The Quickest Way to Remove Varnish and Stain Without Sanding

By Wade Shaddy

You can remove varnish, lacquer or stain with chemical strippers much faster -- and more efficiently -- than with sanding. Chemical strippers contain solvents that break down finishes into a gel-like substance that can be scraped off. Chemical strippers work best on varnish and lacquer but will not remove stain completely. After the varnish has been removed, you can then lighten the stain by wiping it down with a light application of solvent. You can get by without sanding if you are careful to remove all traces of varnish with chemical strippers.

List of Items Needed

  • Rubber gloves
  • Drop cloth
  • Sponge, brush, cloth
  • Rotary tool with brush attachment accessories
  • Pointed wooden sticks
  • Acetone, lacquer thinner or other chemical strippers
  1. Put on rubber gloves. Spread a drop cloth under the object you wish to strip.

  2. Apply a coat of solvent to the surface of the wood that you want to strip. Let it sit for 10 minutes.

  3. Scrape the gelled varnish off the wood with pointed wooden sticks, beginning from the center of the piece. Scrape the gelled varnish off the wood and onto the drop cloth.

  4. Use a rotary tool with either a wire brush or a nylon brush to effectively and quickly remove the varnish out of cracks, corners and profiles. Apply more stripper if you need to soften what remains of varnish, lacquer or stain.

  5. Dampen a cloth with solvent. Rub down the wood with the cloth, until the piece of wood is completely moistened with solvent. Let the solvent evaporate for one hour.

  6. Apply another coat of solvent if some of the stain, paint or lacquer remains. Repeat until the wood surface is completely clean of stain, paint or lacquer.

Tips and Warnings

  • You may have residual darkening of the wood from old stain no matter how much stripper or solvent that you use. To re-stain, use the same color of stain as the original or a darker stain to cover all traces of old stain.
  • You may have to sand to remove final remains of lacquer or paint. Stain seaps in to the wood and won't disappear with surface sanding.
  • Do not get chemical strippers on your skin. They are very caustic and can burn blisters on contact. Always wear rubber gloves and safety glasses when working with chemical strippers.

© Demand Media 2011