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Like you, I have also become frustrated with the hassles of "cleaning up" old wood. I have had to deal with moldings and furniture that displayed the same characteristics you described in your letter.
I have searched high and low, and the best method in my opinion is to get a stripping agent from a paint store. The one's you can get from a hardware store don't seem to have the power needed to do the job. A friend and I got frustrated and bought 4 different products (3 from hardware stores and 1 from a paint store). The truth was we were frustrated with our past efforts, and obviously bored out of our minds to try this!
We went outside for good ventilation (you will need it!) and put the pieces on some sawhorses. The three strippers from the hardware stores needed applied as few as 4 times but up to 7 times on pieces that were similar. The stripper we bought at a paint store still took 2 applications, 3 in some spots, but still a significant difference!
Paint stores specialize in this area, and cost a little more. I think they are worth every penny because of the quality of the product, and that the salepeople aren't in plumbing one day, and paint another. The hardware stores don't give the training or merchandise to their salepeople to help us make informed decisions.
I don't have the name of the product off hand, but I can find out for you if you like. I hope you have success in your project. They are actually worth all the hard work in the end. I like being able to say "I did this!"
You can e-mail me at [email protected] if you have any other questions for me.