amateur stripping (Or, why automotive brake cleaner has a place in your home.)

4 Oct

Today’s post brought to you by the color blue, the husband, and as usual, D.I.Y. projects that go almost-but-not-quite as expected. By the way, my wife has not forgotten part II of her chair upholstering tutorial, and she’ll be back with that soon. In the meantime, here’s another fun- and chair-filled post!

Let me begin by saying that I have an obsession bordering on the unhealthy with Eames chairs. Specifically, the molded fiberglass shell chair holds a special place in my heart. So when we saw a pair of similar molded plastic chairs on the “scavenger” section of our local Apartment Therapy (as highlighted in this post from a few months ago), there was no question they would have a place of honor here at Location 27:

bucket chairs

We made our way to the seller’s apartment (I with a mid-century song in my heart, my wife slightly less enthused) and became the proud new owners of two “gently-used,” wannabe Eames chairs. Remember this moment folks, because it’s the high point.

Things went downhill from there. When we got them home and brought them to our back porch, we realized that they were…sticky.


Apparently the previous owners had covered the chairs in a brownish spray paint, but neglected to seal it. The arms and seats were covered in a thick coating of dirty gunk that I had somehow missed when we picked them up. What can I say, the minimalist-inspired stars in my eyes had blinded me to their condition.

Closeup of chairs with sticky gunk

Since we weren’t crazy about the color anyway, we figured we’d just strip the paint (and the sticky coating on the seat and arms along with it) and cover it with something else. Initially we planned to mod podge one of our favorite comic strips to the chairs, but as you might remember Kim mentioning, she has somewhat of a fascination with spray paint.

And so spray paint it was. We figured that if we failed completely, we could always mod podge over it later. Plus a high-lacquer, solid finish would go really well with our as-yet-unannounced plans for the art studio.

First up, we had to strip the chairs down to their natural state. I tried every cleaner I could think of: dish soap, steel wool, dish soap and steel wool, SOS pads, heck I even tried Skin So Soft. A quick note about SSS: my grandmother was an Avon lady, so growing up we were never without a bottle of this stuff. In all that time I have never, ever seen Skin So Soft fail to remove any type of stickiness…until these chairs. Seriously, it removes tar. I speak from experience here, folks.

If you read our previous post about these chairs, you’ll know what finally did the trick:

Brakleen brake cleaner, for stripping the chairs

That’s right, automotive brake cleaner to the rescue. Brake cleaner will strip paint from anything it touches. Including your car. No joke, it will not hesitate to eat through the clear coat and paint down to the factory metal. Unfortunately, due to a computer snafu, the photos from the stripping process-and most of the rest of the remaining steps-were lost, so I’ll give you a quick rundown of what came next.

Once we stripped the chairs down, we discovered that their original color was a weird, fleshy peach tone (you can actually see it peeking through on the left hand chair in the picture at the top). Thankfully this was nothing that our friend Krylon couldn’t fix:

Krylon blue spray paint

Despite losing all of our higher-quality photos, I still snapped a few pictures with my phone after a plastic-specific primer coat and roughly four coats of Krylon:

Chair after four coats

The coverage gets a little bit better after a few more coats, though this is still much lighter than the final product:

Chair after more than four coats

And here we are after many, many more coats than we could count:

Chair semi final

Remembering the sticky state the chairs arrived in, we opted for a gloss coat to seal the chairs once the spray paint was finished. Based on our previous experience with this project, it came as no surprise when the seal coat didn’t go so well.

For one, we thought the gloss would even out the oddly bumpy finish from the spray paint. It didn’t. It also didn’t give the chairs a highly-lacquered look we were picturing in our heads, so for now we’re left with this patchy mess:

Patchy finish on the gloss coat

We’re thrilled with the paint color and coverage, but again, the gloss coat is not-so-hot. Plus, we’re still keen on getting that ultra-shiny, lacquered look, so our next step on these chairs is to smooth out the finish with medium-fine grit sandpaper, hit them with some more Krylon to even out coverage, and then seal them with real lacquer. I’m no expert (hence the “amateur” reference in the title), but I’m pretty sure that if you’re going for a lacquer finish, then you should probably use actual lacquer.

And now that the word “lacquer” has ceased to have any meaning, I shall end this post. Stay tuned for the finished product in a few weeks!

Now it’s your turn to (over)share: Do any of you have a preference for gloss vs. lacquer? What about alternative uses for automotive products? Or maybe your grandmother was an Avon lady too, and you want to express some Skin So Soft solidarity? Let us know below!

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4 Responses to “amateur stripping (Or, why automotive brake cleaner has a place in your home.)”

  1. Amanda October 4, 2011 at 7:45 am #

    I would just like to put in my two cents here for Mod Podge, which I used on not one, but two pairs of rain boots that I’ve painted over the years. Mod Podge helped seal in acrylic paint and made the boots shiny and special. I love it so very much. And I plan on Mod Podging my coffee table with newspapers one of these days when I get around to it. As always, you two are an inspiration!

    • the husband October 4, 2011 at 9:01 am #

      Thanks! I have to admit that I was rooting for mod podge as well, but I like how these are coming out so far. Besides, if the lacquer coat still doesn’t get us the finish we’re looking for, that doesn’t prevent us from going the MP route. And bonus, the comic we’d use is duotone blue/black, which will also fit perfectly in the art studio once it’s complete!

  2. Lauren Wagner October 4, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    YAY for skin so soft! I don’t remember anyone in my family that sold it, but we also ALWAYS had tons of it in our house as kids. I think that was the only bug spray we ever used. As for automotive stuff working, I was actually told by Mark Fowler one day we were washing cars, that the best way to get bug guts (and wings, legs etc that have stuck to your car over time) that you can’t get off with elbow grease, soap and water, use GASOLINE! It can mess with your finish on your car if you too much (or over too wide of an area) but for those few spots that you just can’t get rid of, it comes off with a swipe of the cloth- literally! It’s awesome. As for laquer, I would assume that laquer would work better than gloss because it is thicker and would cover other pain bumps better than gloss I would assume. And in case you ever decide to make a directors chair and turn it into a personalized directors chair with bagels on top (yes, my teacher in elementary school was OBSESSED with bagels), and you don’t want them to EVER mold- cover them in laquer! They slowly break down over YEARS (5+), but they will never smell or mold! The wonders of laquer! Have at it and let us know how things go!

  3. Dad in Law October 5, 2011 at 7:26 am #

    For a smooth paint finish try 600 grit wet/dry emmery (sp) paper.
    from Automotive Body Shop section of parts store.
    Works best with “running” water.
    Hold to hose (trickling) in 1 hand, sand with the other.
    for laquar, you might want 800 – 1,000 grit.

    As for CRC Brake Clean, do you need more?
    check in the cabinet under the celler fan window.
    I like Carb Cleaner too, but it does leave a film.

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