Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tips For Strippers

Let’s face it, for strippers, tips are very important. The job is not pleasant, so good tips are really what makes the difference for strippers.

I gave some stripping tips last week, but I’ll go over them again here, plus add a few more. First off, there is no universal way to strip paint or shellac off wood, metal, or masonry. The tools I use differ depending on what I’m stripping off of what, and just as important is what was originally on what ever it is I am stripping.

Specifically here I’m talking about stripping old shellac off woodwork. For that I use a semi-paste methyl chloride stripper. The semi-paste variety is important because it will stick to vertical surfaces. I’m no chemist, but I read once that the power of methyl chloride is the small size of the molecules and the speed at which it evaporates. The methyl chloride molecules are smaller than paint and shellac molecules. When you apply it to the shellac the methyl chloride falls below the surface of the shellac and then as it evaporates it pushes the shellac off the surface of the wood.

While this is interesting, it is also important because you don’t want to let it dry on what ever it is you are trying to strip. Once it dries the shellac has now hardened back on to the wood. Also, because it evaporates quickly, you must be ready to wipe it off as soon as it has done it’s job. This is why before I start I tare every sheet off a roll of paper towels before I apply any stripper to the wood.

Use both stripper and paper towels liberally. Apply the stripper in generous amounts to a small area. About 1 square foot for flat surfaces and a quarter of that for detailed areas. Apply it with a brush and go over it again and again, keeping it wet until the shellac begins to move around under the brush. This usually only takes from 10 to 30 seconds.

When you see the shellac moving, quickly begin to take it off. For flat surfaces scrape it off with a small, flexible scraper. For detailed surfaces, wipe it off with paper towels. Use a lot of paper towels. There is nothing worse then getting the shellac off only to then put it back on because you are trying to make good use of a paper towel. Wipe once or twice with a single towel and then grab a new one.

This will take the majority of the shellac off and it goes quickly. Now go over the same area again with more stripper. This time use #2 steel wool to scrub small areas at a time and then quickly wipe it off. You should have steel wool in one had and a clean paper towel in the other. This gets better than 95% of the shellac off. The trick is to stop wiping before that last bit of shellac residue hardens again.

For me that is as good as I get it. Removing better than 95% of the shellac is enough that the wood looks good and still has some patina.

I used to use these rubber stripping gloves you find in the same isle as the strippers and finishes. Notice how the shellac clings to them. After a while it becomes very hard to work fast because you can’t grab a clean paper towel until you’ve gotten rid of the old one. The trouble is, the old one sticks to this mess on your gloves. Very frustrating.

I then found these Atlas vinyl gloves. I have used this pair of vinyl gloves twice as long as the rubber gloves in the previous picture and you’ll notice there is almost no residue on them. The down side is, the methyl chloride can get through the vinyl. Remember the small molecules? It is not really noticeable at first. It‘s not like my hands are dripping with methyl chloride inside the gloves. After about 2 hours though, my fingers start to tingle.

If you get methyl chloride stripper on bare skin it is very noticeable, very fast. It suddenly feels like a large ant is biting you. Using these gloves is not like that at all, but it is noticeable that something is getting through. I now where latex gloves like you find in a hospital under the vinyl gloves and I no longer have a problem.

Finally, and this really is the most important tip for would-be strippers. I don’t care what professional strippers tell you, do not do this job in a G-string and pasties. I found this tip on several professional stripper sites. Let me tell you, I tried it and it is not good. However, after seeing many of the woman who do wear this sort of attire while doing this job, the next time I will be hiring this work out.

The scaffolding is in place for the last part of the stairs. With any luck, I’ll finish up tomorrow.

This is the area above the first flight of stairs that I can’t get to unless I use the scaffolding. After this it is on to baseboard.

And all of this time I thought it was ebonized.


Shane said...

Milking those popular keywords as much as possible? :)

You are a good stripper by the way. You really bare it all.

Greg said...

I assume you're talking about the keyword "Shellac"?


Unknown said...

I once met a woman who's father invented that nasty stripper you're using. She told me her dad always said the most important thing concerning it's use was to brush the stripper on the wood once, don't keep brushing the same place many times or stir it around. Indeed, it seems like the directions on the can referred to that when I last used the shit 10 years ago, but beats me if it's true.

I admire what you've done on that house.

From a friend of Joel's. Bob Felter

Greg said...

As I said, this blog entry is specifically for stripping shellac off wood. That is not what the product was really designed for, so the directions for its use may be different if you are using it for paint or varnish.

For me, and I have used gallons of this stuff, I stand by the directions I give.

HPH said...

Yum! Thanks for the beautimous wood eye candy!

Great Job!

slateberry said...

I really, really appreciate your detailed postings this month. I was just going to live with my battered staircase, but now I'm at least considering adding restoration to The List, thanks to your awesome results, and awesome guidance.

Greg said...

It was sooooo much work, but I can't imagine not doing it. It just makes the foyer.