Antique Surfaces – getting down to the original finish.

chemical strip to original colour

chemical strip to original colour

Often, if a piece has a great original paint which has been over-painted one or more times over the years, a dealer/collector will choose to attempt to take off the layers of over-paint to arrive at the original. This can be an “iffy’ proposition, and it is a good idea to first carefully examine the piece to make sure that there are no replaced parts for instance which would not have the original paint on it.  There is basically two ways to “take down” a piece. Either using a chemical stripper  to “pop” off the upper coats of paint, or by dry scraping.  Depending on what paints are used one or the other may work better, but in most cases if you take the time, dry scraping will leave you with more of the  original surface. With big emphasis on taking your time.  Sometimes though if the original coat is in good condition, and especially if it is a milk paint which is not effected by stripper, and if you have very good and consistent timing and are quick with a scrapper, you can get the over-paints to pop clean, and you are left with a good surface colour.   On this piece you can see that they were not too concerned with retaining the original colour as they were either in a hurry, or wanted a balance of the paint and wood colour combined.  This was a popular look back forty or so years ago and is a bit of a shame in my opinion.

Below are two examples of dry scrapped surfaces

dry scraped carefully by a master refinisher

dry scraped carefully by a master re-finisher

 This is an example of the work of the late Allan Clareman, who in my opinion was the best you’ll find at this process.  He practiced law until an inheritance allowed him to do what he truly loved to do full time, which was to take over-paint off antique furniture.  He worked meticulously with tiny sharpened dental tools, and a jeweler’s loop attached to his glasses so that he could see exactly what he was doing.  This cupboard took him over a month but you can look as carefully as you are able and you will not see one blade mark. It cost over $1,000, but was a bargain considering the time involved, and how beautiful it turned out. It was worth every penny of it.

This cupboard on the other hand is an example of hasty, crude work.

dry scraped quickly and by a non professional

dry scraped quickly and by a non professional

It still retains a lot of colour, but you can see all kinds of gouges and scratches caused by working too quickly with the knife or scrapper over uneven surfaces.  A local dealer here used to swear that using a piece of broken glass was best, but the work he did didn’t support his theory. Concentration,and patience is the key, no matter which method you use.

I have done a lot of this type of work over the years, and it can be very relaxing and rewarding as long as you don’t become concerned about the passing of time.

In future posts I will provide a few tips on how to go about it.  For now consider these surfaces and look at other examples to try and determine the method used, and the degree of expertise.



1 thought on “Antique Surfaces – getting down to the original finish.

  1. Hey, did you ever post tips on dry scraping? Just today I was given a small wooden trunk, early 19th Century, with a candle box (integral), the interior and underside are untouched but some idiot over-painted the exterior with what appears to be latex paint in the late 70s or early 80s. I’d like to try dry scraping it but don’t want to ruin it. Tips much appreciated!


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