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Over time, the original clear finish on an antique can become worn, damaged or discolored (Image 1). Paint finishes may crack, chip or peel. Restoration usually requires removing the damaged finish--stripping the piece down to the bare wood.
Since stripping is messy, it's best to work outdoors. A garage or basement, with proper ventilation (Image 2), is an alternate choice. Work a safe distance from walls, furniture, etc., to prevent damage from spills. Spread a heavy drop cloth to protect the floor, then cover the drop cloth with several layers of newspaper to absorb chemicals and dissolved finish. If you're working indoors, open all doors and windows, and if possible, use a fan to improve ventilation, as stripping chemicals give off fumes.
Wear heavy-duty rubber gloves--not thinner surgical-type gloves--to protect your skin from the harsh chemicals. Safety glasses protect your eyes from splashes. A respirator may be worn to reduce inhalation of chemical fumes, which may irritate the lungs. Don't confuse a respirator, which actually captures fumes, with a particle mask, which merely filters out dust and other particles.
Sanding and scraping aren't recommended for removing old paint or finish. Hand-sanding is slow and tedious, and belt-sanders clog quickly with old paint and may damage the wood. Avoid using old-fashioned metal scrapers or chisels, as they'll cause gouges and scratches. The best way to remove an old finish is to use a paint-and-varnish remover, or chemical stripper.