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Use paint thinner to get old wax off wood floors

Published: Sunday, June 1 1997 12:00 a.m. MDT

Question - I have hardwood floors that have accumulated years of dirt and coats of wax. Is there any way I can remove the wax so I can revarnish the floors? I don't want to use a sander. Sam Curtis, Lafayette, Ind.

Answer - The solvent for wax on floors is paint thinner. Apply the thinner liberally in a small area, let it sit there for 30 to 60 seconds, scrub with the cloth you applied the thinner with, and then wipe it dry. You may have to repeat this process. If the wax is excessive, you can scrape some of it up with a scraper.

If after this treatment the floors are clean but dull, apply two coats of an oil-based polyurethane varnish in a small area, and wait a few days. If the varnish does not lift or peel, then go ahead with the entire floor.

If that test patch of varnish peels or lifts, you will have to hand-sand to roughen the finish before varnishing.

Another wax stripper is the liquid used to strip wax from linoleum and vinyl floors. Strangely enough, it is called wax stripper.

Once you revarnish the floor, don't put anything on it, including wax. Nothing is needed.

Question - There is one layer of paper on the wall, in pretty good shape. Can I wallpaper over that? Bob Feeley, South Weymouth, Mass.

Answer - Yes, but it's not just a matter of putting the new over the old. If the old paper is vinyl-coated, sand it lightly to roughen the surface. To determine if the paper is vinyl coated, put a wet sponge on it; if the water beads up or does not darken the spot, the paper is vinyl-coated. After sanding, apply a glue size to the wall and repaper in the normal manner. If the paper is not vinyl coated, sanding is not needed; you can apply the size and then repaper. Glue size, by the way, is a powder that you can buy in the wallpaper shop. Mix it with water according to instructions on the label and apply it with a roller and brush, just as you would paint.

Question - I tried a little polish on a brass chandelier, but it took a lot of rubbing to polish just a bit of it. That tiny spot of bright brass took a lot of work, and working on a short stepladder was no fun at all. Any easier, faster way? The chandelier might have been lacquered. Claire Brown, Wenham, Mass.

Answer - You have to approach the chandelier according to what was done to it. If it is lacquered, ordinary polish like Brasso or Noxon will not touch it; the lacquer protects the brass and is supposed to keep it shiny. You will have to live with it, or remove the lacquer with lacquer thinner, an extremely volatile liquid, so use lots of ventilation when working with it. Once the lacquer is removed, polish the brass by hand and you will find that it is, indeed, a lot of work. You can make the job a little easier by polishing with a buffing bonnet attached to a power drill.

If the chandelier is not lacquered, the best thing you can do is live with it, because it has tarnished to a dull brown that is really not too ugly, relatively speaking. Besides, the tarnished brass has a special "designer" name: antique brass, so you can proudly say you own an antique brass chandelier. Designers go into spasms when they see antique brass.

You might ease the polishing problem by polishing with a homemade solution: Make a paste of equal parts salt and flour, wetted with vinegar. Put this on the brass, leave it on for an hour, then rub it off. Wash and polish with a soft cloth.

As I said before, live with it.

Question - I just bought a house with barnboard siding stained with a semitransparent stain. The knots are bleeding through, lighter than the dark brown stain. How can I keep those knots from bleeding? The stain is 6 to 8 years old. Elizabeth Kennerly, North Carver, Mass.

Answer - If you restain with the same color semitrans-parent stain, the knots may take a while to bleed again, but that is a chance you have to take. Some people actually like the knots bleeding through. Or, paint the knots with two coats of clear shellac, then restain with the semi-transparent stain of the same color as the original. The stain may not cover the shellacked areas as well as it does other areas, but it is worth taking that chance.

Or (a final "or"): Shellac the knots and apply a solid-color latex stain. I personally would avoid this last suggestion because solid-color stain can peel.

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