By Gene and Katie Hamilton
We've spent many a day removing varnish from woodwork, and while the results can be stunning, it's a messy, time-consuming job. The ideal place to do the job is outdoors to avoid the fumes from the remover. This works for doors which can be removed, but when the woodwork is molding or window and door casings, it makes sense to leave them intact and work on them in place, always with windows wide open. We’ve always had good luck removing layers of varnish on wood that has not been painted using a heat gun or Antique Refinisher by Minwax.
A professisonal refinisher will charge $994 to remove varnish from two windows and two doors, which includes the labor and material. You can do the job for $100 and save 89 percent for your effort. To protect the walls and floor around the woodwork, go to great lengths to cover them with heavy vinyl drop cloths taped in place and covered by a heavy canvas drop cloth. You'll need an old bristle brush, steel wool, scrapers, rags, and a can or box to contain the varnish removed from the scrapers and steel wool.
DIY Hassle Alert
If you have to remove the woodwork to work on it you'll have to find a protected and ventilated work area where you can store the woodwork as you do the work. It's worth considering because it’s so much easier to remove the finish when the trim boards are lying on a flat horizontal surface as opposed to being on a wall. Use a pry bar to gently pull the trim boards away from the wall applying pressure at the nails holding it to the wall. When the boards are off, turn them on their backside and pound out the nails so they come out the face side of the trim. By using this techniques there nail heads can’t split the wood.
Carefully follow the manufacturer's directions regarding ventilation and application, and wear old clothes, heavy vinyl gloves, eye protection and a respirator. When the varnish is removed, wash away any residue with mineral spirits. For a fine finish, we like tung oil because it's easy to apply and provides a durable finish.
WikiHow suggests these steps to Strip Wood Finishes.
Not interested in this messy job? Find a painting contractor who has the skills and tools to do it right. Click here to get to
and it will open in a new tab and you’ll have to answer some basic questions about your job followed by contractors in your area to do the job.
Wrapping up, given the average cost to strip varnished woodwork you can compare the price of a contractor’s bid with doing it yourself. For a local cost input your ZIP Code.
Improvement and Repair Cost Updated 2019
The cost and time data is generated by averaging labor and material data from annually updated cost books used by contractors and refined by the authors'
experience remodeling 13 houses. They are authors of 20 home improvement books and Do It Yourself or Not, a weekly column syndicated by Tribune Content
Agency. The national cost can be adjusted by ZIP Code.