Whether to Strip Cabinet Doors

After considering all the options and their various drawbacks, a cabinetmaker decides to buy new doors instead of stripping and refinishing a bad batch. December 29, 2008

I have 36 doors finished with MLC Magnaclaw primer, Amazing Glaze and satin Magnmax. These have to be stripped and refinished. What's the best stripper and procedure to use for this? I've used Jasco Premium Paint remover to do a couple, but this is slow go. Any suggestions would be helpful.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor K:
I don't know if your time is worth much to you, but I can build new doors for a customer cheaper than I can strip them. I don't know why you need to strip them, but always make a sample and get it approved before doing a whole set.

From the original qustioner:
Thanks. I always make samples, this job included. I wasn't happy with the overall outcome of the job so I made this call. The problem is they're outsourced, mitered corner doors that I have a lot of money tied up in. I'm sure you can see why I'd want to salvage them if I can. Do you have any suggestions on stripping them?

From contributor B:
The best and quickest way is to use a methelene chloride stripper like Dad's that you can find at HD or Lowes. Of course if you have a supply house like Wood Finishers around, they carry the stuff in 5s.Which is what you'll use. But the easiest way for you is to find a furniture stripper who has a stripping tank (not a vat for dunking) and let him do it. Of course he has a charge for that, so it's a matter of you doing it or him. But you may not have a stripper available in your area. Even after they're stripped you will have to sand them down again and the miters will be opened up more where you will have to putty them up... Been there,done that... laborious job.

From contributor K:
Contributor B made a good point too. They will never be as good as new ones. If I were selling this job to someone, I would spend the money and buy another set. Your reputation is worth more than the money. I am guessing 1500 bucks or so. Take one of the stripped ones that you did and do final finishing on it and see if it turns out well enough to sell. At least then you will know if you are going to be happy after all that work.

From the original questioner:
Okay, I quit! I will re-use a couple of the more expensive doors and the ones we've already stripped/sanded. The rest I ordered this afternoon. My hat's off to anyone who refinishes for a living. I can't imagine why anyone would do it.

As a side note: We tried the Dad's stripper and it worked better than any of the others we tried. It's a mess for sure, but it lifts the Magnamax pretty well. At best, it's still a pain! Thanks for all the input (and wisdom). Also, someone please slap me if I propose this again.

From contributor P:
Why do you need to strip them? They are painted, right? And since they are painted I assume you are going to paint them again. Just scuff them up and repaint them. Other than that, I am assuming you don't deal with industrial suppliers. They sell a stripper that would burn your skin off. I build a small vat or square with 2x4's, put a plastic drop cloth in it, fill it with the liquid stripper, and place the doors in 1 or 2 at a time. Give it about 1 minute. Pull it out, wash it with steel wool and thinner, then another rinse with thinner and put it to the side to dry.

From contributor R:
A stripper that would burn your skin off but not melt a plastic drop cloth doesen't sound like an industrial product, now does it? A methelene chloride based stripper as mentioned is the way to go. Wear the proper gloves when using this type of product because it will melt the skin off your hands and also melt a plastic drop cloth.

From contributor N:
This entire post is very interesting to me, as I know of a lot of work that is avialable if I could strip efficently. I used methelene chloride (not from an industrial supplier) on a job that ate my lunch! Twice... I should be slapped! Contributor P, if you could share the name of your supplier, you have no idea how much that could help me! Thanks.

From contributor R:
I constructed a box from 3/4 melamine. Lots-o-screws and yellow glue. It weeped a little at first, but once the MDF swelled up a little, it was tight. Any company that sells stripper in a gallon form will sell it to you in a 5 gallon bucket or even a 55 gallon drum. I like the thin stuff because I can strain it and use it over and over again. Jasco is good, Greens is good, US Cellulose is good. A wash with lacquer thinner is good and so is a wash with acetone. I totally stay away from water based stuff because it can mess with the glue joints and the color of the wood, and it can also warp the heck out of wood. Metheline chloride is some nasty stuff, so wear a proper fitting respirator, a proper pair of gloves, and make sure you have plenty of fresh air.

