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Should You Use Paint Thinner Before Sanding?

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Sometimes, a piece of old furniture has imperfections due to usual wear and tear. It's easy to wonder if you must remove the old paint with a thinner before sanding the wood. But don't worry! We have researched and collected all the information you need to know if you should use a paint thinner before sanding wood.

You can use paint thinner to remove old coats before sanding the wood. However, you can also skip the process of thinning the paint and move ahead to sanding the furniture, especially if you're only dealing with a few layers of paint. The method of sanding can remove old finishing coats, as well as smoothen out the imperfect surface of the wood.

Restoring old wood takes a lot of care and effort to accomplish. Sometimes, there are factors that can affect the whole process, so you need to understand what your restoration project requires before doing anything that might destroy the old wood. Continue reading as we discuss all the necessary details that can help you bring new life to old wood.

Young woman sanding white wooden chairs with sanding paper before painting them with spray gun, Should You Use Paint Thinner Before Sanding?

Should I Remove Old Paint Before Sanding?

Stripping, or the process of removing paint with a thinner, can be considered interchangeable with sanding since both processes are used to remove old coats of wood finish. However, it's important to note that the two methods serve different purposes when restoring wood.

Stripping wood is done when you want to remove old coats of paint, stain, or varnish. This method is used to either replace the old finish with a fresh one or to reveal the original color of the wood that has been hidden underneath.

Sanding, on the other hand, is used to even out the surface of the wood. The method is done with an abrasive tool that will slowly shave off the damaged top layer of the wood until the entire surface is smooth again. This will allow for an easier application of a fresh finish or a new stain.

Woman sanding chair

Before choosing which method to use, you should determine what is needed to restore the old wood. If your wood has no apparent cuts or bumps, and you only need to remove old paint, then using a paint thinner is enough.

However, it's possible that the wood's surface needs to be smoothened out before it can receive a new coat of finish. If this is the case, then you can choose to dissolve the old paint with a thinner before proceeding to sand the uneven surface. Again, it's possible to opt-out of stripping and skip ahead to sanding, which can remove old paint and even the wood's surface.

Why Should I Use Paint Thinner On Wood?

Paint remover equipment

Stripping the paint off is less labor intensive than sanding. That's why professionals generally prefer this method. Although stripping requires more time, you don't need to work as hard as when sanding. Apply the thinner to the surface and wait a few hours before scraping it off.

For ornate furniture with intricate details you don't want to sand off accidentally, stripping should be able to reach the surfaces a sander can't. The solution will dissolve the paint inside small crevices, resulting in a cleaner outcome.

Some wood restorations reveal the original wood hidden underneath layers of old finishes. Using paint thinner, you can dissolve paint, varnish, and even stains without destroying the wood grain. A paint thinner is also effective for removing patina, which refers to the color changes on the wood's surface caused by exposure to sunlight and natural oxidation.

Stripping wood is also arguably much safer than sanding, especially when dealing with old painted furniture 50 years old or older. Accidental inhalation and exposure to sanded paint from 1978 or earlier can cause damaging health effects due to the presence of lead in the paint.

The Disadvantage Of Stripping Wood

Stripping paint is not entirely safe either. Using paint thinner, you are still exposing yourself to strong chemicals present in the solution to dissolve the paint. Proper precaution should always be practiced when stripping or sanding paint from vintage furniture.

A common reason why some people still prefer to sand over stripping is that stripping requires more time than the latter. It takes a while for the thinner to seep into the wood before you can scrape it off, and you'd have to repeat the process if you are dealing with multiple layers of paint.

It takes such an effort to complete the process, plus the melted, sticky paint that you'd have to deal with afterward, are some of the reasons why striping wood is disadvantageous. That is because people often still have to sand the wood after stripping off the paint.

Why Should I Sand Wood?

Male handy man hold yellow grinder with disc sander in hand

Sanding works well for large surfaces and is easier to complete with various sanding tools you can choose from. If you are sure that the paint on your furniture does not contain lead, there's no reason to avoid sanding, especially if you are searching for a fast method of removing paint.

Unlike stripping, sanding does not expose you to the chemical stench. Although, it is still advised that you use a protective mask and goggles when sanding to avoid excessive inhalation of wood dust and to prevent the wood particles from reaching your eyes.

The Disadvantage Of Sanding Wood

Carpenter work the wood with the sandpaper

Apart from sanding being messy, it is hard for many sanding tools to reach narrow surfaces. It's also very easy to overdo the sanding, especially when using a power tool. Leveling the surface of wood requires a certain amount of concentration that can be tricky to achieve when using a loud and heavy tool.

What Grit Size Of Sandpaper Should I Use?

Grit, or the sandpaper's type of coarseness, should differ depending on the result you are trying to achieve. You can find the grit type of sandpaper by checking the printed text behind the material. The higher the number, the finer the abrasive is.

Below is a list of grit sizes you can choose from depending on the type of wood you are working on.

  • Micro grit sandpaper (240-3000) - used to smoothen out finishes of paint or varnish.
  • Very Fine grit sandpaper (150-220) - used to prepare wood surfaces for finishing coats of paint or varnish.
  • Fine grit sandpaper (80-120) - is also used for preparing wood surfaces for finishing coats. Fine grit can also be used to smoothen the marks left by medium grit sandpaper. It's also increased the sheen and smoothness of an already sanded wood.
  • Medium grit sandpaper (60-80) - used to even out abrasions on wood created by coarse grit sandpapers. This type of sandpaper is often used to smoothen out the surface of a wood that has already been shaped and is ready to be sheened.
  • Coarse grit sandpaper (40-50) - is used to level out an uneven surface. It can also create a surface with enough creases for wood glue to adhere to.

Are There Other Methods To Remove Paint?

Stripping and sanding wood both have significant health risks that could occur without following proper usage protocol. There are other safer alternatives if you are deliberating which method to use. Below are a couple of other ways to choose if you don't want to expose yourself to thinner chemicals or wood dust.

Steam Stripping Method

A process of removing a paint from a wooden door using an industrial hairdryer

This method uses no harsh fumes and other dangerous chemical substances. Hold the steamer an inch off the paint surface until it bubbles up, then proceed to scrape off the melted paint with a putty knife or a wire brush. The downside of this method is that it requires more time since the steamer can only melt a limited section of the surface.

Homemade Paint Remover Method

A Homemade Paint Remover is nontoxic and works as well as a paint thinner. Apply the homemade solution much like you would a paint thinner, and let it sit for an hour before proceeding to wash off the paint. Follow the steps below to make your own Homemade Paint Remover.

  1. Mix equal parts of water and baking soda in a clean container.
  2. On a different container, pour in 2/3 of flour and 1/3 of hot water.
  3. Stir the mixture until it reaches a soft gel-like consistency.
  4. Add the gel-like substance to the water and baking soda.
  5. Blend well before applying on paint.

To Wrap Up

Old wooden furniture requires a lot of care when it is being repaired. To get great results, you must be sure of what should be included in the restoration process and what steps would only damage the delicate timber.

In this article, we discussed the process of sanding and stripping and the pros and cons of both methods. Make sure you choose the appropriate technique when restoring old wood so you can enjoy a beautiful result that will showcase your hard work.

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