How To Remove Lacquer Finish from Wood: Top 6 Easy Ways

Wood surfaces are vulnerable to exposure to rain, wind, heat, or other unfavorable weather conditions. So, you need to protect your wood surfaces from all day, external forces during unpleasant cold or summer months. Lacquer is an easy and cost-effective way to protect wooden surfaces from potential damage, but what to do when removing this varnish from wood? Let’s get into the discussion on how to remove the lacquer finish from the wood. 

Reasons for Removing Lacquer from Wood

Carpenters or woodworkers use different varnishes to protect surfaces from external elements. Many of you may ask what the reasons are for removing the varnish from wood when it works as a fantastic wood treatment. There are some instances when you need to remove the varnish from your wooden surfaces. Let’s look into some of those reasons.

If the Old Varnish Looks Pale

One of the most important reasons to remove lacquer from wood is when the varnish looks pale or aged over time due to poor maintenance. Those who want to restore their antique furniture will likely remove the old varnish and replace it with the new one. If you notice that all the varnish begins to flake on the surface of your workpiece, it is a clear indication that the workpiece starts to lift as it is too old to retain its appearance like before. Also, if you fail to maintain the old varnish well, you will feel like removing it and getting yourself a new one. Painting over the aged and pale finish or the over-application of more varnish will never give you a satisfying result. Removing the old varnish and applying a new one is better. 

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To Protect Yourself From Allergies 

Another important reason you need to remove varnish from wood when dealing with allergic symptoms. Getting rid of the elements from any surfaces of your house that capture the elements that cause allergic reactions and increase the severity of asthmatic symptoms is highly recommended. We should take the necessary steps to remove those elements, but it’s not entirely possible. Lacquer or varnish indeed plays a significant role in providing a splendid and aesthetic look to our furniture, but it attracts dust, debris, dirt, or other air allergens. In that case, you have to consider protecting your house from air allergens. 

If You Want to Remove Bad Odor From Your House

Lacquer and varnish don’t only attract dust but also cause air allergens to retain the bad smell of smoke and nicotine. If you don’t have any smokers in your house, it would be fine to keep the varnish as it is, but nowadays, smoking is widespread in many places. So, it is essential to remove lacquer or varnish from wooden surfaces and replace it with a healthy coating of paint or epoxy resin to eliminate this issue. 

When You Want a New Finish on Your Wood Surface 

Removing the lacquer only when it becomes aged is not always necessary. Sometimes, even beautiful wooden furniture might not adjust to your robust personality if it is out of fashion. You would like to apply a new varnish to fit the aesthetic of your modern house. 

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The Best Methods to Remove Lacquer Finish from Wood

Using a Sander

One of the best methods to remove lacquer finish from wooden surfaces is using a sander. Take a power sander and some finer grit sanding pads. Using an orbital sander to remove varnish from a wooden surface is better. A belt sander is only an appropriate choice for some kinds of wood because they are more likely to tear up the surfaces while sanding. Avoiding a belt sander when your project is sensitive would be best. 

On the other hand, an orbital sander can effectively make the surface even and better looking. It would help if you remembered that a power sander works effectively on larger surfaces, but they’re not suitable for concise projects. Therefore, you need to use sanding paper to get into every corner, hinges, and all the places that are hard to reach. Ensure you remove all the dust, debris, and unpleasant elements from the surfaces of your wooden workpiece before starting the next pass. 

It is essential to wear hand gloves and face masks while working with wooden surfaces. The final look of your workpiece will come out genuinely satisfying. Don’t forget to wash the surface of your wooden project before applying the subsequent coating or wood treatment product. 

With a Gel or Chemical Stripper

Another effective method to remove lacquer finish from wood is to use a gel or chemical stripper. Gel strippers contain citric acid that leaves behind a clean and smooth surface. It will help you to prepare your surface for applying a new coat or paint. 

It is easy to use gel strippers. Make sure you shake the chemical stripper very well before opening it up. Then, open and pour some of it into the metal container. You will notice the thickness of this product. After that, use a paintbrush to cover the surface of your workpiece with a thin layer of gel. After getting the coat, apply another layer of gel stripper with the paintbrush. Leave the gel soaked onto the surface. 

