How We Strip Varnish at Snake Mountain Boatworks

There’s nothing fun about stripping varnish from wood chemically, except being finished.

Here I respond to the several messages and calls I have had in recent days asking how we strip varnish at Snake Mountain Boatworks.

Well, here is a short how-we-do-it clip that I hope answers these questions.
The first key is to puddle the stripper on as thickly as possible. Yes, vertical surfaces present particular challenges, but even here, slather it on like it is shaving cream, not a carefully applied coat of varnish.

Patience is the second must. Let the chemical reaction work. Wait half an hour or so, maybe even 45 minutes and sometimes an hour, and then slather it on again, paying special attention to any dry or dull areas. Wait again, much longer than I do in the clip. (Stripping paint typically involves three and even four applications before we begin scraping. I have sometimes applied stripper throughout the day, leaving it to work while attending to other tasks, and then attacking it with my scrapers late in the afternoon.)

After suffering lots of frustration with the cheap Stanley and hardware store brands that are poorly designed and do not stay sharp, we have standardized on Sandvik scrapers and BAHCO blades. Yes, they are much more expensive at the front end, but work unlike any other scraping tool we have tried.

Now you want to take long, purposeful strokes, keeping steady pressure on the surface. Draw the gooey material towards you. As illustrated in the clip, when I am working with released planking, I take advantage of rolling staging so the work is at about waist level. A waster barrel and trash bag are placed beneath the work area so that I can continually slide leavings into it.

More work awaits you once the varnish is released, as the wood is still streaked with residual stain that must be extracted from the wood’s fibers. I apply a thin coat of stripper and immediately begin scrubbing the surface being mindful not to go cross-grain, using one of those stainless steel pot scouring pads you can purchase online or at your local super market or hardware store.

The scrubbing continues until the residual stain is gone, the wood takes on a luster and it is dry, absolutely dry.

Then it’s on to the next plank…