Removing paint from wooden type

Hi all,
I recently picked up a set of Antique-style slab serif wood type. Unfortunately, the previous owner has seen fit to give some of the faces a coating of glossy white paint.
Does anyone know of a way of removing the paint without damaging the face?
As a side note I suspect the type has been exposed to water at some point as there are signs of splitting in the grain. Ideally I would like to avoid a method that uses huge amounts of liquid if possible.
Any suggestions appreciated!

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One possibility would be to use regular water-wash-off paint remover, maybe spread evenly on a rag on a flat surface. Press the type face down onto the soaked rag for a few moments, then let it soak for the prescribed time and wipe it off, when most or all the paint should come off with it. A wipe of the type with a wet rag and dry with a dry rag, and you ought to have it. This method prevents getting the paint remover on the beards, shoulders, or body of the type, as well as making it possible to keep those parts dry.


Circa 1850 paint stripper claims to not raise grain, you could soak them in that. It’s terrifying stuff, and the paint will very quickly shrivel up and fall off. So will your skin, so make sure to use really good gloves. I used the gloves sold by the people that make Circa 1850, and I could still feel a weird burning sensation in my fingers when I used it (through the gloves!), so minimize contact with the stuff as much as possible.

Paint strippers can severely damage the surface of the wood type, raising and opening the grin of the wood. I personally would use nothing stronger than Lacquer Thinner, which will remove paint. Because it evaporates quickly you will have to re-apply it with a rag (don’t soak it), but when it gets down into the paint it will remove it cleanly, and with less damage to the wood face. Lacquer Thinner will also remove the shellac that was used as a finish on the surface of the type, so you will have to re-shellac the surface. Use a 50-50 solution of Isopropyl Alcohol and clear shellac, apply two coats, waiting for the first coat to dry completely (24 hours) before re-coating. Both solvents are very flammable, and the fumes are nasty, so do your work outside.


Hi everyone,
Thanks very much for the suggestions. It sounds like the safest method might be the Lacquer thinner followed by a re-application of shellac, especially given the fact that the type looks like it has lost its finish already. I suspect it hasn’t been kept particularly well in the past as there are some instances of splitting and raised grain on a few of the letters.
I will try this method in the next few weeks and post the results.
Thanks again for all of your help!

According to a Hamilton Wood Type catalog I have from the early 1970s, the type was finished with several coats of varnish, not shellac, and it was hand rubbed between each coat. Shellac is a soft finish and the finish is soluble in alcohol. Hamilton used to furnish a label with each font of new type and it advised the proper cleaning of the type:[email protected]/2949011300/in/photolist-5uAsj...


heretical suggestion-leave paint on then get type all sanded to same height in case they are each individually deformed, might save each letter having to have make ready. mind you if badly painted and slopped around the shoulders of the face then that should be removed.