Depending on the brand and the thickness of your gel stripper, you have to leave it on your surface before removing it. Lift the gel stripper from the surface of your workpiece with a plastic scraper. Continue the process until you remove all the varnish and gel from your wooden surface. After removing the gel entirely from the surface, apply mineral spirits to neutralize the effects of the gel stripper. After that, use a steel tool to scrub the surface and prepare it for recoating. 

You can easily use gel strippers, but they are not as strong as other chemical-based strippers, which may lead you to use the maximum amount of them. However, gel strippers are very accessible for indoor and outdoor projects. 

Read: How To Clean Wide Belt Sander Belts: 5 Effective Techniques 

By Applying Direct Heat

Many of you probably don’t know that applying directed heat can be another way to remove the lacquer finish from the wood. Though it is a bit tricky, it is a chemical-free and cost-effective approach to removing varnish from your wooden surface. To apply this method, you will need a heat gun that utilizes ultraviolet rays or infrared radiation to remove the varnish nicely.  

However, there are some disadvantages to using this method on your wooden workpiece. You can only remove the wooden treatment from a particular part of the surface at a time due to the limitation of range of the directed heat project from the heat gun. Another person must also assist you while applying heat to your surface. You have to remove the old varnish and apply directed heat simultaneously. If no person is helping you in the task, you have to use one hand to apply heat and another hand to lift the varnish, using a scraper. The whole process sounds challenging, but you can try this out if you are a newbie. 

Now, you may ask how to use the heat gun and at which point you will be able to remove the old varnish. To know the working procedure of the heat gun:

  1. Check out the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Keep the heat gun at a safe distance from your workpiece and heat the surface.
  3. Use a plastic scraper to peel off the varnish from the surface.
  4. Wait until the surface is cooled down after removing the varnish. You may need to apply this method several times to master it.
  5. Repeat the entire process as many times as you need.
  6. Dust off everything with a wire brush. 

Also read: How Long to Let Wood Glue Dry before Sanding: A Details Guide 

The Steps to Remove Lacquer Finish from Wood 

Step 1: Prepare the Workpiece

Before choosing any method to remove varnish from your wooden surface, you must prepare the workpiece and the surrounding area. Remove any dirt, dust, particles, grime, or other contaminants that hinder the stripping process. So, there is no alternative to cleaning the workpiece well. 

Step 2: Clean the Surface with Soapy Water

Next, you should wipe down the surface with some soapy water. Use a clean cloth to wipe off the water. 

Step 3: Let the Workpiece Dry

Now, it’s time to let the workpiece dry completely. You can’t move on to the next stage without drying the workpiece. 

Step 4: Prepare the Workspace

Once you prepare the workpiece, it’s time to prepare the workspace using a tarp and painter’s tape to seal off some parts of the surface. The workspace must be well-ventilated. You must ensure a constant airflow in the working area. 

Step 5: Wear a Safety Mask and Gloves

You must wear a safety mask, goggles, and hand gloves as prescribed while working with chemical strippers. 

Step 6: Use any of the Methods 

Finally, you are ready to choose the most suitable methods. 

Learn more: What Size Screws For Wood Fence: Suggested Size Explained


What can I use to scrape off varnish from wooden surfaces? 

There are plenty of ways to strip off varnish from wooden surfaces. You can use a power sander, a chemical stripper, sanding paper, directed heat, or a gel stripper. However, each method requires a different application process, time, and effort. You have to choose one of these ways that best fits your requirements and is the most convenient for you.

Is there any difference between sanding and stripping?

Though sanding and stripping are used for the same purposes, they work differently. Sanding removes the coating and layers of wood. On the contrary, a wood stripper is used to weaken the varnish so that it can be removed from the surface easily without removing the base material. 

Which methods should I use to remove the lacquer finish from the wood?

You can use three methods to remove varnish from wood but ensure you prepare your workpiece well. You should also ensure your workplace is well-ventilated. Always wear protective masks and hand gloves when working with chemical strippers. 

Final Verdicts

Lacquer helps to protect your interior and exterior wood surfaces from scratches and insects and gives the surfaces a beautiful look. From this article, you have looked at how to remove lacquer finish from wood that will help you get it off the old and pale furnishing of your woodworkpieces. The old lacquer of furniture should be addressed when you might need a new styling for your soon-to-be furniture. 

Hey, I'm George Fanton. I've over nine years of experience in the woodworking industry. I've cultivated a deep interest in practical wood and tasks. I enjoy sharing new information on woodworking technology to maintain my expertise in the current woodworking industries.

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