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Paint stripping a big mirror

We’ve started browsing auction rooms and reclamation yards in anticipation of having more space. We don’t have much furniture at the moment, since all the storage in our house is fitted. So what essential item of furniture did I see and fall in love with recently? A big mirror. Big enough for two people to stand in front and see themselves full-length.

Mirror before stripping paint

I just couldn’t resist it – we got it for £130, and I’ve no idea if that’s a good deal or not, but it seemed good value compared to the prices we see at Lewes antiques shops (not that I’ve ever seen anything this big.) Driving home with the mirror wedged into the car was a little nerve-wracking. Then it was propped up against our sitting room wall for a week or so while we decided on its fate. The dealer has said it was mahogany, but who knows? It was painted white, and we knew we wanted to start by stripping it.

When the weather was fine enough, we got it downstairs (well, N did, not me) and out into our back yard. I’d bought a tin of Nitromors, so I read the instructions and got going. I don’t know what I expected, but I did think it would be MUCH easier than it was. My first mistake was not applying the Nitromors thickly enough. My second was to try to cover the whole frame in one go. My third was to let it go dry, instead of covering it with cling-film while it developed, keeping the surface moist. As a result, the first scraping session was not only hard, but it merely produced a kind of mottled effect – about 40% of the paint off, a huge amount of mess (it was a windy day) and I was exhausted.

detail of mirror with paint stripper applied mirror2

We got it back indoors and took a few days to decide the next steps. I bought some more Nitromors, as I’d used it all up. I got out the cling film, and decided to tackle it in small sections. After the first half-day’s work I’d managed to get most of the paint off of a decent sized section. I realised there were at least two, possibly three layers of paint, plus a layer of varnish below that. No wonder it wasn’t coming off easily. As it did come, though, it was pleasing to see the detail reappearing. But I also noticed things like repairs to a section of the beading, copious numbers of panel pins and some areas which seems to have been patched up with filler. We started wondering if our dream of a lovely waxed wood finish was unrealistic. I still love the mirror, but it’s clearly not perfect and our best course of action may be to repaint it, albeit in a lovely brushed silvery-gold tone that doesn’t obscure the wood grain.

detail of half-stripped mirror frame detail of half stripped mirror frame mirror framed half stripped

The second day I removed most of the rest of the paint, and then started sandpapering the remove the last blotches – and amazingly, not only did the sanding take off the remaining paint but also most of the dark varnish nastiness that I couldn’t shift by scraping. I also discovered that a bradawl is the perfect tool for digging out paint from all those decorative grooves. Suddenly the frame was beginning to look nice and clean.

paint stripping mirror - in progress
paint stripping mirror - in progress

paint stripping mirror - in progress

The stripping isn’t quite finished yet but we’re very pleased with how it’s looking…

stripped mahogany mirror frame

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