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The Right Stripper to Use on a Kitchen Cabinet

by Greg Keefer

Properly stripping high-quality cabinets requires knowing what type of finish is already on them. The market is flooded with good strippers and finish removers, but you need to know what you have before you can match the right product to the job.

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Cabinet Stripping Choices

Stripping your cabinets with the right stripping product before refinishing them always produces the best results. Here's how you can decide which product to use.

  • Polyurethane: Cabinets that have been installed or finished within the last several years are probably finished with polyurethane. Apply a standard varnish or paint stripper to a small section of wood; if the finish peels or scrapes off easily, you're on the money.
  • Varnish: The same test applies for varnished wood. Put the stripper on a small spot. If it works there, it can be used on the rest of the cabinet.
  • Paint: A painted cabinet may be covered with a water-based or an oil-based paint. An oil-based paint should withstand being rubbed with denatured alcohol, while a water-based paint should begin to strip off. Use the same paint to cover the existing surface or strip the cabinet down to the wood and start fresh with a primer.
  • Shellac: Older cabinets might have been protected with a coat or two of shellac. Try denatured alcohol on a small amount of surface. If the finish is shellac, the denatured alcohol should easily remove it.

When applying the stripper, allow it time to complete its job. Too many homeowners impatiently scrape off the stripper before the chemicals have had time to accomplish their task. If you jump the gun on your stripper, simply apply another coat and give it a little more time. Not even the best stripping agents work 100 percent of the time, so have a fine sandpaper back-up available to tackle the uncooperative spots.


About the Author

Greg Keefer has been a do-it-yourselfer with lots of experience in how to do things right and how to do them wrong. He enjoys sharing his experience with the hope of helping others to

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