How to Remove Lacquer from Wood: 3 Best Ways

Vanishing wooden craft projects complete their overall look and extend their lifespan and durability. While they are a true beauty to behold, you definitely need to step up for their maintenance over the years, or better yet, whenever you feel like redecorating it. Whether you made a mistake with how you applied the finish, stained the lacquer, or need to give it a new coat, all craftspeople need to face the challenge of figuring out how to remove lacquer from wood. It can be a bother if you overthink it, but the job can be done if you know the best ways to do it.

Take these tips and steps to remove lacquer from wood

In order to effectively remove the lacquer from the wood, an important tip is to first determine what kind of finish was applied on the surface. Using a different wood lacquer removal method over certain coats can damage the wood itself and produce toxins as a result of chemical interaction. Common wood finishes include wax, shellac, and lacquer. A quick and easy solution to identify the finish? Perform a spot test.

  • Wax – make a small, light scratch over the surface. If you notice any residue that peeled off and the true color of the wood or paint can be seen, this is a wax finish over the varnish.
  • Shellac – like wax, this finish is also applied over the varnish. Using a cotton swab, dip it in denatured alcohol and rub a small spot. It’s a shellac finish if the alcohol dissolves immediately.
  • Lacquer – similar to the shellac technique, dip the cotton swab and rub it in a small circle. The alcohol should slowly dissolve and the surface feels tacky when touched – this is a plain lacquer finish.

What You Will Need

Your wood surface or item should be clean before you proceed to any of the steps listed in the methods to be discussed later. For your cleaning agent, gather these:

  • Liquid Dishwasher soap
  • Water
  • Clean rags

Before you get your hands dirty, make sure you wear the proper safety attire. Removing lacquer can still be hazardous as applying a fresh coat of it due to toxic fumes it can still produce, and chemicals that might cause skin and eye irritation. Protect yourself and prevent accidents by wearing the following while you work:

  • Safety goggles
  • Ventilator mask
  • Rubber gloves

You’ll be needing the following tools and supplies to remove lacquer from wood

  • Rags
  • Steel-wool or hard bristle brush
  • Paintbrushes in various sizes (this will depend on the size of the surface you’re working with)
  • Plastic putty knife
  • Sandpaper (We recommend 80-grit, 150-grit, and 220-grit for best result) or a Sanding Machine (this may be of your preference or depend on your type of project)
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Lacquer thinner
  • Turpentine (for wax-coated surfaces)

Step-by-step: The 3 Best Ways on How to Remove Lacquer from Wood

Cleaning the Wood Surface

  • To make the process less of a hassle, cleaning your woodwork before removing the lacquer will save you lots of time and spare you from wasting too many solvents or sandpaper. To make your cleaning solution mix 2 parts liquid dishwasher soap and 1 part water in a bottle. Dampen a rag or sponge and wipe the surface of any dust, dirt, or debris. Repeat if necessary and allow the surface to dry, then proceed to the appropriate method.
  • Tip: if you have determined that the surface was coated in wax, use a steel brush or steel wool and submerge it in the turpentine solution. Scrape this over the surface until you see the layer of the lacquer finish clearly.

1. Using Lacquer solvent or Thinner

  1. For a plain lacquer finish, take a paintbrush and coat over the surface in small sections at a time.
  2. Let the lacquer dry completely. If you notice the surface becomes murky and still looks like a single coat over the wood, brush it once again with more lacquer and allow it to dry.
  3. If you have applied enough thinner, the lacquer will melt and become a liquid you can easily wipe off with a rag. Another result is the surface will crack and chip off. To scrape off the chips, use the plastic putty knife to lift and dispose of.
  4. You may repeat the whole process until the surface is free from the lacquer finish.

2. Do-it-yourself Thinner Method

  1. For a shellac and lacquer mixed finish, you will need to make your own solvent. Mix equal amounts of denatured alcohol and lacquer thinner, just enough for space you will be a coating.
  2. Mix your solvent all the way through, then it’s ready for application.
  3. Following the same steps as the commercial lacquer thinner method, dip a paintbrush in your solvent and coat it in small sections. Let each coat dry.
  4. If the surface is murky and tacky, add more of the solvent mixture as needed and let it dry again.
  5. Allow the varnish to melt or crack and clean as instructed.

3. Sanding Method

  1. Start off by using 150-grit sandpaper. This helps make the surface rougher, thus scraping off the varnish much easier. Lightly scrape by following the grain of the wood. If you are using a sanding machine, the same grit should also be used
  2. You can change to a lower grit once more of the lacquer begins to come off. Adjust as needed to achieve your desired result.
  3. Once you have completely removed the lacquer, you can smoothen the surface again by using 80-grit sandpaper.
  4. Once you’re satisfied with the appearance and texture of the wood surface, you can get rid of the dust and debris. Brush it with steel wool or a paintbrush. Then, wipe down the wood with a damp cloth to remove any leftover dust on the exterior.

Conclusion

With your knowledge about how to remove lacquer from wood, you can give that marvelous wood decor or furniture a clean slate once more. Remember to be careful and gather the appropriate safety attire and supplies before you get down to business. It will also be a big help along the way to identify what kind of wood finish you will be working around to avoid any mishaps. Now go ahead and rub off that lacquer to restore your wooden treasure’s luster!

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