The Cross House

More Faux

I have done several posts about the mystery of the dining room finish.

The room, like most of the rooms in the house, retains its original 1894 faux wood finish. But this is obscured by later finishes. In all the other rooms, the later finishes are shellac, which darkens over time. Luckily, shellac is easily removed with denatured alcohol.

But the later finishes in the dining room have proved…daunting. They are not shellac or even varnish, and removing them has proven highly, absurdly time consuming.


Recently, I discovered what I suspect to be the original faux finish of the dining room: the inside of the china cabinet door. This painted finish has never had later finishes applied, and you can see how much lighter it is than all the wood above the door. The door is a lovely, rich brown. The wood above is an ugly DARK brown.


On the back of the cabinet door, it is exciting to see where later finishes dripped down the door. The first re-finish (top, right) is a little darker. Then, a second finish, MUCH darker, was applied (top, left). This latter finish is what the whole room looks now now.


Previously, I was able to strip a length of trim (left). You can see how much lighter it is, and how closely it matches the seemingly untouched finish of the cabinet door.


I still do not know what the later finishes are, and how to easily remove them. They do not really dissolve. Just constant, tedious rubbing with 0000 steel wool and denatured alcohol has, so far, been able to reveal the original finish. The later finishes do not dissolve but rather just gum up. So, run rub rub rub rub rub ugh ugh ugh. But this is WAY too laborious and I cringe in thinking of doing the many miles of trim in the room.

There has got to be an easier way.


26 Responses to More Faux

  1. Wow, I wish I knew. I know you don’t like the dark, but I find myself liking the patina. Of course, I understand you can’t have it all mismatched now.

  2. Try Acetone. I stopped using denatured alcohol years ago because it dried too fast and the money for that adds up. Acetone seems to stay wetter longer and cuts through paint n shellac.

    • Or gun & equipment cleaner. (N.B.that’s gun as in “paint gun”, not Wayne LaPierre) Rough stuff, need chemical-resistant gloves and organic vapors mask. I inadvertently softened up some applique compo using it–maybe unsuited to the Lincrustra. I don’t have any unpainted Lincrusta, and have not used it, but Dulux Hydrostrip is highly recommended for delicate substrate.

  3. Have you tried ammonia? I had a difficult to remove finish one time and used glass cleaner with ammonia in it. I had tried other things and no go. But, the cheap dollar store cleaner did the trick, although I did have to use some elbow grease.

  4. ah ah ah, I totally sang the “rub rub rub rub rub…” Like the “run run run run…” in Tracy Chapman’s “Talking about a revolution

    On a serious note, what a bummer, I know you’ll finally find the solution to your problem, another sleuth task!

  5. Just a thought.

    Could you have the finish analyzed?

    Once you know what you are dealing with, then ask how do you remove this easily. I know you would have done that if that was a simple solution.

  6. Wow, those photos do really illustrate how much nicer it looks without the darkened finish. It does look like a cherry graining. I’m not familiar with the other clear and opaque finishes used aside from shellac and modern polyurethane, but clearly you have some tough stuff on top of it.

    I don’t know what will work here for you, but I’ve come to keep a wide selection of various thinners and solvents on hand for this kind of thing, generally in small containers, from Acetone to Xylene (I can’t think of any that begin with Z, haha). I find myself going down the row trying them on inconspicuous areas or scrap pieces when I need to strip something, then buy a large container if I find one that works.

    The real challenge in your situation is certainly removing the top finish while preserving the underlying faux bois paint. I’ve done a few light fixtures that had been painted over with a more chemical-resistant paint than the original coating, which made it impossible to preserve the original finish. Very frustrating.

  7. I bought a dry sink from an antique store that had been painted a horrible pepto pink. I wanted the natural wood to show through, so in addition to cobbling the poor thing back together structurally, I stripped the paint with Jasc. Jasc seems like it would remove anything, including skin, eyeballs, you name it. Really intense stuff. Maybe give that a shot?

      • It’s something you spray on, let sit, then wipe off. I bought it at Home Depot.

        Derp. It’s actually called Jasco. I haven’t used it, or thought about it, since like 2014. But I do remember the pain! Oh god the pain. Wear gloves. Thick gloves.

        • I used some Jasco gel stripper when I was removing the paint from the foundation on our last house. It was the best stripper I found, but for the quantity I was using, the second-best methyl chloride stripper I tried worked good enough, and was cheaper.

          Methyl chloride strippers are likely to take everything off. You could play around with some of the soy or citrus strippers. I found them to be very slow and not very effective, but that may work for taking just the dark outer layer off.

  8. Have you tried using a auto (Turtle Wax) rubbing compound to remove the dark coloring on the wood in the dining room? The compound has a bit of grit to it. Years ago I inherited a old piano. The finish was horrible. My dad, a master cabinet maker suggested I try using the rubbing compound. It worked GREAT . The piano came out beautiful! Could I see a photo of the entrance to the staircase ? Thanks, Love your BLOGS minus the political stuff,

    • An otherwise enjoyable and instructional Blog marred by those who can’t pass up opportunities to show off their infantile snarks.

        • Hi, Ross! My comment about the snarks refers to previous days’ political comments…not today’s comments. They seem to be thrown in haphazardly in the middle of an otherwise interesting discussion about your restoration topic of the day. It breaks up the pleasantness and “good vibes.” In my opinion, very disrespectful and, well, just nasty. I’ve been a “silent” reader of your Blog for awhile, and I am so enjoying it. Fascinating and quite educational, actually. Particularly your Blogs on restoring vintage light fixtures. The depth and breadth of your knowledge is admirable! It’s led me down many “rabbit holes.” Anyway, thank you for your response, and I’ll fade back into my “silent reader” mode :).

  9. I had to take the finish off a 1960’s era table a while back and it ended up Acetone did it best. Wonder of wonders, the drab pecan faux finish turned out to hide a beautiful cherry table top. If you go the nuclear remover route be sure to have a LOT of ventilation and if it says gloves it really means it. Some of the stronger types can really mess you up if you inhale the fumes. Probably an outside job.

  10. Do you know anyone who does dip refinishing? You’d have take off all the trim & be ok with sacrificing the original finish, but they can leave the items in vats of stripper & get off so many layers at one time.

  11. Okay. I know this is probably going to earn me some hate but, since the faux finish is paint anyway, what about going crazy dramatic in that one room with black, Aesthetic Style-inspired satin wood finish ala Herter Bros? Imagine that black, somber woodwork with peacock blue walls. Amazing!

  12. I know this may seem silly and wrong, but have you ever tried a heat gun to remove paint. And maybe that would work on other finishes.

    • Hi, Dan.

      I never ever EVER use a heat gun on the Cross House. Every year, great old houses burn to the ground because of heat guns. Indeed, a heat gun started a fire at the Cross House in 1999, and burned through the roof! Yikes!

Leave a Response

Your email address will NEVER be made public or shared, and you may use a screen name if you wish.