My great-grandfather was a furniture maker about a 100 years ago.
I salvaged some of his original work from my deceased uncle's attic.
Unfortunately 2 items where spray-painted with black car-paint in the 1980's and I'm looking for advice on restoring it to its original finish.

The long story:
(Got this from my cousin who was 15 at the time and helped his father around the workshop.)
The furniture (a writing desk and matching office chair) was originally in my uncle's living room. His wife didn't like the color and ordered my uncle to paint them black. She was a very forceful woman and my uncle complied to her wishes (to keep the peace I presume).
He took them to the paint-booth in his workshop (he owned a car-repair business). Cleaned them with pre-paint (or something similar, maybe white spirit or paint-thinner) and over-sprayed them with black car-paint leftover from another job.

The furniture is made of European oak (fairly light colored, but it isn't "white" oak) and doesn't have any stain on it. It was originally just waxed.
Over the years (before the over-paint) it probably didn't see much maintenance of the wax. The other stuff I got from the attic had bold spots all over (especially knobs and handles) where the wax had been worn away. It took a fair amount of elbow grease to re-wax and polish them to an even color.
The black car-paint is most likely not water- or polyurethane based. Those weren't readily available back in the early 80's. And I'm very glad he didn't use under-coat or bed-liner for the paint-job.
According to my cousin it was just 1 coat of paint and it was a very quick and dirty rush-job. This matches with what I see: The paint is uneven, doesn't adhere well in places where there was still some wax on the wood and there are some finger-prints in the paint as well.

I would really like to get this paint off.
I'm thinking I best use a chemical paint-stripper to get the worst off. Then heat the wood gently with a heat-gun to soften/melt the wax remains and then wipe them off with a rag and methylated spirit.
Multiple treatments will probably be needed in some places, maybe some careful sanding in really bad spots.
When I get the wood clean I can use some wood-stain or colored wax to even out the color.

The back of the writing desk is intended to sit against a wall so it isn't in view. That does give me an area I can practice on before I tackle the visible parts.

I'm open to other suggestions. Anybody with other/better ideas?

  • 1
    This question would be a better fit on the woodworking stackexchange. Removal of finish from antique furniture is not without risk, and 99% of the risk is an inexperienced person doing something they would have been better off not doing. The experts are there. Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 18:33
  • 1
    @Harper I didn't even know there was a woodworking.SE. I will flag my question for moving if it doesn't get much attention here.
    – Tonny
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 18:41
  • Dichloromethane, if you can find it, and it's still legal. Use lots of ventilation. Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 23:52
  • @WayfaringStranger I am familiar with it. Used it before, with lots of safety precautions. That's pretty nasty stuff. Possibly carcinogenic. It is still legal in most countries here in Europe (EU commission tried to ban it in 2008 but didn't go through with that). It is easily available from art-supply shops. In fact, the paint-stripper I mentioned in the question: It was Dichloromethane I had in mind.
    – Tonny
    Commented Sep 8, 2018 at 9:43

2 Answers 2


Self answering to tell you about the results.

I started on the backpanel (which is normally out of sight so ideal for testing) with 3 different paint-stripper products to see which one would work best with this paint.
Used paint-stripper specifically for car-paint, regular household paint-stripper (both from the DIY store, made by Alabastine). And I tried a 20% solution of dichloromethane which I had leftover from an earlier project.

All 3 worked pretty well, but the regular Alabastine stuff got the paint of better, without the need to really scrape at the residue. (Given the fine detail in some places on the furniture I really wanted to avoid scraping/heavy sanding if at all possible.)
Some remnant stuck, especially where the underlying wax had been very thin or worn away. But from the test with dichloromethane I noticed that that stuff had worked exceptionally well in similar spots.
So I tried dichloromethane as a 2nd application to those spots where the Alabastine hadn't entirely worked. That turned out to work great and got nearly everything off.

So I ended up with making to passes: First the Alabastine and then the dichloromethane.
I then gently warmed the wood with a heat-gun and used a rag soaked in methylated spirits to draw out the remaining wax. Had to do that 2 or 3 times to really bring the wood back to its raw state. This also opened up the grain of the wood which I considered a good preparation for the new layer of wax I wanted to apply later.

The end result was quite good. Here and there a small amount of paint was left stuck in a deep scratch, but I could carefully scrape those out with the point of a knife.
A sanding with fine wire-wool smoothed the wood, without destroying any fine detail on the woodwork. The wood ended up a bit uneven in coloring, but I will be able to smooth that out with colored wax when I re-wax the furniture later this week.

All in all it was far less of a nightmare than I originally expected. I am guessing the wax underneath the paint was my savior. If the paint had gone straight on the wood, it would have been much more difficult to get off.

  • Tonny you should accept your answer so others can find it and the system knows it was answered.
    – Ed Beal
    Commented Dec 21, 2018 at 14:24
  • @EdBeal I wasn't sure about the etiquette of accepting my own answer.
    – Tonny
    Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 11:58
  • This is how to close the question so others can find your answer if they have a similar problem.+
    – Ed Beal
    Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 16:33

I just finished a similar project on antique furniture that had been painted. I had good results with the following:

  • complete stripping with chemical stripper (methylene chloride)
  • thorough solvent wash (mineral spirits followed by lacquer thinner)
  • complete coarse sanding (to remove residual stain in the topmost wood layer)
  • medium then fine sanding (yes... labor intensive)
  • fresh light color stain followed by 3 coats satin acrylic varnish

The desk looks very nice now, probably similar to the day the prisoners finished making it (I suspect it was a "prison industries" desk made in the early 1900's).

  • Seems you took a similar approach as I intend to take. I'm hoping that the wax has prevented the paint to sink in deeply in my case. If there is some residual wax in the grain under the paint the methylated spirits will usually remove that paint together with the wax. I have had good experience with that in the past. I hope to keep the sanding to a minimum. I don't mind the work, but there is some fine detail to the panels (like beveled edges) that is easily lost with sanding.
    – Tonny
    Commented Sep 7, 2018 at 14:24

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