Greetings everyone!  I'm new to OldHouseonline and am hoping I can glean some advice on restoring my 1940 Cotswold/Tudor  The home is in fairly good shape overall, but the woodwork and panel doors have really taken a beating from past renters (and OUR movers...)  Some doors are dinged up, scratched, and dented; trim work is chipped in some places down to bare wood.  I believe the woodwork is probably pine or fir; as it seems so soft and fragile, with mostly original orange shellac; but I suspect someone has tried to cover damage with other products over the years.  I have experience refinishing furniture, but am wondering how to go about tackling this? Is there a way to avoid completely stripping and sanding? I'm afraid to apply the wrong product or technique and make it worse!  Any advice appreciated!

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I have used every method in the book for cleaning and/or stripping woodwork - from simple scrubbing with Murphys Oil Soap to mineral spirits with fine steel wool, to methylene chloride paint removers, to heat guns, to Peel-Away (lye). The biggest job I did was stripping the steps, rail and landing on my previous house - it took every one of those techniques. Started with heat gun to get the many outer layers, then peel-away to get more layers down to mostly bare wood, then stripper to get it clean, then oxalic acid to even out the blotches, then custom mixed stains and finally many coats of polyurethane. It turned out beautiful in the end, but these were late 18th century so the wood was heavily worn and very rustic so imperfections didnt matter too much. Also it depends if you are going to paint the final product - if so then you simply do whatever it takes to get it smooth then repaint.

I spent 3 years of my life removing paint and refinishing the woodwork.  Would I do it again?  Good question - I may recommend a faux finish.  Check out my method here  then check out the pictures under the "My Restoration" page.

As you know - heat guns are very dangerous, although I took the chance.  Peel away darkens the wood.  On my front door, I only used Peel Away for the more difficult parts with ornate wood.  The rest of the door I used  a heat gun.  15 years later I can still see the darker Peel Away section vs heat gun.

Best of luck!


I prefer the cleaning method because it preserves the years of character.  Alcohol will dissolve shellac, but mineral spirits or paint thinner will not dissolve varnish.  But it will do a great job of cleaning it.  There are many products called 'furniture refinishers" but after using them, I figured that they were merely laquer thinner or the like.  They do a great job of removing finsih but preserving the patine.

Hi Nick!  Yes I will probably end up going that route with the 'refinishers'  Going to give it another go with the min spirits first.  I recently returned from a 3 week vacation and it doesn't look as bad as I remember!  Maybe I'm just getting used to it!  lol

Recommendations; Do not use a heat gun or electric sanders;  Both items will damage the wood and remove the patina.  Use soygel and rinse with paint thinner ( open windows,use fans,not near any flames,etc.) use a scraper to remove the soygel.  Do not dig with the scaper

just remove the finish.  Rinse using steel wool with paint thinner.  Water will damage and darken the wood, destroys the patina.  Repeat and repeat until clean.  When you get this far, I will share the next steps.


Randall Marder

I am hoping to just clean the wood work. It is in pretty good shape and after all the rewiring and replastering is done, not to mention the painting, cleaning and repairing scratches and scraps will be in order on the trim and wainscotting:

In my younger days when first buying antiques, a dealer gave us a bottle of his secret cleaner/polish. It worked great, but never knew what it was. This discussion has given me some ideas on how to go about tackling this job.

Wow Bill, I totally covet your woodwork!  I lack wainscotting and built-ins in my house...:-(


The house was a wreck, but it was the woodwork and floors that caught our eye . Good for us we could envision the potential. So, we got the house at a good price, but will be putting in an equal amount to make it livable.

See my blog if you like to see some of the work:


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