I have been restoring an old staircase. I started sanding it with fine sandpaper and then tried rougher paper. It seems that the varnish layer on the wood is melting when sanding over it and sticking to the sandpaper, rendering it useless in a matter of seconds. It is hard to peel the varnish off the paper.

The staircase has a lot of perpendicular surfaces and corners; these are hard to reach and the edges of the sandpaper gets cluttered immediately.

The current result is a staircase where the varnish is sanded in the middle of the surfaces and around the edges there is still a lot of varnish left.

I have used cellulose thinner twice, but that was not effective at all. What did I do wrong here?

My question is: how can I remove the varnish from the wood easily, especially in the corners?

3 Answers 3


I've had great results using Citristrip, (see below). I've used it indoors many times and it leaves no fumes. I've used it to strip multiple layers of paint and varnish from furniture.

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There are many products to choose from but I know this one works. It just goes on with a brush. Good luck, you took on a big job redoing a staircase.

This product looks similar due to the fact that it is for indoors and is a gel, which is what you need for a staircase. Verity it with the store personnel. It is sold in your neck of the woods.

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  • Thank you for the tip. I'm a Belgian resident, so I cannot find products named Citistrip or stripping gel in my store (it's in Dutch or French). Do you think the products in the link are the same type? brico.be/nl/search?text=afbijtmiddel
    – user104508
    Jan 7, 2020 at 15:47
  • @Slowspark Check my edited answer.
    – JACK
    Jan 7, 2020 at 16:34

You might want to try a scraper, which will do particularly well with corners.

In the current era, a scraper with a reversible & replaceable tungsten carbide blade is probably your best bet unless you really enjoy sharpening/burnishing a steel scraper.

A scraper can do the whole job, or assist with those parts of the job that other methods do not quite do.

You might also test a small area with alcohol just in case your "varnish" is actually shellac, which will easily dissolve with alcohol.


Check out Diamabrush (https://diamabrush.com/). I used one in an angle grinder to strip 7 layers of sander clogging paint from 700sqft of pine flooring. It worked great.

  • Looks great for big surfaces, but I mentioned that I doing my staircase. A rotating blade won't get near the corners.
    – user104508
    Jan 6, 2020 at 15:29

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