View Full Version : Best way to remove old varnish

07-30-2010, 10:26 PM
I've been dutifully removing the varnish from my pre-WWII International 14 (#112) sailing dinghy and I'm wondering: Is there a better way?

There are two removers in my arsenal: Citristrip, an orange, gel stripper, and Dad's easy spray, a liquid, spray-on stripper. I've been using one, then the other, then the other way around.....

It's working well enough - after the varnish lifts I use a scraper, then a brass wire brush to clean it up - but I wonder: Is there a better way?

Yeah, it would be nice to just dump the whole boat into a tank of acid, but I don't think that's a viable solution.

Mark, stripping away in Mukilteo

John P Lebens
07-30-2010, 10:43 PM
I stripped a lot of mahogany this past winter and found Citrustrip to work fine. There are other strippers out there as well, like Multi-strip, Star 10, Soy Gel - etc. Use a nice sharp carbide blade scraper.

I also used a heat gun with great success, but be careful about burning the wood. Keep moving the gun to prevent scorching. A cheap gun seems to work fine as long as it is at least 1000 watts.

It is an onerous task and if you are open to it, it will teach a bit of patience. You will look forward to the next step - sanding!

07-31-2010, 04:09 AM
Definitely agree with John. I've scraped a heap of varnish off and I find a heat gun (electric) and a very fine, sharp scraper is the way to go. You run the heat gun just ahead of the scraper and push the scraper blade under the paint to lift it. Works very well. Use leather gloves to avoid burning the hand holding the scraper. Rick

Tom Freeman
07-31-2010, 04:29 AM
I've stripped as much paint and varnish as many pros in the past couple of years, and there is no best way. Every panel/plank is a situational consideration. Heat and a scraper is a good first choice. If you can isolate a piece, then I love SoyGel. It is five times faster than heat and scraper, but everything comes off in a syrupy-goo, so catch it on plastic. It also washes up with water - bonus.

07-31-2010, 09:41 AM
I agree with Tom. Heat gun is best unless you can't get in the corners, etc. The problem with Strippers is that you then need to be certain to get the striper off and it can find its way into joints and such, only to re-emerge in all its strippiness later, after you are varnishing. The heat gun is fast and effective. You just follow it up with a good sanding to get the fine residue off and you are good to go. I stripped two teak sliding doors last week. Each was about 22" square, and took about 10 mins with the gun, so it's about 2-3 mins per square foot.


Peter Malcolm Jardine
07-31-2010, 05:19 PM
What they said... Heat gun and a variety of very sharp scrapers, and some common sense in using them. I hate strippers... but I will use them occasionally...

John P Lebens
07-31-2010, 10:53 PM
Strippers are messy. However, if you are stripping lead paint, they do prevent getting into your lungs. I found that a good vacuum cleaner (a rugged shop vac that can take the goo) is a good tool for picking up the stripper residue. If you are using heat to strip lead paint, invest in one of the pro-quality 3M respirators. They are easy to find at paint stores. They remove both particles and fumes, are more comfortable and have a tighter seal than the cheap paper masks.

I agree with Tom's comment about techniques being situational. In some instances the heat gun works well and in others, the stripper is better.

Lew Barrett
07-31-2010, 11:02 PM
I agree with Tom's comment about techniques being situational. In some instances the heat gun works well and in others, the stripper is better.

I have had very little luck using heat stripping Rita. Now, the job is long done so it isn't an issue. I don't know what caused the interior finishes on her to break down the way they did (I suspect she was sealed with shellac and it went gummy, making the heat gun and scrappers ineffective) but heat didn't work in that instance. I've also found it the long way around when stripping metal.....heavy cast parts. Former owner painted everything! Oy!

You use the program that works, and it simply pays to know what tools are available and to select the one that works best in the particular case at hand..

07-31-2010, 11:15 PM
I second the lead paint rule. Once it gets into your system,you have to get shots that attach to the lead in your system,and they have to collect your urine,and keep testlng till your blood is clean.The shots are so painful,they add painkiller to it..dont ask how I know.Saftey first.