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 would be interested to see what others post here. I have to do the same to the trim in our livingroom and dining room. The stain for the most part is intact, it is just whatever was used on top of that. The fact it has an orange tint as you said, leads me to believe it is shellac.

I read an article that you can use Kutzit, but I wonder if it would affect the original stain. Also, other articles said to use alcohol, denatured, to remove any imperfection is the shellac and then reshallec.

I will have to do the testing to see whether it is shellac or varnish.

Hello Bill

Yes I am also trying to preserve the beautiful original patina where I can.  The bedroom closet doors are in great shape and don't need any work.  Also, I have sunny south facing windows where the finish on the sash and sills is completely cracked and deteriorated. Hard to tell what all has been brushed on those over the years! I have used some of the 'Refinishers' on furniture with great success but am not sure how to keep that off surrounding areas. My fear is that someone has applied glossy polyurethane here and there and the refinishers won't remove that.

Check online for shellac repair. They talked about getting rid of the cracked effect. Again, it was rubbing it with the alcohol until you blended the surface and then re-shellac it.

Have not used the stuff myself yet.

Yes; I've been busy trying to research as much as I can before I attempt.  I tried the de-natured alcohol method in a previous old house with poor results; maybe it wasn't even shellac...there was a thin layer of finish that I had removed by accident with (yes) blue painters' tape....seems the tape was the only way to get it off! Went thru quite a few rolls of tape that year; eventually solved the problem by selling the house!  LOL  

If you search "Determine shellac vs varnish" there will be several entries that discuss how to test. Alcohol will not affect varnish but will shellac. If I remember right then paint thinners will have the opposite affect.

If it is varnish, take a look at the infared paint strippers. They supposedly take off varnish without all the mess. I am thinking of using this to remove paint off of stained trim that has been painted. 

Good ideas.  I also have some painted woodwork I need to strip too.  I've used the basic heat gun but not infrared....  Let me know if you try it.  I won't be working on mine til late January.  I wonder if the infrared is safer?  I worry about the lead paint issue too.

Take a look here for the infrared strippers:

The fact that it does not cook the paint it has no fumes, no dust. I think it breaks the bond between the wood and paint. I have not tried it yet, nor bought one. Not at that point yet in our renovation, but it is on my agenda. The only draw back is they are heavy, about 4 lbs.

I think if you use strippers on the varnish you will lose the patina.  In a couple houses I had I used Lacquer thinner and steel wool on the varnished surfaces.  It cleaned off years of coal dust and dirt.  The finish looked grey and ugly when I finished but then I applied a coat of stain on the chips and the bare wood. Just to give it some color.  I wiped it clean after the stain and applied a coat of brush on clear lacquer finish.  It look like new but with patina and rich color.  You might try it on the inside of a door way and see if it works for you.  Lair

I am making notes of all these ideas and will be "armed with information"!  I used 0000steel wool and mineral spirits on an oak door that was so filthy the grain was obscured.  It cleaned it like new, 5 shades lighter, patina intact and I didn't have to re-coat it at all.  I'm pretty sure that was varnish.   I've never used lacquer thinner or brush on lacquer, but your technique sounds like an option.

Remember, the steel wool part is Ok, but you want to use the right stuff to remove the finish.

Yikes 4 lbs might be to heavy for me and my chronic bursitis... but I am interested in any method that's less messy/toxic.  I have some exterior door mouldings that need done too. Wish I could try one before buying and see if I can handle it...I wonder if they can be rented someplace?

May be able to pick up a used one on ebay. I have seen a few that were only used once.


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