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Old 03-10-2013, 12:53 AM
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Cleaning a topcoat

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Cleaning a topcoat/finish on wood products like a gunstock or furniture is often required or just desired and this way works very well, is effective and safe. This thread references gunstocks cause after all this is RFC, but the protocol applies to any topcoat/finish on furniture etc. Kinda like “stock prep” before you topcoat/finish but in this case the topcoat/finish is already on there.

This stuff might sound like overkill but the process is not that labor intensive so why take any chances, however miniscule they might be.

Essentially there are 3 types of chemical groups that you need to get off before you can re wax or add another coating of whatever topcoat/finish you applied in the first place. One or all may be on there but you never know so IMO it pays to be safe.

The first group are chemicals such as lanolin like from your hands when you shoot the rifle or handle stuff and then put on a table etc. Really sneaky stuff and gets on all kinds of stuff. This grouping also includes other organic chemicals such as normal grime, dirt etc. that is in the air, sweat, insect repellants, saliva, mucous etc. Mucous is kinda yucky but you might be surprised how much there is in a sneeze or a cough and that stuff is not only a germ carrier but can float around all over the place. Not a biggy contamination wise but still falls within stuff you want to get off.

The second group is stuff like grease, crayons, oil, solvents and the like. Also includes waxes.

The last group is made up of contaminants which if left on the stock can really screw up a finish. No definitive time line on how fast or slow that might be but two of em, Mineral Oil and Silicone, are avoided at all costs by experienced woodworkers who deal in fine wood.

There are a couple of threads on this forum about that and IMO they are worth reading and understanding.

Of course since I did the threads I would say that wouldn’t I ? That’s a joke by the by.

If you have used any polishing products such as Howard’s Feed-N-Wax and similar Mineral Oil based home cleaner/waxes or Silicone based products such as Scratch-X or any other Automotive products then it is an excellent idea to get that stuff off even if you don’t need to either spiffy up your stock or are prepping it for something else. Leaving them on there just increases your chances of a problem. There are better and safer ways to wax and polish that have no adverse effects such as natural waxes for protection and sheen and natural abrasives such as Pumice Stone and/or Rottenstone for rubbing and polishing out a finish.

There are other Silicone products such as Birchwood Casey Stock Sheen so it pays to take a minute and look at the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to see what you are putting on your stock. You can find most of em on the Internet which are out there from reputable suppliers. One’s you can’t find normally are not stuff to mess with and in most cases are kept off the Internet because the supplier falls back on the law that says you don’t really have to post em unless you are selling the stuff in bulk or to like a manufacturer. If you are only selling to a consumer you don’t legally need to post the MSDS. If they don’t want to post, I don’t mess with em, even to test for whatever that is worth.

To clean the topcoat/finish, get 2 bottles of bottled water. 16 oz is fine. Want bottled water because you don’t want any chlorine in the water, if it is City water and no minerals if it is well water. Let the water go to room temperature if they have been refrigerated.

Drink or pour some water out of bottle 1 and then squirt a couple of shots of dish washing detergent into it. Dish washing detergent is specifically designed to break the bonding characteristics for all kinds of organic stuff as well as many inorganic materials, coat the molecules so they won't merge back on to the surface you are cleaning because of the encapsulation and allow them to drain out during the rinse cycle. It is very effective for stuff like oil, lanolin, grease etc. but not waxes. Essentially Group 1. You want to do this first so you get all the organic gunk off for the next cleaning step for Group 2 and 3 stuff. .

Wipe down the topcoat/finish with the mixture and then wipe off with clear water from bottle #2. Old towel is fine, paper towels are not. May take more then 1 shot. Look at the towel until it looks clean. Just like when you clean the bore. Want a clean “patch” so to speak.

Wait 24 hrs after you get all the crappola off and then do another clean/wipe cycle to make sure you got it all off. Generally a single clean/wipe then is gonna show you that you got it off but if not then clean it some more. Contaminants can bleed up overnight. If you are still getting dirty stuff on the towel then do again and wait again overnight. When you get a clean towel you can go to the next step.

Then wipe the wood down with *Mineral Spirits. That will remove any wax or other contaminants that the dishwasher fluid did not get off. Waxes, “waxey” type stuff, crayons etc. Basically Group 2 and Group 3.

Will do most of the Group 1 stuff but not near as effective as the dishwashing soap.

*Mineral Spirits will not harm any topcoat, no matter what it is. Other chemicals such as Denatured Alcohol for one, are generally acidic solvents and as such will often soften a finish. MS will not and is an effective degreaser so any you have left over will not go to waste. Kinda smelly though.

After you wipe it down, again doing the “clean towel stuff”, let it set for 24 hours and repeat the MS wipe down if you think there might be stuff still on there. Wait another 24 hours. If you gotta do more than 2 shots, which would be unusual, wait another 24 hours and then smell the stock. If the MS smell is strong then let it bleed and flash off for another 24. Flashing off simply means that solvents etc. will come to the surface, turn into a vapor and disappear. Chemical process rather than an evaporative one.

Rarely will it take more than 48 hours but it depends on atmospheric conditions. Any traces left will not harm a new topcoat/finish layer or any quality wood paste waxes.

Using steel wool is also not recommended and there is a thread on that also. Just let the chemicals do their job and old towels are as good as anything. Remember that you want the chemicals to lift off and be absorbed by the towel, not imbed into it and possibly put em back on the topcoat/finish because of the resultant abrasive action.

Kinda like cleaning the bore. You clean out any fowling but also any abrasives that might be in there like windblown sand and including the glass, which is microscopic, from the primer in .22’s, and is an extremely, with a capital “E”, mild abrasive, and you throw away the patch. You don’t keep running a dirty patch down the bore. Same thing, but just go to a new area with the towel instead of throwing it away.


*Mineral Spirits

While I no longer have access to labs it has been my experience that the low odor and “green” Mineral Spirits are no longer as effective as the original formula. They contain fragrances and in some cases dyes which can color cast the wood. They have been developed to satisfy minority (not race based) complaints.

The original Mineral Spirits formula is now restricted to Paint Thinner and/or Stoddard Solvent.

If you look at the label for like Klean Strip Odorless Mineral Spirits you will see the word "Subsituto" which is Spanish for substitute. If you look at the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) Sheet you will see it is Kerosene.

If you look at the MSDS sheet for like Crown low odor Mineral Spirits you will see it is Naptha.

Conversely if you look at Crown Paint Thinner you will see it is 100% Mineral Spirits.

I do not recommend using anything other then 100% Mineral Spirits in this sticky nor on any wood including gun stocks or on any transparent/translucent wood finishes.

If you don't want to research using the MSDS method then an easy way to make sure you get the "good" stuff is to stay away from anything labeled Minerals Spirits that is in a plastic container.

Last edited by noremf; 09-24-2016 at 09:08 AM. Reason: New info
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