesn't match and there is severe alligatoring on 3/4 of the peice that is lacquered). The lacquer finnish comes off beautifully with lacquer thinner and a bit of elbow grease. Should I remove with just lacquer thinner or use a chemical stripper? And any suggestions on a product ? And any suggestions on what to remove the shellac with? I'm taking this one step at a time, so I'm not to overwhelmed. Thanks for any advice! I'll have many more questions.

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amrad

Alligatoring takes a long time to happen. I would expect the original finish would have been shellac or varnish that has dried out. Lacquer is a relatively new technology that I have never seen alligator. A good quality furniture refinisher should take the shellac off, as it is alcohol based, polyurethane would require a stripper.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2008 at 11:45PM
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lindac

Use a mixture of denatured alcohol and laquer thinner....about 2/3 alcohol to 1/3 laquer thinner...( denatured alcohol is shellac thinner)
Sop it on with a sponge brush...let it sit and wipe it off with 4 ought steel wool and mop up with paper towel.
Repeat as needed
Of course do this in a well ventilated area...
Linda C

    Bookmark   July 24, 2008 at 12:02AM
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bobismyuncle

"just lacquer thinner or use a chemical stripper"

Lacquer thinner is essentially an ATM stripper (acetone-toluene-methanol). Lacquer thinner is a soup of solvents and co-solvents and the recipe varies by manufacturer and grade. The majority of strippers, though are methylene chloride. Most of what you are trading is work for chemical reaction.

To clarify some of the other posts:
Lacquer has been in common use since the 1920s and almost exclusive use in factory furniture in the last half of the 20th century.

The cheap disposable brushes can be dissolved in lacquer thinner. Most of them say "Not for use with lacquer or shellac" on the handle.

Denatured alcohol is a shellac _solvent_, not thinner. This is a subtle, but important difference. It means it will dissolve even dried shellac. Mineral spirits is a varnish thinner. Once the varnish is cured, mineral spirits will not do anything to it. Finish labels are often misleading, though, as lacquer thinner is really lacquer solvent.

Here is a link that might be useful: Strippers

    Bookmark   July 24, 2008 at 8:41AM
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dany153

Thanks so much for your responses! I did some research before testing the piece , and I was surprised, because I expected the opposite results then what I got. Maybe the lacquer finish is not the original finish. Due to the pattern of the alligatoring , I suspect the piece may have been exposed to a direct heat source, like a fireplace, maybe.
amrad- if there is another finish under the lacquer, does that mean I have to strip twice? Do I strip the lacquer 1st and then deal with whatever finish is underneath? Because the denatured alcohol test had no effect on the alligatored part. Where I used lacquer thinner, it does appear to be down to wood, but its awfully smooth.Too good to be true, I guess!
Linda C - thanks for the recipe! Makes sense since both the denatured alcohol and the lacquer thinner both gave me results on the shellac part. And I will be doing this outdoors, wouldn't dream of doing something of this size and nature inside!
Thanks!

    Bookmark   July 24, 2008 at 9:14AM
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dany153

bobsmyuncle-
"Lacquer thinner is essentially an ATM stripper (acetone-toluene-methanol). Lacquer thinner is a soup of solvents and co-solvents and the recipe varies by manufacturer and grade. The majority of strippers, though are methylene chloride. Most of what you are trading is work for chemical reaction."

Got it! I think I'm gonna take my time and do the work. The wood is in great condition with the exception of 1 of the doors that someone stripped and refinished. Its got some scratches in it obviously from scraping.

Thanks for your response!

    Bookmark   July 24, 2008 at 9:30PM
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bobismyuncle

Perhaps the most famous ATM stripper is Homer Formby's Antique Restorer (or whatever the name was). I always say, "Old Homer became a rich man by canning lacquer thinner and calling it finish restorer and thinning varnish and calling it Tung Oil."

    Bookmark   July 24, 2008 at 10:13PM
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sombreuil_mongrel

"Denatured alcohol is a shellac _solvent_, not thinner."
But this should not be taken to mean that you should not thin or dilute shellac with alcohol, as you must needs do, for there isn't anything else you can thin shellac with. If there is, and it's cheaper than methylated spirit, I'd like to know what it is.
Casey

    Bookmark   July 24, 2008 at 11:00PM
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bobismyuncle

From FWW 151 Jeff Jewitt

- due to bug, scroll down --

Thinner For shellac:
Drying time
Comments

Pure gum spirit turpentine
Slow
Retarder: add one teaspoon to 4 oz liquid shellac

Isobutanol
Medium slow
Retarder, difficult to find, strong odor

Isopropanol
Medium slow
Retarder for brushing. May be sold as gas line antifreeze (check label)

Denatured alcohol
Medium fast
Main solvent

Methanol
Very fast
Speeds up drying time. Difficult to find except for professional finishers

    Bookmark   July 25, 2008 at 7:44PM
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