I received two responses to my chair dilemma. My lovely mother suggested that I simply paint them, to which my immediate thought was, "NEVER." A mysterious second commentator recommended that I bribe my friends with beer and have them help with the sanding. While this was a wise suggestion, I unfortunately have no friends here in Boston that have even the slightest interest in refinishing chairs, and no amount of beer in the world would change that.
So I went with plan C: chemical stripping. It all sounded so simple — paint on the stripping agent (in this case, Citristrip), wait, and then scrape off the finish. It'd be the chemical equivalent of magic, and this dilemma would be solved once and for all!
Based on the tense I'm using to describe this situation and the dead giveaway of the title of this blog post, you can probably guess that it didn't shake down like that.
Using the tips I made from bartending all day yesterday*, I gathered the necessary supplies and got to work. All of the labels on the bottles I was using were quite ominous, so I opened a bunch of windows, tied on a bandana, donned protective glasses, and grabbed some rubber gloves. Safety first.
Then, I realized that I couldn't breathe or see, so off came the bandana and glasses. Sorry, safety. If I grow a second head or all of a sudden develop respiratory problems, we know what to blame.
The process of applying the Citristrip to the chairs took approximately one hour, or two episodes of Parks & Recreation (highly recommend: The Fight and The Bubble). First, I wiped the chairs down with a TSP solution to remove any gross stuff that would hinder the stripping process; then, I applied thick, even strokes of the Citristrip (note: the online tutorials I read suggested using cheap foam brushes to do this, but both of the ones I bought started to dissolve and fall apart within about twenty minutes of use, so I bought a cheap one with synthetic bristles that held up better). I waited about 45 minutes before trying to scrape a small section: success! The stain was definitely coming off, but the result was nowhere near as light as what I got when sanding. After scraping down as much of the chair as possible, I hit a second snag. Due to the bizarre (but very cool!) design of these chairs, there are small corners and edges that I can't really fit the scraper tool into — which was one of the big problems with the sanding, too.
After two applications of Citristrip and vigorous scraping, the chairs are noticeably lighter, but also noticeably a mess. Even after wiping down with some mineral spirits, they're sticky and gloppy and will still require sanding.
Do I want to scream in frustration right now? Yes. I am quite downtrodden. However! I know the sanding process will go a lot faster now that several layers of stain have already been removed, and I know that the Citristrip will be handy in those smaller areas that I can't easily reach with the sander. As long as it's only small detail areas, I think I can handle breaking out smaller tools and putting in the time to get it done.
Now I just need these two failure chairs to completely dry so I can attack with the sander. I've made a self-imposed deadline to have all the heavy-duty, messy work on these chairs done by this time next week. That means by next Sunday, I need to have the power sanders packed up and put away, the dirty drop cloth gone, and the dining room clean of sawdust and bottles of mysterious chemicals.
Challenge accepted. Now, please excuse me while I finally shower and wallow in beer and more old episodes of Parks & Recreation.
*I bartend part-time, picking up shifts at catered events whenever I need some extra funds. My personal rule is that any money I make in tips is mine to spend, guilt-free, on anything I want. Going to the movies, eating out, or — as is most likely — blowing it all at the hardware store? Totally fine. Remember that the next time you don't tip your bartender: you might be preventing her from spending her Sunday breathing in chemical fumes and getting brown goop all over her clothes. What a jerk.