Stripping with a Heat Gun - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Stripping with a Heat Gun

 In Flexner on Finishing Blog, Woodworking Blogs

Some finishes are impenetrable by any stripper. That’s when you turn to stripping with a heat gun.

stripping with a heat gun

Strippers had no effect on this finish, which was probably polyester. A heat gun, used carefully so as not to burn the wood, did.

My daughter-in-law found a dining table she really loved and wanted to refinish it. I was visiting, so naturally, she asked me how to remove the old finish, which was damaged.

It turned out that the table was a reproduction made in Asia, nice enough looking, and well enough made, but the finish was impenetrable by any stripper. It was a thick, glossy finish that I concluded was polyester…because it looked like polyester (think of Yamaha pianos from several decades ago), not because I know a test for polyester.

I decided to try a heat gun. It was slow, but it worked.

This table was veneered, but it was fairly new, so the veneer wasn’t glued down with animal hide glue. Hide glue would dissolve with that much heat. But modern synthetic adhesives are resistant to heat.

I had no problem with the veneer lifting. I just had to be careful not to burn the wood.

— Bob Flexner


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Showing 4 comments
  • Frank Ruggiero

    As a professional restorer/refinisher I have come across many problem finishes, none as nasty as polyester, I did have some luck with polyester by covering it with plastic after applying commercial stripper to slow down the evaporation. After doing this several times on the piece I was able to remove the finish without having to resort to the heat gun.

  • Tom64

    Thank you for your very timely response! And thank you the options and your experience with their success.

    You are right, I meant denatured alcohol.

    I am not sure what I am going to do. The joint is not cross grain, but close to edge to edge so I may not do anything.

    Thanks again.

  • Tom64

    Can you tell me what will happen to the shellac finish if I use a heat gun or clothes iron and water to heat a joint with glued with hide glue? I prefinished the pieces in the joint I now want to disassemble with the technique Chris S. discussed in the Feb. issue. I finished the two pieces by padding on Zinzer shellac cut with mineral spirits. Will I be able to repair the finish?

    Thanks in advance for any help,

    • Bob Flexner
      Bob Flexner

      You’ll destroy the shellac. Heat alone will cause it to wrinkle. Heat plus moisture will damage it more. I’ve always use denatured alcohol through a syringe (to direct the alcohol) to crystallize old hide glue enough so I can knock the joints apart. Of course, alcohol will also damage the shellac if the two come in contact, but you should be able to repair the damage. I haven’t always had success with freshly hide-glued joints, however.

      Instead of alcohol you could use vinegar, either straight or together with hot water and a syringe. If you can get the vinegar into the joint, it will dissolve the hide glue. It will also break down white and yellow glue, so these glues are also reversible, just more difficult to get apart because the vinegar and water also swell the wood making the joints tighter.

      I don’t understand your use of mineral spirits to thin the shellac. You must have meant alcohol.

      All this said, I’m not sure you’re referring to a cross-grain joint, ie. a rail into a leg. If you are referring to two boards glued edge to edge, and the glue is fresh, they will be very difficult to separate. You could try the wet cloth and iron, then simply refinish the shellac. If this doesn’t work, you may have to saw the glue up into two parts.

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