From contributor D:
I suggest you try to find a good refinish shop and see if they will strip your doors or give you a reference to whoever is doing their strip work. Stripping is best left to someone who has the equipment and experience to do it efficiently, while you go on about your business doing what you do best. You'd be amazed at how little time it takes to strip a cabinet door when you have the right equipment.

From contributor J:
I just had the same problem. My story will make you feel better about your paint grade doors, though. 62 raised panel select cherry doors. Spray stain, followed by two coats of MLC Krystal. Sealer coat of Krystal Blushed. Tried stripping, but decided it was more economical to spend another $4k on new doors. I am a one man shop, as so you can appreciate the economics of this.

From contributor Y:
This is the down side to using resistant finishes like Magnamax and conversion varnish. Do people really need a finish on their cabinets that is so resistant, it can not be easily stripped with commercially available strippers? How many of your customers clean their cabinets with lacquer thinner?

The strongest stripper that is easy for the general public to get is called Aircraft Stripper, made by Klean Strip. A word of caution, though - it contains ammonia and the fumes will knock you over even with a mask on. It will also discolor woods, so it may not be the best choice if you want to preserve the wood color/patina.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I have too much build on these doors to repeat the process on top of what's already there. The Magnamax maximum build is 5 mils and by the time I was done, I'd be close to twice that. I don't have time/want to take the chance/go to the expense of repainting these doors only to have the finish fail and get to do it all over again. Time is very critical with this job because of the ones after it. Cut my losses and move on is the right decision! By the way, the builder offered to pay for half of the new doors. I like this guy!

I tried Greens, Jasco and Dad's stripper on this experiment. Dad's was, without question, the winner.

Contributor J, I've used Krystal a few times but never had it blush. I've had Magnamax blush far too many times to count and but have been able to fix it without too many problems. I was finishing 30 cherry doors once and the lacquer started blushing at door #21. I knew we had a cold front coming in and I was trying to get done, but didn't make it. I called a customer who is the meteorologist at the local TV station and he told me the front moved in at the very time I started having the blush appear. He also said fronts, both cold and warm, push margins of high humidity in front of them. He pointed out that it could potentially have the same effect as on your eyeglasses when you walk from outside/in. That started me wondering if blush occurs more when we have changes in humidity rather than just periods of high humidity. I've sprayed while it was raining with no problems. I've also been spraying on sunny days and had a thunderstorm move in only to have the lacquer blush. Now, I try to keep a close eye on the weather and make sure I'm not spraying when it changes and it's helped me avoid most of the blushing.

From contributor J:
Lesson learned - just add retarder all summer long. Expensive lesson, but one I won't forget.

From the original questioner:
I live in South MS and we add retarder year round. It still blushes sometimes.

From contributor T:
Regarding methyline chloride exposure... OSHA has very restrictive limits on workplace exposure (25 ppm/125ppm). Nearly unattainable without engineered and flow-directed exhaust. There is no vapor mask or filter medium capable of filtering the MC molecule available. MC metabolizes in the blood to carbon monoxide. It's also been deemed a carcinogen, thus the rules. That said, it's available at every big box store, paint store and hardware store, and we'll all continue to use it... Just don't fool yourself about the risk to your health or the health of your business if caught in violation of OSHA's or your state's EPA.

From contributor L:
This is the paste stripper. I use the liquid stripper in the vats I build. Also, don't expect to find it at a store or Sherwin Williams. You need to find a chemical supplier.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From contributor B:
That's Benco Sales in Tenn. Call Benny and he will tell you how to get his product.He has product available in most parts of the country, I believe. And he can answer your questions as to the best to get for the particular job you may have.

From contributor L:
The local stripper companies use caustic soda now. They don't charge much, 12.00/door, compared to what you may have to do.

From contributor B:
Do not, under any circumstances, use this type of stripping on cabinet doors!

From contributor R:
Stripping companies using a caustic soda (lye = Drano) are typically called upon to strip multiple coats of paint off of items like fireplace mantels or heavilly painted doors. I would think twice about taking any type of furniture or other valuable woodwork to this sort of strip shop. Lye can dissolve glue and turn wood a different color; the water wash rinse, if excessive, can split joints and cause warp.