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Cabinets, Furniture, Woodworks/Removing Conversion Varnish


I purchased new/used cherry cabinets with a conversion varnish finish.  I have been trying to remove the finish with no luck.  I want to stain them using a new clear tint water based stain called Royal Plum by Minwax.  Do you have any suggestions on brand/compostitions of varnish removers and subsequent prep for the water based products?

Hey Trish, if it is a conversion varnish, then getting it off is really a chore.... you'll have to try the strongest Methylene chloride stripper you can find... but that might not even remove the gloss from the finish.... Physical removal (mechanical) might be your only choice, and often that's not possible to the extent you'll need it removed, in hopes of readying it for staining. Rock Miracle is the strongest stuff I can remember, but I don't use these strippers any more because they're so toxic, and carcinogens to boot. I understood that certain aircraft paint removers could work, but they're even worse, acid based, and not easy to get or use safely. Wish I had better news but these finishes are super tough, and when they need refinishing, it's often not possible... or in the scope of the $ allocated for the work. You would need to completely remove the finish, and end up with bare wood, that could then be sanded and stained, and for a waterborne stain... that isn't likely to happen... the prep is easy.. but ONLY if you could get the finish off completely, and that's likely NOT possible. Other methods for dealing with these cabinets might work, like "toning", (spraying with a colored toner), and then clear coating over the existing finish, and of course an opaque finish could work, but these are not jobs for the novice as a general rule, so if you have your heart set on that particular stain, you're pretty much out of luck. Another consideration is that there waterborne Minwax stain may not give you the look and/or color you think it will... they're notoriously mediocre colors, with less than stellar performance, and many other choices would be better for such work. Please feel free to post back, Regards

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Greg Scholl


Questions on Woodworking, wood finishing and refinishing of all kinds, repairing furniture and wooden objects, Architectural details, Woodturning, carving, tool usage, product usage, some chemistry as it applies to woodworking and related interests,cabinet making and furniture construction/design, etc. I have experience with all manners of colorants, finishes, paints, stains, dyes, glazes, and coatings, wood species recognition and usage,tool recommendations, blade types and recommendation,techniques and methods for many Woodworking related issues, etc.


Fine furniture restorer and cabinet maker for over 30 years,serving high end Antique dealers, Interior designers, Collectors in the CT area. Consulting for area Painting/Decorating and Building contractors on non painting issues..(staining, wood prep.,clear finishing, floor restoration and architectural detail restoration and repair, etc.) Sold, built, serviced, setup Home, Industrial, and Commercial stationary woodworking tools for a major tool retailer in CT. for three years, sold hand and power tools , provided knowledge, parts replacement, service, and on site service, Trade show Demo, and training as well.

Published in Fine Woodworking Magazine (12/97), included on Fine Woodworkings first "Best of Fine Woodworking" CD-ROM (2002) ...("27 year compilation of expert know-how")

Art School at Silvermine Guild in Norwalk, CT., 9 year apprenticeship in a European run Cabinet and Restoration shop in CT., various classes on subjects having to do with the field. Seminars from major Tool manufacturers, Skil/Bosch, Delta, Powermatic, Ritter, Porter cable, Milwaukee, Dewalt/B&Decker, Performax.

Past/Present Clients
Many varied clients including work on Martha Stewarts' Westport, CT. show house, many fine Antique dealers and private collectors in and around Fairfield County and in Woodbury, CT. (the Antiques capital of CT.), Golden Age of Trucking Museum,Consulting for area Painting/Decorating and Building contractors on non painting issues..(staining, wood prep.,clear finishing, floor restoration and architectural detail restoration and repair, etc.), local Museums and Historical Societies. For the last two years I have been employed with Schwenke Auctioneers Inc.- Woodbury Auction LLC., as a staff photographer,IT tech,and doing restoration and repair work as well.

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